When Two Become Three
A newborn brings many changes for a couple. Most people expect the sleep deprivation, physical care-taking and unsolicited child-rearing advice. What can be a surprise are the changes in the marriage.
Make no mistake, an infant will put a strain on your marriage as both spouses adjust to the changes in roles and lifestyle.
The gap between the romantic idea of having a baby and the reality is easily underestimated. For many couples, prior to the arrival of their baby, conflicts were fewer and more easily resolved. Enter baby, and the emotional resources of both parents are often strained.
The following tips can help a relationship stay solid.
1. Understand gender differences. First-time mothers and fathers tend to react differently to the arrival of a baby. Mothers naturally become completely focused on the needs of the child. They may be consumed with their new responsibility and role as a mother. Family dynamics shift and change to accommodate a new member. Fathers can be startled by this change and many report they never expected the marital relationship to shift so dramatically. Men may feel a sense of loss. Their wife is completely caught up in the baby and they miss her and the companionship they shared. New fathers sometimes feel increased pressure to provide financially for their growing family. The cost of diapers, medical care and anticipating college tuition get rolled into one, leading fathers to ask, How can we possibly afford it?
2. You’re in this together. As stressed as you might feel, remember that your spouse is going through his or her own adjustment. Act as a team and try not to criticize. Instead of saying, “That outfit doesn’t match,” try “Thanks for dressing the baby so I could finish getting ready.” Don’t keep score, or compete for who works harder or has more responsibility. Agree that both partners work equally hard and contribute to the success of the family.
3. Sex matters. How quickly sexual activity returns depends on several factors, and one is the mother’s physical and emotional readiness. Hormone levels and exhaustion play a part in lowering libido for many new mothers. While it is normal for a woman’s sex drive to drop after having a baby, it’s also normal for a man’s sex drive to remain the same. Sex is an important part of a relationship and it’s essential to make time for it even in the midst of a busy new-baby lifestyle. Sexual activity is a pathway to emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy keeps a relationship strong and committed. Do your marriage a favor and make time for sex.
4. Plan ahead for visitors. A new baby in the family gets everyone excited. Once the new arrival is here, family and friends want to visit. During pregnancy, you might have visions of welcoming well-wishers into your home and hosting a wonderful afternoon of oohs and ahhs over your precious newborn. In reality, visitors can be great but tiring. Consider planning ahead with friends and family for when they will meet the baby. It’s OK to ask for initial visits to be brief and that guests be flexible about when they visit.
5. Time marches on. The newborn stage doesn’t last forever, and stresses and strains unique to this time pass fairly quickly. Keeping your marriage a top priority will make you better parents. Try to overlook the small things and stay focused on the bigger picture. You will adjust, your spouse will adjust and care-taking tasks will get easier.
Having a baby changes everything. Expect your marriage to change, too. Communication is always important but can be a real lifesaver during the transition of becoming first-time parents. Talk about your experiences with each other and stay focused on your marriage as the foundation of the family.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of email@example.com. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.
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