For many couples, parenthood ranks among their greatest dreams. You might have an idyllic mental image of playing with a smiling, happy baby, pushing a stroller through the park on your way to a family picnic, and putting the baby to bed before relaxing for some evening adult time. While all these things are certainly possible, these pictures only tell part of the story. The reality is that children fundamentally change relationships in numerous important ways. While life eventually settles down, going into parenthood with realistic expectations can minimize the impact on your relationship.
1. Lack of Time and Sleep
Taking care of a new baby requires a tremendous amount of work. From feedings to diaper changes, it is normal for new parents to feel like they never have a moment of peace. Trying to balance parenthood with your career and other responsibilities can seem impossible, and it is common for your relationship to take a back burner simply due to your lack of time.
Even if you make your relationship a priority, new parents generally get very little sleep. It can be tough to motivate yourself to dress up, take the baby to a sitter, and go out for a night on the town when you are chronically sleep-deprived.
To combat these challenges, lower your expectations a bit, especially for the first few months. Plan low-key date nights that involve staying home and ordering pizza or playing board games while the baby sleeps. Many infants settle into a reasonable routine within several weeks, and most are sleeping through the night by 6 months of age. In the meantime, be kind to yourselves and each other, and find smaller ways to show that you still care.
2. Division of Responsibilities
In the first days after a new baby is born, it is easy for couples to fall into whatever duties happen to make sense in the moment. Without an organized schedule and division of tasks, however, it is easy for unbalanced choices to become the new norm. If one partner stays home with the baby, that person might end up with the lion’s share of the responsibility for the baby, housekeeping, shopping, and other duties. Yet this can be unhealthy for both partners. The one who is at work all day may feel disconnected and shut out, while the person at home feels overwhelmed and resentful.
Keep the lines of communication open. Talk frequently about your division of labor, and seek a balance that feels fair and reasonable to both of you. Revisit the issue if either of you begins to feel left out or overworked.
3. In-laws and Friends
When a baby is born, it seems like the whole world is filled with self-proclaimed experts eager to tell the new parents exactly how to care for the child. While this advice is generally well-intentioned and often helpful, you ultimately need to make your own parenting decisions as a couple. When well-meaning friends and in-laws become overly involved, it can drive a wedge between you and your partner, especially when the helpful advice contradicts decisions you have already made.
To minimize conflict and drama, work together to set healthy boundaries with your loved ones. Decide as a couple which issues are non-negotiable, and gently deflect advice that conflicts with your opinion on those matters. For example, some couples feel strongly about raising their kids in a specific religious tradition, while others are committed to homeschooling. For topics on which you are undecided, take in what others have to say and then discuss the matter with your partner before making a decision.
Both physical and emotional intimacy often take a back seat after a baby is born. New mothers are physically healing from the birth, and both partners are often too caught up in their new reality to nurture their bond. To keep your relationship strong, carve out at least a half hour per day to spend time together. Keep it low-key, such as snuggling in front of the television, but make it a point to express your love for each other.
It is normal and natural for relationships to experience difficulties shortly after a baby is born. With a bit of advance planning, some laughter, and a dedication to keeping the relationship strong, however, there is no reason for these issues to continue. Use the time to develop bonds as a family while reminding each other how important you both are.
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Written by: Lisa FritscherNEXT