4 Steps to Babyproof your Relationship
So you’re pregnant, now what? You have picked out baby’s name, the nursery decor, a baby registry, but what about your relationship? Have you considered that you may need to do some planning with your partner about how you want to approach this next phase of your life?
Expecting couples spend time thinking through and preparing for many aspects of childbirth and even parenthood, but often overlook preparing their relationship for the changes it will undergo after bringing a baby home. Researchers have been looking into post-baby relationship satisfaction for over 50 years and have found very similar, and concerning results. Across the board, it has been found that around 2/3 to 3/4 of couples will experience a dip in relationship satisfaction after the birth of a baby (LeMasters, Gottman and Gottman). Wow! What does this mean, and most importantly, what does this mean for you? First (the bad news), becoming parents can strain a relationship. Second (the good news!), there is a lot we can do to prevent many of the negative effects researchers have found. It just takes a little awareness and a little preparation. Don’t worry if you’ve already had your baby and are already experiencing dissatisfaction. It is definitely not too late to start to shift things around and make corrections and repairs with your partner to find happiness and relational harmony again.
Becoming parents is full of joy and love, and it is also full of feelings of overwhelm and loss. All of this is normal, and all of this is good. We can’t become wonderful parents without transforming from who we once were into who we will be, much like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. We can’t possibly stay the same as we transition to the new role of parent. There is a massive shift in roles and household duties. There is way (and I mean WAY) more laundry, there is no down time for quiet meals together, logistics of home duties is different and more complicated in the beginning, and there is a shift in work status and earning for 1 or both partners (sometimes temporary, sometimes long term), and there is a lot less sleep going on at home for everyone. All of this would cause even the most connected of couples to feel a bit frantic. Everything has changed and it is normal to feel a sense of loss about your old self and your old relationship with your partner, but there is also an opportunity to grow into a new way of life and develop a new way of communicating with your partner that will make you even stronger than before.
1. Ask for what you want!
This is huge. But, for some reason, many people struggle with this. Maybe it feels uncomfortable to be direct, maybe you expect your partner to read you mind or intuitively know what you want (hint: they can’t), but you are setting everyone up for failure if you are not clear about what you want or need for support. Everything will be different after your baby is born. Things that used to feel relaxing might suddenly feel stressful, and new things will begin to feel like heaven on earth.
Tip: Have a conversation before you bring baby home that looks something like this, “When I am stressed out or overwhelmed I would love it if you made me a cup of tea/took the baby for 10 mins so I can shower/gave me a shoulder rub.” This means stating your needs and wants clearly to your partner so that they have some direction when they notice you are struggling. Then ask them, “what can I do for you when I notice you are feeling overwhelmed/stressed/maxed out?” HOW SIMPLE! Why doesn’t everyone do this?
2. Follow through
So now that you know what might be helpful in supporting your partner when they are stressed out, make sure you follow through. This is a very important part of letting your partner know that you heard them, respect them, and care about their well-being. If your partner isn’t following through in supporting you, you can always offer a gentle reminder such as “I am feeling really overwhelmed. Can you please make me a cup of tea like we talked about so I can try to calm down?” Sometimes our partners need a little nudge to remember to practice a new skill. Lets be understanding and provide a gentle reminder of the support they can provide us. I find that most partners are happy and willing to support each other, but they don’t always think of doing it on their own. A few reminders can often jump start the new habit and help them engage their supportive side.
3. Continue the conversation
None of this is a one-and-done conversation. Life is going to constantly change, the needs of the family will constantly change, and so you and your partner will need to become more fluid and adaptable. Being rigid will not be an asset once you become a parent. Babies change week to week, month to month, and so will your needs change. You will need to readdress things with your partner consistently to grow along with life.
4. Be understanding
This might just be the hardest part. When we are stressed and overextended we usually lose our ability to be understanding. This is where a rift can easily come between you and your partner. You no longer feel connected to them and you feel a tremendous responsibility to care for the new baby.
Tip: Try to reframe your thoughts to include language that includes your partner, rather than placing them as the enemy. You are both going through this change together, though both experiencing it in a different way. Often, it is one partner who takes on more of the baby related tasks. They can end up feeling resentful because of their greater responsibility and greater loss of self, so it is important that the other partner balances this out in some way (maybe taking on more household tasks, or being more of an emotional support than they have been before). Whatever this looks like to you, just try to remember that this is new for both of you and it will take some work to make it run smoothly.
Final thoughts: time will iron out most of the wrinkles. The first few months are the hardest, and the whole first year is an adventure. After that, as your child becomes more mobile and independent, you are able to start to reclaim some of the freedom you had before. Eventually you and your partner will have the time and freedom to be able to connect and bond on a deeper, adult level. You will even have romantic feelings return for them eventually. The baby phase doesn’t last forever. It rocks your world but it also gives your the opportunity to create a solid, flexible, caring relationship that will have the opportunity to blossom again in the future. Hang in there!
If you find that you need some support in talking through and communicating these needs with your partner, contact me and we can discuss some options.