From partners to parents, parenthood links the husband and wife forever, but it can also introduce conflict and stress, which can rock even the strongest marriage.
Marriage and family therapist Dr Hana Ra Adams points out, “A new baby brings along adjustments to all areas of life — sleep patterns, eating patterns, couple time, and the amount of effort given to household chores. Even the energy level of a new mum can change because of the demands a newborn has on her.”
Add these changes to your already existing list of responsibilities and it’s easy to lose patience and become more critical of each other. “Not only will this increase conflict and tension, but it will also start emptying that tank of compassion and goodwill, which is essential to fuelling your relationship,” notes Anoushka Beh, a psychologist and family therapist who runs her own practice.
Follow our experts’ tips to get your post-baby marriage back on track.
1. Get on the same page
Welcoming a child into the world can strain your resources financially, physically and emotionally. Besides having to adapt to different roles, you’ll have new perspectives on parenting, as well as financial and family-support issues. While you both try to figure out a system that works, remember to keep the lines of communication open and compromise as much as you can. As for parenting philosophies, talk through difficult situations and be open to your spouse’s suggestions — even if you are the primary caregiver and spend more time with your child.
When it comes to money, be realistic about what is a “need” and what’s a “want”. This is especially important if you’ve gone from two incomes to one. Dr Adams suggests, “Look at finances as a team effort, versus the work of an individual. Support each other’s current financial role and adjust it as needed together.”
Find ways to put your marriage first, your child second and other relationships third. Beh notes, “You are always stronger as two, so it’s important you pool your resources and this includes perspectives on how to raise your child.”
2. Divvy up duties
There’ll be tonnes of chores after baby arrives ― from laundry and cleaning poop, to cooking meals. Be realistic about what you can achieve. As a couple, decide which tasks take priority. Your main focus should be on the baby initially.
Beh says, “If other responsibilities around the house are starting to strain your resources, it’s important to reach for help and outsource.”
Rope in the extended family or consider hiring a helper. This will ease your burden and free up time that you and the hubs can use to concentrate on enjoying your little bundle together.
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3. Pay attention to each other
Connecting with your significant other enhances your sense of intimacy. It’s all about the little things — such as offering to take the night shift if your wife is exhausted from taking care of the baby all day, so that she can rest. You can also create intimacy by packing your spouse’s lunch and slipping in a sweet handwritten note, Dr Adams adds.
If sex is still not in the cards yet, which is perfectly normal, you can still be intimate in other ways, points out Dr Martha Tara Lee, a clinical sexologist at Eros Coaching. This includes a relaxing and sensual body massage or just some good, old hand-holding.
Beh explains, “Reconnecting with your partner is the fuel that is going to keep you both going in the long term and therefore absolutely vital to the happiness and health of your family.”
4. Practise compassion and stay positive
Always start conversations with your spouse from a place of softness, advises psychologist and couples researcher John Gottman, as it will ultimately determine how you will finish it. His research indicates that if you begin a conversation with blame and anger, there is a 90 per cent chance it will fail. In other words, it’s not what you say but how you say it.
“So, the next time you feel like you’re going to flip your lid about something, take a long walk or listen to some calming music before you engage with your partner,” Beh advises. “Regulate those reactive emotions, so that you can start off the conversation from a place of as much kindness and objectivity as possible.”
And while it’s almost too easy to find ways to blame everything on your spouse, try to give him the benefit of the doubt instead. Ask questions and listen without judgment to figure out if his or her actions were truly malicious or if it was in fact just a case of miscommunication. Also keep in mind all the good qualities that made you fall in love with them, to sustain you in these challenging times.
Says Beh, “Staying calm and holding your partner in positive regard keeps the two of you on the same side — which is where you’ll want to be most of the time if you’re to paddle your way through life’s more challenging times together.”
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