Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a Denver Marriage Counselor, Online Couples Therapist, Premarital Counselor and Life Coach at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She specializes in helping individuals, couples, and families create health and happiness, and flourish — together.
How to Have a Great Relationship After Baby?
As a Denver marriage counselor, online couples therapist, licensed marriage and family therapist and married mom of two I know that bringing a new baby into the family is truly one of the most amazing life transitions. We spend countless hours preparing for our new little member by creating a perfect nursery, talking about a birth plan and reading book after parenting book, but often we forget to think about our relationship after baby. It's vital to prepare your marriage for a child, too.
How Does Having a Child Change a Relationship?
Let’s face it, having a baby requires a major adjustment in our relationship, including the way you communicate, work together as a team, and even show each other love and affection. I should know, I have two children…under two years of age! (But that’s another blog post.)
Making space for a third, or fourth member of the family brings growing pains in a marriage and often it is the one area that gets overlooked. This is a problem, because your relationship after baby can need some TLC too. It's important to strengthen your relationship before welcoming a new child, so that you both have the most positive experience possible.
We increase our ability to have a smooth transition from a family of two to a family of three or more only if we plan for it. Here are a few tips to help you successfully navigate the path from partners to parents.
One: Identify Your Support System Before Baby Arrives
As the age old saying goes, “It takes a village, ” and I honestly believe that it does. The first couple of months of newborn life can be challenging. No matter how many books you’ve read or classes you’ve taken, parenting is the true definition of on-the-job training. Not only are you trying to climb the learning curve of this new job but you’ll be doing it on very little sleep. It is imperative that you have a support system that you can rely on when you’re tired, overwhelmed, worried or downright terrified that you’re doing it wrong (don’t worry, you’re not).
Figure out who is your individual support and who is the support for you as a couple. I cannot stress enough the importance of support for new moms specifically. Being postpartum coupled with the sometimes challenging experience of breastfeeding (if that is your choice) can be especially hard, and being able to lean on others that have gone through it, is life saving.
Encourage your friends and family to check in on you two, accept any and all offers for meals, cleaning, a break for a nap or a shower, and know who you’re going to call when you just need a minute to cry/vent/complain etc. Remember that asking for help is the truest sign of strength and not weakness. Being willing and able to know when you’re at capacity and need to tap out can assist in avoiding symptoms of depression and/or care fatigue.
This will help both of you as individuals, and as a couple. Having someone to support you both in taking “time-out” together can help sustain your relationship after baby. Also, having support to prevent either of you from becoming so depleted that you don't have anything left to give to your partnership is very important.
If you don't have a natural support system with friends and family to lend a hand, consider making your own — Ideally, as part of your pre-baby prep plan. Check out in-person or online postpartum support groups for emotional support. You may also consider finding opportunities to connect with other young families in the same situation who would welcome the opportunity to trade childcare from time to time.
Two: Employ Your Empathy
The practice of cultivating empathy for both yourself and your partner is one of the most important tools you have. Let’s be honest, sleep deprivation is an actual tactic used for torture. So when you are feeling highly irritable, overly emotional and that your brain closely resembles a fried egg reach for your empathy.
What's empathy? Empathy is understanding how another person feels, and having compassion for them (as opposed to criticism or judgment). When you're adjusting to a new child, neither of you are at 100%. You're both going to make mistakes, say the wrong thing, or do something that will annoy each other. This is the time to give each other a pass. [For more on this topic check out “Empathy: The Key to Communication And Connection”]
Remember that it makes sense that you’re feeling on edge, or that your partner seems more easily agitated. Remind yourself that it is only temporary. You will sleep again, your distress tolerance will come back, your ability to think clearly will re emerge but in the meantime you will practice patience with yourself, and those around you.
Be thoughtful about the fights you choose, allow space for tears, and be gentle with your words for both yourself and your other half. Ideally, begin intentionally cranking up the empathy in your relationship well before baby arrives so you have lots of practice being more tolerant of each other before stress and sleep deprivation shorten your fuses.
Three: Negotiate Your Roles Before Baby Arrives
One of the biggest challenges of any transition is a renegotiation of roles. Bringing another person, albeit a small one, still brings along a whole new set of tasks. Your relationship after baby can look very different in terms of who does what around the house. Before baby is born, spend some time with your partner considering how you are going to split those tasks up.
Questions to ask each other before baby comes:
- Will one person be solely responsible for night feedings and diaper changes or will those tasks be divided?
- Will both of you be responsible for washing bottles? Or will one person be the keeper of all things milk?
- How will you make sure that you both are getting time to take a break and check out of parenting duties, even if only for 10 minutes?
- If you have pets in your home, consider who will be in charge of their needs while you’re adjusting to the needs of baby.
Remember that these roles can always be renegotiated as you go, but starting off with an initial idea of what household roles and responsibilities will look like will decrease the chance of a 2 AM screaming match about who should be changing a dirty diaper. Tackling the responsibilities of parenting together will also help keep feelings of resentment at bay and protect your relationship after baby arrives.
In my experience the first two months are the hardest part of the transition. At about 8-10 weeks it feels like a fog lifts and suddenly you re-emerge into the world of the living, but the initial weeks can feel like a whirlwind. Having a plan with your partner will at the very least give you a road map of ways to navigate the sometimes treacherous path so that you can spend more time enjoying your new baby, and become a stronger couple (and family) in the process.