Keep your marriage strong after baby arrives

Taking the trouble to set out relationship guidelines will tide you through the rough patches once baby’s here….

Parents-Keep your marriage strong after baby arrives

Different expectations, experiences and images of having a family means a new baby can drive a wedge between couples and put a strain on even the healthiest relationship, notes Dr Sandra Wheatley, a psychologist who specialises in parenting and families.

And when relationships are weak, studies have shown they can deteriorate more rapidly after the birth of a child than at any other time. But before you start staring at your bump in horror, it’s worth pointing out that most couples survive, emerging from early parenthood stronger, closer and happier than ever before. It’s just that, a bit like marriage, bringing up a baby isn’t all one long Kodak moment. There are pitfalls to negotiate.

“So, make a ‘pre-nappy’ agreement, or an agreement before baby arrives. Spelling out your expectations of each other as parents can be just the thing to help you negotiate the tougher times of new parenthood,” Dr Wheatley says. “Whether you choose to draw up a more formal, written agreement or just talk about key areas before the birth, it allows you to air your concerns.

“Even if you don’t stick to the agreement word for word — and chances are, you won’t — it shows you’re both on the same side and willing to communicate through the tough times, as well as share all the good bits.” Here are six pointers:

1. You’re not mind readers

One of the main challenges that new parents face is dealing with the differences between expectation and reality. “If you’re a modern-thinking woman who sees children as a joint venture, then it may well come as a shock and disappointment to discover that your spouse refuses to wash the rompers or do the night shift,” Dr Wheatley says.

“If you have strong views on your roles as parents, raise them now. Nothing’s going to work out exactly as you discussed, but talking clearly and calmly about your hopes for joint parenthood now will pave the way for constructive, rather than chaotic, discussions later on.”

It’s a good idea to establish a few loose rules. Sally, 29, mum to Daisy, 6 months, agreed with her husband that once he’d gone back to work, he’d be on night duty once a week and have the baby on Sunday mornings, so Sally could catch up on sleep.

“It didn’t work out exactly like that,” she says, “but at least I felt we’d agreed on two major issues — that he needed to do some of the dirty work and I was going to need a break occasionally.”