How to Help Your Marriage Survive a New Baby
By Elizabeth Pantley
After a baby is born, about half of all couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction. If you have a baby in the house, here are some tips so that you can prevent this from happening to you.
Learn about it
When a baby joins your family, your life changes dramatically. The way you will spend your days — and your nights — will be astonishingly different than before your baby was born. The way you feel about yourself and your place in the world shifts. Your priorities rearrange themselves into new patterns. To keep your marriage strong and loving, it will be important to redefine your relationship. You’ll best succeed if you acknowledge and embrace these changes in a new design that includes your roles as mother and father, as well as those of husband and wife.
Communication is key
As soon as your baby is born, you’ll be whooshed into a whirlwind of change and activity. There will be immediate and dramatic changes to your daily schedule. There will be visitors and gifts, thank-you notes to write and purchases — big and small — to be made. You’ll both be learning how to diaper, feed, bathe and care for a baby, and nobody will be getting any sleep at all. Is it any wonder that your marriage isn’t getting the same amount of nurturing as when it was just the two of you?
What’s most important during this time is that you talk to each other. Share your feelings about what’s going on in your lives, talk about what worries or concerns you and, best of all, don’t be afraid to have endless conversations about the wonder and miracle of your precious baby. Talking to each other will be a key component to keeping your marriage healthy, not just during this time of transition but for the rest of your lives, as well.
Understand that it’s just a phase
My husband and I have gone through the new baby phase four times, and it has been a little easier each time. By the time newborn number four joined our family, we could simply look at each other and pass a message between us that said, “I love you with all my heart, but I’m a little distracted right now. Don’t worry - I’ll be back.”
If you find that things are a little odd right now, that’s perfectly normal. You’re both dealing with this major life change, and it will take a bit before you settle into the new family configuration. If you continue to communicate, you can help each other work through these adjustments and come out on the other end a new family with a strong, loving marriage at the head.
How intimacy changes
Typically, if you ask your doctor when you can have sex again, he’ll tell you that you should wait six weeks after the birth of your baby. Many couples envision a pre-wedding-type waiting period followed by exciting and passionate honeymoon sex. This is often very far from reality.
A woman’s physical self undergoes a major change; pregnancy and delivery have an effect on a woman’s body like nothing else imaginable. Breastfeeding a new baby every two hours or so, coupled with the fatigue of endless night waking, further shape the purely physical impact of childbearing. Some studies demonstrate that nearly 80% of mothers — no matter how deeply they love their husbands — experience a loss of sex drive during the first year of their baby’s life, and another 60% find that it takes yet another year before they rediscover their pre-baby sexual passion. Many families welcome another pregnancy during this time, further complicating the sexual aspect of their relationship.
These biological effects, though, don’t have to signal an end to an exciting and passionate sex life. (Just look around you at all the families with a nest full of children — how do you think they got there?) It does mean that you will need to modify your approach to intimacy, replacing frequent, spontaneous sex with sex that is wonderfully intimate but thoughtfully scheduled.
Make a commitment to your marriage
Once you’ve passed through the new baby stage, you’ll want to continue to build and maintain a strong marriage. To do this, you must be willing to invest time, effort and thought. The ideas that follow will help you create and maintain deep meaning and joy in your marriage.
° Look for the good, overlook the bad. Make it a habit to ignore little annoying things — dirty socks on the floor, a day-old coffee cup on the counter, worn-out flannel pajamas, an inelegant burp at the dinner table. Choose instead to focus on things that make you smile: the way he rolls on the floor with the baby; the fact that she made your favorite cookies, the peace of knowing someone so well that you can wear your worn-out flannels or burp at the table.
° Give compliments freely and frequently. Compliments are powerful; they can bring your partner closer to you. Compliments are easy to give; you just have to make the effort to say them. A kind word can bring a smile to your partner’s face and lift the mood of the day.
° Show your appreciation. Your partner can become your port in the sometimes wild storms of life. He or she may know you better than anyone else in the world ? the only one who understands what little things make you most happy. Whenever small favors pass between you, always acknowledge them. “Thank you” hugs and “you’re welcome” kisses are marvelous ways to stay close, even when days are hectic.
° Pick your battles. This is great advice for childrearing—and for marriage, as well. Any human relationship has its share of disagreement and conflict. The key to a happy marriage is to decide which issues are worth pursuing and which are better off ignored.
° Make time for intimacy. As busy as you may be, as tired as you may get, find the time to stay close to your spouse physically. The foundation for this is the power of touch throughout your days together. Holding hands, hugging, massaging each other’s tense shoulders — they’re all part of the intimate relationship that you have together. Every small physical gesture helps to set the stage for more involved overtures when the opportunity presents itself. The more you incorporate these tender actions into your days, the more likely that they will extend into your nights in the form of sexual intimacy.
° Talk … and listen, too. As you work through the years, your marriage will change and shift according to the various milestones in your relationship such as having children, moving to new homes and dealing with the challenges that all people face. What’s important is keeping the lines of communication open. Talking to each other — and truly listening to the other’s words, hearing the feelings behind the words — will help you two understand one another and stay close.
° Make time for couple time. It can be very difficult for your marriage to thrive if you spend all your time being Mommy and Daddy. You need to spend regular time as husband and wife, too. This doesn’t mean you have to take a two-week vacation in Hawaii (although that might be nice, too!). Just take small daily snippets of time when you can enjoy uninterrupted conversation or even just quiet companionship. A daily morning walk around the block or a shared cup of tea after your children are in bed might work wonders to reconnect you to each other. And yes, it’s quite fine to talk about your baby when you’re spending your time together, because after all, your baby is one of the most important connections you have in your relationship. Sharing the joys that come with having children is one of the things that can keep your marriage close and loving.
When you and your spouse regularly connect in a way that nurtures your relationship, you will find that you can maintain a sparkling love between you that will also help you be a loving parent.
© Elizabeth Pantley; excerpted from Gentle Baby Care
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Buy her books at Powells.com. She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Her next book, Gentle Toddler Care, will be available in 2004. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit her at www.pantley.com/elizabeth.