You and your partner have been blissing out for the last nine months, preparing, nesting and basking in the wondrous glow of imminent parenthood. You had a ‘baby moon’ in Byron; the baby shower at your sister’s house, and the nursery is looking truly Pinterest worthy.
Anticipation is high, movement is slow (yours not the baby’s), and everyone’s excited, but what happens when the baby actually arrives? How is it going to affect you as a couple?
Relationships are much more likely to be placed under pressure when going through a life transition. Becoming first-time parents is one of the biggest transitions there is, and with all the adjustments that need to be made once the baby arrives, it can bring out the cracks in even the best relationship foundation.
So how do couples navigate this (sometimes difficult) transition without affecting their new baby?
Expert relationship therapists John and Julie Gottman, set out to answer this very question. In their research they found that 67% of couples where very unhappy with each other within the first three years of their baby’s life. Of the same study 33% still experienced issues, but were content with the relationship.
So with the arrival of a new baby, and all the changes that it brings to the dynamics of your relationship, what does make the difference between feeling happy and content, and being disconnected from your partner?
- In it together
I’m not going to sugar coat it. As new parents, you’ll both be feeling irritable and overly emotional. Responding around the clock to your baby’s needs, instead of sleeping, will do that to you. Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our emotional wellbeing. Feeling tired and irritable can lead to feeling depressed and overly sensitive to every little slight – whether it’s real or imagined!
When baby comes along, it’s completely normal for both of you to experience bouts of crankiness, surges of deep love, and a whole range of new emotions that you’ve never felt before. Things might be up and down for a while, but it’s not a sign that you or your partner are defective, or that the relationship is doomed.
- Tune into your baby’s world
There are many wonderful programs out there that teach new parents how to connect with their baby emotionally. Babies will cue their parents in ways to let them know what they need. Crying, arching the back, and looking away, are all cues for parents to understand that their baby needs them. Often all the baby needs is their caregiver to delight in them and to enjoy their exploration of the world with them.
They also need to know that parents will comfort them and help them figure out what they’re feeling. Stay emotionally warm and available as much as possible and learn to recognise when your baby is cuing you.
- Stay cool
Ok, I know this one is much easier said than done! But it’s important to remember when you’re both feeling tired and irritable that you’re ‘in it together’. Life has changed, and with that comes different priorities and sacrifices. Try to remain calm when discussing these issues. Softly does it when approaching topics that you think will cause an argument. No criticising, blaming, defending, or stonewalling.
- For the family to be okay, the two of you need to be okay
When a baby arrives in a couple’s life, it becomes the number one priority. It’s not uncommon for the husband to feel like he’s been booted out of the picture, as mum’s attention remains fixed on baby. It’s important to remain friends, talk about your days and get involved with what’s going on for each of you. Ask each other “how are we going?” or “how are you feeling as a new mum/dad?”
Show appreciation and affection, and when someone wants to talk (even if it’s a fight) pay attention, be present.
- Let’s hear it for the dads
Our culture has a long way to go when it comes to viewing dad as an equally important caregiver as mum. This can leave men feeling left out and unsure of their role and what they should be doing. Add to that the increased arguments that are caused by all the changes to the couple’s life, and the sleep deprivation, and dads are more likely to pull away from mum and the baby.
Try to remember that the two of you are equals in this new parenting gig. You both have important roles in providing a warm and secure environment for the child, and you’re both responsible for the daily household routines. Couples who are able to sit down and discuss how they’re going to share the load actually increase the connection between all family members. It’s also vital that dad is encouraged to play and be affectionate with the baby rather than taking a more hands-off role.
Creating family rituals
Nurturing, admiration and affection all start with ‘family time’. From sitting down each night and sharing meals together, to camping every Easter, or sailing on Sundays. Incorporating your values into the family allows for the bond to deepen, and for shared memories to be created.
There is no ‘right’ way to parent, and I can guarantee that if you ask most parents they can tell you that they feel like they ‘got it wrong’ more than once.
But what is important is that you nurture your whole family as much as you nurture your newborn.
Remember as tough as things might be at first, it won’t stay that way forever. You’re all in this together, and you only need to be ‘good enough’ – not perfect – parents.
If you’re needing help creating rituals, why not try my couple time cards?