By Leah Eagle
Of all the advice and information I was given before we had our first child, no one ever told me how much our marriage would change.
It was a complete shock how different it was going from a couple to becoming parents. Part of the problem is that you're both tired and have less time to spend with your partner than you’re used to. Just remember that this stage won’t last forever!
Researchers have found that about 67 percent of couples experience a decline in relationship satisfaction in the first three years of a baby’s life and this deterioration often persists into subsequent years (Psychology Today).
While it was an exciting and life-changing experience, nothing prepares you for how things with your partner will change. Although it is a magical time bringing your baby home, couples will be exhausted and frustrated, along with a myriad of other feelings. That combination of feelings can definitely take a toll on your relationship if you're not careful.
Research also shows that couples typically experience an increase in conflict and a decrease in overall satisfaction when their first child is born. (That’s an understatement.)
To keep things on track, here is a list of things you can do. But for that to happen, new parents have to put as much planning and effort into preserving and protecting their marriage as they did preparing for their baby.
Divide responsibilities equally
Discuss who can handle different responsibilities. Figure out what you both would like to see and figure out then create a compromise that works. Divvy up the duties so one person isn’t taking the load of doing everything. Resentment, anger, and frustration can develop quickly if one partner feels like they are doing all the work and never gets a break.
Whether you both plan to continue working, or one parent plans to stay at home full-time, the childcare, cooking, and household chores need to be split in a way that makes sense for your family. It is unrealistic to expect one parent to shoulder all the responsibilities.
Figure out a sleep strategy that works
This is a big one! Babies need to eat every few hours, which means lots of interrupted sleep those first few weeks (or months!) This is why tiredness is a major source of contention among new parents. Adjusting to a few hours of sleep every night is a big change.
To plan for this stressful and draining time period, couples will need to figure out a plan to handle the sleepless nights. Try to avoid one partner sleeping every night while the other is up with the baby. My husband and I both got up with our babies. One would warm the bottle while the other would change the diaper. We would trade off who fed and who got to go back to sleep.
Even if one partner works during the week and the other stays at home, they should come up with a plan so both of them can get at least some sleep.
What’s important is that one parent is not doing all the nighttime feedings and changings alone. This will look different for every couple, but do whatever works best for you.
Show appreciation for each other
Kind words can go a long way. My love language is words of affirmation, so anytime my husband told me I was appreciated meant a lot to me.
Give each other compliments each day. Tell your partner how much you love and appreciate them. Leave a note on the counter so they’ll find it when they leave for work, or send a random text during the day. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it can go a long way.
Accept differences in parenting styles
Disclaimer: you and your partner will not do things the exact same way. Your partner may feed the baby differently than you do, or have a different way to get the baby to sleep.
Don’t criticize. Let them do what works for them and you do what works for you. Nobody likes to be nagged or corrected. This may cause them to not want to help if they feel they can’t do it the “right way.” Be willing to accept that your partner may do things differently and that’s fine. Different isn’t bad.
Invest in your relationship
Making sure you and your partner stay connected is of the utmost importance. Whether that’s having a date night, being intimate or just carving out some time for the two of you each day.
It’s easy to lose connection when you’re both focused on your baby, so it takes effort to stay connected after adding a baby to your family. Your relationship is a priority and it’s so important to keep connected in your relationship. This will not only benefit your marriage, but also your children.
Talk about your feelings
This may sound cheesy, but you’ll both have a lot of new feelings once your baby is born. Discuss the good and the bad with each other. You’re in this together, so sharing how you are feeling and being honest with each other is key.
Moms can feel isolated and lonely, and many deal with postpartum depression. Dad’s can feel unsure of what to do and how to help. Keeping the lines of communication open and active can help both partners. Just being there for each other and listening can help you both. You and your partner need to tell each other what you want and what's bothering you if you're resentful, angry or upset.
While things will be different after baby, both good and bad, just remember this phase is temporary. Do the best you can to get through those tough times because there will be plenty of good times ahead!