During pregnancy, most expectant parents will hear horror tales of sleep deprivation, reassuring promises of unconditional love, and humorous anecdotes regarding explosive nappies and vomiting at inopportune moments. But what many new parents do not hear, is how having a baby can impact their marriage. A lot of couples are unprepared for the huge disruption that a new arrival can bring to everyday life.
Amongst the areas that cause greatest conflict are, determining how to divide responsibilities, managing money when a newborn is thrown into the mix, and making time for each other, and for friends, after the baby arrives. Sometimes new dads experience feelings of jealousy and detachment from the baby; a belief that they are not as close to the baby as the mother, particularly if she chooses to breastfeed. New mums can feel self-conscious after giving birth and uncomfortable with their new body shape. They also need to adjust to being a mother as well as a wife.
All this being said, new parents have successfully navigated these concerns for years. Today, there are resources available, including couple’s counselling, to ensure that the relationship between a couple remains as strong and healthy as it was before the baby’s arrival.
Ideally, the relationship-strengthening process for new parents should begin in the prenatal period. This can include creating a list of common newborn parenting tasks and starting to think about responsibilities early on:
- How will we decide who wakes up at night?
- How will we take turns changing nappies?
- Who will take the baby to his or her doctor's appointments (including immunisations)?
- How might our daily tasks change once the baby comes (for example, who will be responsible be paying bills, cooking dinner, preparing lunches, etc.)?
Whilst you may not be able to answer all of these questions right away, it is good to start discussing expectations and responsibilities before the turmoil of the new arrival.
No amount of pre-birth discussion is going to avoid all marital tension in the first few weeks of having a baby. A key step is to begin practicing how to communicate with each other effectively.The increased stress and sleeplessness that come with raising a child, can cause people to speak without thinking, or without softening their words during a difference of opinion. This can rapidly increase tensions in the household.
It is particularly important for new parents to try to understand the difference between an accusatory statement and one that shares feelings without hurting the other person's. This means that "I" statements are preferred to "you" statements, and words like “never” and “always” are avoided during disagreements. For example:
Instead of saying: "You never wake up and take care of the baby at night."
Say: "I feel like I'm the only one who wakes up at night to take care of the baby."
Another helpful step is to commit to finding time to spend together, engaging in something you like to do or in meaningful conversation. Even if this is 10-20 minutes a day while the baby is sleeping, these efforts will help to keep you connected and your relationship strong.
Finally, remember that there are no perfect people and good parenting is a skill that develops and grows over time. Mistakes, conflicts, and resolutions are a part of life. By maintaining good communication, you increase the chances of a strong marriage and a healthy family dynamic.
- American Psychological Association.
- Must Babies Always Breed Marital Discontent? Department of Health, New York.
- Survival Tips for Parents of a New Baby. KidsHealth.
- How Becoming Parents Can Affect Your Relationship. Wall Street Journal.
- So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage. What to Expect.
- Marriage Problems After Baby Are Sometimes Unavoidable.
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