Some of my friends have asked me, “How can you suggest that the birth of a baby can cause some marital problems? You might have guessed– those friends don’t have children!
I completely agree that having a baby is a joyous thing. I personally adore my children and am joyful every day that they were born and also that they have grown into amazing adults.
In my psychology practice, over the last three decades, I have worked with hundreds of couples, many of whom have reported that they began to be unhappy after their first child was born. All of a sudden, there wasn’t enough time for each other. They had gradually drifted further and further apart.
Their conversations had deteriorated to transactions about who was picking up which child, and what they would have for dinner.
These things are, of course, necessary to talk about, but we’ve all seen those couples at a restaurant that don’t have anything to say to each other and aren’t laughing or enjoying each other.
It’s sad, and the saddest part is that it could be you two. Or my husband and me.
I recall times in my life, that lasted much too long, in which I barely noticed my husband when I first arrived home and, instead, ran right to the children. I figured that adults can wait. The children needed attention right now. Of course, there’s truth to that.
What was missing, though, was time devoted to us, as a couple. Too much focus on children; not enough focus on each other.
My parents had done the opposite, and I was determined to pay attention to my children to the exclusion of anything (or anyone) else. Big Mistake!
A balance was needed and it took me too long to figure that out. Then, it took us a long time to recover.
I learned a lot about myself and about creating balance in my relationship and my parenting. I want to help you not make those same mistakes. They are painful and cause damage.
Doing it Right. Recently, I spent some truly delightful time with a young couple who I have known for several years. They are pregnant with their first child and are very much in love.
In listening to them talk about the child and their relationship, I was so impressed with the amount of thought that they had put into their approach to parenthood.
I was reminded of three secrets that I had finally learned after many missteps, for keeping your marriage strong during pregnancy and after the birth of the baby.
It’s true that for most couples, the birth of the first baby is the most abrupt life-change imaginable. Instead of two, there are now three people in the relationship.
It is literally impossible to devote the same amount of attention to the other parent that you used to. Babies have a way of voicing their needs with immediacy which can’t be ignored, right?
And besides, both parents have fallen in love with the new baby and want to spend as much time as possible with him or her. That’s the most natural situation in the world, and it’s also the one that can be the beginning of a downward slide that results eventually with disconnected and unhappy parents.
Everyone wants to avoid this, while at the same time, being awesome and attentive parents. Here are some secrets to having a happy baby AND a happy relationship.
Secret #1: LOVE felt and expressed
Remember every day how much you love one another and be sure that your actions reflect that love. I heard the following things that night with the young couple that touched my heart:
• Expressions of love and well-thought-out determination to keep their relationship strong after the birth, and actions planned to do so.
• Expressed sentiments from each that the other was going to be a terrific parent with back up reasons. (For example, “You’re so kind”, “You’re so good with children”, “You are amazing to me—you can do anything”.)
• The declaration that she was worried that she couldn’t love a baby as much as she loves her husband (but they both know that they will love the baby completely and that it will be a different kind of love).
• Admiration for each other spoken freely and with heart.
Secret #2: VISION
Create a vision for your relationship in the near future and for the distant future, that includes both dreams and also specifics.
Your vision becomes your blueprint for your relationship. It includes some principles that you want to live by and some intended behaviors that will support your vision.
For example, “In our communication, I want to be more open and share more details of my daily life”, “For our good health, I want to encourage you and me to maintain our heathy food plan and our exercise routine, even if it has to be modified for the baby. We will make it happen.”
Secret #3: PLANNING “US” TIME
The best intentions fall short if there isn’t planning for how to make those intentions happen!
Plan now what actions you are going to take to make your intentions into your reality.
If you have already noticed that your closeness has decreased, plan something now.
It could be a special evening at home after the baby or children are sleeping—a movie and popcorn, a favorite dinner, food delivery and talking, whatever that means to you.
None of this requires large money outlays.
If you have a babysitter (or a friend or grandparent who is willing), have that person come over and you two leave the house and do something enjoyable—whatever you like to do.
The point here is to honor and celebrate your relationship by nurturing it and taking time to be together.
Time devoted to each other will be the wisest investment in your future that you can make. You two are the rocks in your family—the very foundation. Maintaining a strong foundation is the greatest gift you can give your children and each other!
PS. Pick one of the ideas above or one of your own, plan it (on the calendar!) and do it!
Drop me a note about how it went!