Welcoming a new baby into your family is an exciting and joyous occasion and it also puts significant strain on even the most rock solid relationship. Drs. John and Julie Gottman discovered that “67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.” (source >>)
Why does this happen?
Babies are a lot of work – feeding, diapering, soothing, etc. The basic tasks involved in the day to day of keeping a baby alive add many new responsibilities to each parent’s to-do list. And it’s not uncommon that even though parents are working much harder than before baby’s arrival, they’re also feeling much less appreciated by their partner.
Sleep deprivation and hormonal adjustments – parents suffer from significant sleep disruptions with a new baby in the house. Add to that the intense and swift adjustment in hormones that pregnant people experience as they return to a non-pregnant state and it can be difficult to muster up the mental energy to remain kind to each other.
Changing roles, dynamics, and expectations – with the addition of a new baby, parents’ expectations of each other and themselves can shift dramatically. So can their values and goals in life. Layer on top of that shifts in relationships with your extended family and it can lead to feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and uncertain.
Less intimacy – both physical and emotional intimacy can take a nose dive after the arrival of a baby. It can seem impossible to find the time or energy to engage in intimacy of any kind and without it, the relationship can often begin to feel depleted.
What can you do?
During your pregnancy:
Talk to each other – discuss your expectations of yourselves and each other, both as parents and also as partners. Discuss how you anticipate dividing responsibilities once baby has arrived, how you plan to manage finances, how your relationship will change, etc. Talk about your hopes and fears around parenting, discuss your parenting values, and your thoughts on discipline. This may involve a lot of unpacking of your own childhoods – ask each other what you loved and what you didn’t. Remember to share dreams about your future too – what do you envision for your family five years down the road? Ten? Once your children are grown?
Practice asking for help – our culture deeply values independence and while independence can be a good thing, in the long run, complete independence is impossible and unsustainable. Needing and asking for help from your community is an integral part of the human experience and there is no time quite like the arrival of a new baby when asking for help becomes a skill worth mastering. If it’s not a skill you’ve used before, start small and then work up to the bigger stuff. By taking the time to practice now, asking for help won’t feel quite so insurmountable once baby’s here.
Create your postpartum plan – It can be hard to see past the birth of your baby. Often we are so focused on planning for baby’s arrival, we forget to think about what comes after. Set aside time together to do that. What can you do NOW that will ease some of the intensity in the immediate postpartum period? Can you hire extra help (house cleaner, dog walker, set up online grocery shopping, etc)? Who can you call on for hands on support? Have you hired your postpartum doula? What about food? You can set up a meal train at mealtrain.com, have a list of healthy takeout and delivery options kept by the phone, or stock pile your freezer.
After your baby is born:
Implement your postpartum plan – Call in your support and set in motion everything you’d put into place before baby was born.
Know that survival mode doesn’t last forever – The first 6 – 12 weeks with a new baby are intense. Often life exists moment to moment and you will likely not have much time or energy for anything beyond your most basic needs. And that’s okay. Doing what each moment needs and no more is enough for now.
Notice when you begin coming up for air – It’s easy to fall into a rut but at some point, that early intensity will begin to lessen. You’ll begin to look around and notice you have a minute to string more than two thoughts together. This is the time to check in with your partner. It doesn’t need to be a big thing but make an agreement together about how and when you’ll set aside a few minutes to connect. It can be something as simple as always making sure to give each other a hug and a kiss before starting your day, a snuggle before bed, or sharing a cup of tea in the afternoons. The what doesn’t matter so much as your joint agreement and commitment to it.
Frame disagreements and complaints as an invitation to deeper intimacy – Culturally, we often see disagreements, arguments, and fights as a negative. We tend to believe that they indicate that a relationship is on rocky ground. The reality though is that they can be used as an opportunity to deepen your intimacy with your partner. For most of us a fight or complaint has at its heart an unmet need. When we can identify that unmet need (our own or our partner’s), we create an opportunity to work together to meet it. Begin with kindness and curiosity, assume good intentions, assert your own needs, and see where you can go, together, from there.
Ultimately, the goal is to remember that you are in this together, even if there’s a bit (or a lot) of turbulence along the way. Hold unto to humor, compassion, and grace. Treat your partner the way you would like to be treated. And you will find your way, together.
Are you looking for more resources on relationships after baby?
The Gottman Institute: Offering evidence based information on what is needed to create and strengthen a healthy and fulfilling relationship, this website provides lots of free resources and informative blog posts along with a search feature for their popular workshops and seminars offered all around the world.
And Baby Makes Three: Written by Drs. John and Julie Gottman this book teaches couples the skills needed to maintain healthy marriages as they welcome a new baby into their family. Are you a Five Elements Birth Services birth or postpartum doula client? This book is available from our lending library. Let your doula know if you would like to borrow it.
Rachel is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula, Birthing From Within mentor, and mother of three. She is passionate about helping women and their partners discover their own inner strength and wisdom so that they can begin their parenting journey with confidence. With a focus on supporting her clients as they determine what their own priorities and preferences are for their birth while giving them the tools they need to realize those priorities, she feels fortunate to witness her clients come into their own and become their own best advocates.