Let me begin with a startling statistic. Over 67% of women and 56% of men reported a decline in marital satisfaction after having their first child. This paints a picture that is far different than what we would see on social media when it comes to expecting parents. Typically we see this splattered all over Facebook and Instagram:
At the end of the day, the worlds the photos represent can both exist. They aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact having a newborn can feel like a series of very high highs and very low lows. But what happens to our marriage during these tumultuous times. Also what can we do to strengthen the bond we have with our partner?
As cited in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal couples who have strong marital friendship were the most resilient to a decline in marital satisfaction when they became parents. As a result it makes sense to strengthen the friendship between couples as a way to combat the challenges associated with parenthood.
John Gottman, PhD, one of the pioneers in couples counseling, identifies three methods for strengthening the marital bond.
- Building Fondness and Affection for your Partner
- Being Aware of what is going on in your spouse’s life and being responsive to it
- Approaching problems as something you and your partner have control of and is something you can solve together.
After working with many couples I find the strength of their friendship to be a critical determining factor in their ability to weather the new parent storm. It makes sense… if you enjoy spending time with each other and you know what’s going on in the other’s life, you will face challenges as a team.
One way to strengthen the friendship is to obviously increase communication. Because a baby can create all sorts of new changes, updating each other more than ever is going to be crucial to keeping your marriage intact. One way to put this into action is to create a daily check-in.
However you MUST follow the rules. See below:
- Report observations rather than beliefs when it comes to how best to take care of the baby. For example, I noticed today Zoe stopped crying when I burped her after 2 oz of milk instead of the usual 3 oz. This is very different than saying: You have to burp Zoe after 2 oz of milk, not 3 oz. See the subtle difference?
- Both mom and dad need to do their own report even if one partner is gone all day
- Come up with a plan together for tackling tomorrow. If there’s conflict resolve the underlying issue. Try to make planning for the next day positive, or at worst neutral.
I like the daily check in because it gives both partners a chance to speak and report their findings. Parenthood is a lifelong observation process. Babies are dynamic and different. What works for one baby doesn’t work for another… sometimes we make it up as we go along. I also like the daily check in because it is collaborative. It can also be fun. Have it over dinner or a bottle of wine once your baby is down.
One of the biggest resistances I hear about the daily check in is “My husband and I are two ships passing in the night. When can we do this?” My response to this is That’s OK! Do your best. The 2 ships passing in the night situation will get better over time. Just keep at it and do what you can.
In addition to Gottman’s tips I also want to add the below from what I have seen while working with couples:
- Create space for you both to mess up and learn from it- you are both going to mess up. It’s part of parenthood. It’s ok. I remember when my child was only 5 months old I forgot to strap her into her stroller. I looked the other way and in that split second she fell face first onto my hardwood floor. I felt horrible for weeks about it. The only thing that allowed me to recover from my horrific mommy guilt was my husband telling me it was ok. That I am not a bad mom and it happens to other new parents.
- Evaluate current divisions of labor and update it- I write about this in another article HERE. Not updating divisions of labor can lead to resentment between partners. You want to avoid that.
The first few months after a baby is born is a combination of great joy and intense challenges. The important thing in a partnership is knowing you don’t have to weather the storm alone. Remember your partner is your BFF. You are a TEAM!
Jena Booher is the Founder of Babies on the Brain, a company dedicated to transforming the lives of working mothers. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology and is mother to a 2.5 year old daughter. babiesonthebrain.com