HOW A BABY AFFECTS YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Going from being a couple to being the parents of a baby is one of the most incredible experiences that a couple can have. It is life-changing, thrilling, scary, frustrating, energy-draining, and time-consuming. There is a danger that your marriage will suffer if you are not careful and proactive. Studies show that conflict increases, and overall satisfaction in the marriage decreases with the birth of the first child.
Why would this be so? How does welcoming the little “bundle of joy” into your life cause your relationship with your mate to suffer? Of course, there is no simple answer, and several factors are at work when a baby enters the scene. Factors such as:
- Adjusting to new roles as parents.
- Adjusting to less “couple time.”
- Sleep deprivation.
- Increased financial stress.
- Less free time for yourself.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring a baby into your life. Being a parent has been the most rewarding “job” that I have ever had. But you must invest as much time, planning, and energy into your marriage as you do in getting ready for your baby’s arrival. Getting the nursery ready, reading books on parenting, and taking childbirth classes are all good things to do. Just don’t do these things to the detriment of your marriage. Make sure that you are meeting each other’s needs as a couple. Staying home and painting the nursery might seem the right thing to do, but not if it robs you of a weekend trip or a date night. The baby won’t care if the walls are painted and will benefit more from two parents who are enjoying a loving and harmonious relationship. Be proactive and discuss and plan how you will deal with some of the challenges before they begin. Following are some of the areas that you will want to discuss.
GET ON THE SAME PAGE
Because parenting is sometimes draining, exhausting, and thankless, tension can arise over how much each parent contributes. Each person expects their spouse to do the same things that their mom or dad did in their roles as parents. Those roles may have looked very different in the spouse’s experience growing up.
- Discuss the responsibilities and parenting roles that each of your parents assumed.
- Was their arrangement equitable, in your opinion?
- What do you want to bring from your family of origin into your role as a parent?
- What do you want to avoid bringing into parenting your child(ren)?
Negative emotions such as anger, resentment, frustration, and bitterness can build and damage your relationship if one spouse feels that the other is not helping. Find out more on balancing your relationship at one of our live events for marriage help. Even if one spouse is staying at home to care for the child(ren), there are responsibilities that the other spouse needs to help with. You can determine the division of chores that works best for your family and builds a spirit of teamwork.
MAKE A PLAN FOR SLEEP
Sleep deprivation is one of the most common issues that parents of a newborn must deal with. Babies are awake at all hours of the day and night and may have very erratic sleep patterns. No sooner is the baby fed, diapered, rocked back to sleep, and the weary parent settled into bed than it is time to start the whole process again. And if the baby is sick, there may be no respite. Most parents of newborns don’t get interrupted sleep for months.
Having a plan for handling the challenge of getting enough rest is one of the wisest things you can do. I usually took the late-night feeding and sometimes the early morning one, so my wife could get a few hours of sleep. That plan was adjusted depending on what was going on in our lives. In your planning, try to avoid the pattern of the same parent missing sleep every night while the other sleeps with no concerns about getting up to take care of the baby.
If one parent is staying home to care for the child, then it makes sense for the other parent to rest during the night to function well at work. Then on the weekends, the “working” parent can tend to the baby and allow the “stay-at-home” parent to sleep through the night and take needed naps. Many variables are unique to you and your situation, so you must discuss how you will handle them. For instance, if you are breastfeeding, then that must be included in the plan. If you are both working, then you both might get up and share the tasks – diapering, feeding, rocking back to sleep, etc. Another alternative is to take turns getting up if you bottle-feed the baby. Even if you are breastfeeding, many mothers pump their breasts and store the breastmilk. Plan what will work best for you and adjust as needed so that one parent is not the one who always deals with the nighttime care of the child.
BE EACH OTHER’S CHEERLEADER
Parenting is difficult, and expressing appreciation to your spouse lets them know you are not taking them for granted. Just a few simple words can make deposits in your spouse’s love account. Here are just a few ideas and examples:
- Text messages at random times. “Just thinking of you and how awesome you are as a partner and parent!”
- Sticky notes around the house. A sticky note on the box of diapers saying,
“Thanks for getting to the bottom of things!” (Dad humor)
- “Thank you for working so hard so I can stay home with our baby.”
UNDERSTAND THAT PARENTING STYLES DIFFER
You may be under the assumption that you and your spouse share child-rearing philosophies. This assumption gets challenged when you bring your baby home. One of you may be more laid back, and the other more structured. Reaching for the pacifier may be your response when your baby cries, while your spouse may let them cry it out. One of you is a cuddling nurturer, and the other likes to play peek-a-boo and games on the floor. Eating and sleeping on demand versus a set schedule could cause conflict as well.
You will not parent your child in precisely the same way. This can be a good thing and provide your child with more well-rounded experiences as they grow. Accept and appreciate your differences in parenting styles. When it comes to discipline, negotiate how you will discipline consistently to give your child clear boundaries and a sense of security.
BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT SEX
After the baby comes, it seems that you have sex half as often as you did before, and it takes twice the effort! Just having time together without the baby is a daunting task. How will you keep the romance alive in your relationship?
Planning for sex may seem unromantic, but it can build anticipation and increase enjoyment. The two main issues are frequency and initiation. Decide how often you will have sex based on your drives and schedules, and decide who will initiate. For example, suppose you decide that twice a week is the frequency. In that case, one spouse will initiate sometime Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, and the other will initiate sometime Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
Of course, you will need time for the mother to heal and recover from the birthing. There should be no pressure for penetration during intimacy until both partners are ready. You can nurture your overall intimacy through transparent conversations, quality time, cuddling, holding each other, enjoying skin-to-skin contact, etc. Then, when both of you are ready, you can add sexual intimacy back into your relationship. The key is to be intentional about your sex life and not let parenting, and life’s other issues cause you to neglect this vital part of your relationship.
MAKE A FINANCIAL PLAN
In other words, make a budget. Having and raising a baby will cost more than you think, so allow for margin in your financial planning. Don’t let finances be the determining factor in whether or not you have a baby. There are many other factors to consider which are more compelling than money. Chances are, if you wait until you can “afford” to have a baby, you never will!
OWN AND DISCUSS YOUR FEELINGS
As in all areas of your relationship, communication is the key. It will help if you communicate your feelings honestly and without judgment. For instance, one spouse may feel jealous of the baby and all the attention it receives. One or both new parents may not enjoy parenting a newborn, which is also normal. New moms, especially, are prone to experience loneliness and struggle with their new role. Their identity has changed now that they are a mom.
Be transparent about your feelings with your spouse. Listen to one another and be supportive. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t invalidate it by minimizing or dismissing it. Be empathetic. Ask how you can help. Often all that is needed is a hug.