The arrival of a couple’s first baby has many effects on the relationship. There is an undeniable move to a more traditional division of labor, while childcare demands mean less time for togetherness. Meanwhile, lack of sleep can leave new parents irritable and anything but in the mood for love and, for some couples, there are also increasing financial stresses.
So with all these changes in a couple’s life and lovemaking patterns, how can new parents cope harmoniously with these demands and avoid going down a road of frustration, dissatisfaction and resentment?
The key lies in consciously deciding to maintain an open and trusting relationship, no matter what. Fortunately, parenthood rarely ever destroys a relationship built on a solid foundation.
In fact, a study conducted by colleagues at the University of Washington on the distinguishing factors between couples who achieve high marital satisfaction after having a baby and those who experience above normal difficulties, devised a “prescription” to help maintain and enhance relationship satisfaction of parenting couples:
Prescription #1: Build a genuine fondness and affection for each other.
It’s normal for both men and women to feel a bit awkward handling a new baby. You created a new little being that is part of both of you which represents a living, breathing bond of your lifelong commitment together. And just as you want the best for your baby, now is the best time to show each other that you want to also grow your love as parents together.
In those first few months of interrupted schedules and exhaustion, the best thing you can do is “be there” for each other as best friends. Look for ways to relieve each other’s burdens and show your appreciation. Then you will be less inclined to argue, especially if you make greater attempts at small physical gestures such as hugging, cuddling and touching.
Likewise, folding and cuddling your new baby will help establish a stronger bond between you. In the day-to-day care of your newborn, be extra considerate of each other.
For example, if the baby has been crying for a while and your wife has been trying to comfort it, offer to hold the baby yourself or do something else to ease her workload. By helping with diaper changing and feeding, she’ll feel more supported. Little things like this are important because it’s easy to feel unappreciated when we are also feeling exhausted, especially during those trying first few months.
It’s all about finding opportunities to support each other’s roles and show appreciation for each other’s efforts.
Prescription #2: Be aware of what’s happening in your partner’s life and respond accordingly.
It’s common for partners to feel more stress in the first few months after the baby is born. Like other forms of stress it can affect a couple’s relationship. Most notably, there are shifts in roles, a shifting away from attention on the partner to attention on the baby as well as physical and emotional exhaustion.
One of the most common complaints is that of decreased sexual intimacy. Mothers who are less confident in their abilities to care for their baby can become anxious, which further increases their exhaustion and therefore disinterest in sex.
On the other hand, men may have to deal with a woman’s feelings of post-birth attractiveness on top of the ups and downs of postpartum depression, all at a time when lovemaking has become less spontaneous and interrupted.
The most important thing a couple can do is to honestly discuss their feelings with their partners and any issues as they arise. The woman needs to be given sufficient time to recover from the birth of the baby before resuming sexual intercourse.
In addition, the husband must understand that it is a perfectly normal reaction for many new mothers to be unable to focus on sex when they’re so concerned about the baby. And although this can be frustrating, particularly for the man, it is much healthier to discuss making some “alone time” for yourselves so you can reach an acceptable level of intimacy, until she becomes more comfortable and feel less anxious in her new role.
Prescription #3: Approach problems with the belief that you and your partner have the power to solve them together.
Parental roles used to be clear-cut. Mom stayed home and dad worked. However, today most couples need two incomes to maintain a certain standard of living. This can create an inherent new breeding ground for marital discontent. Just as moms often feel overburdened whether they stay at home or work outside the home, many men feel equally pressured to earn more money.
Since the source of the problem is self-evident, then so should be the solution. To prevent a build-up of anger and resentment, prepare and plan just as you would for any other extraordinary event in your life.
Accept the disruption of schedules and agree on what roles each of you can comfortably take on and how you will accommodate “alone time together”. As the months go by things may change, so it’s important to remember to keep this conversation ongoing.
New mothers need to remind themselves that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and maybe even scared. Don’t keep these or any other feelings inside. Make time to talk with your partner and ask for help and support. And most importantly, having asked for that help, do not criticize him if he doesn’t do it exactly the way you’d like. Look for the humor in his bumbling and make sure he knows his efforts are appreciated.
New dads must also learn to be more open at this critical time in your partner’s life. She needs to know how you feel, too. This will go a long way in realizing your commitment to make time for each other, when time seems most difficult to set aside. And if you’re concerned about finances and feel you need to work longer and harder, then communicate this so she doesn’t think you’re trying to escape from her or from caring for your new baby.
In conclusion, it’s easy for new parents, especially mothers, to become totally enraptured by the new baby and take your partner for granted. Yet this is the very time when your relationship can be most vulnerable, so both partners must become more aware of sustaining their fondness and affection for each other. After all, the arrival of your new baby is the ultimate symbol of your love for each other and therefore should deepen rather than threaten your love.