You’ve heard the expression “two’s company, three’s a crowd?” Bringing home a baby, for all its joys, can also leave a lot less space for a marriage. But becoming parents may provide a wonderful opportunity to create a stronger, more loving partnership. Building a better bond between the two of you will not only benefit each of you as individuals, but your child as well. So how do you make this happen amidst days (and nights) full of feedings, diaper changes and swaddling? Here are three top tips!
Remember What They Say About the Word Assume: After we’ve been coupled for some time we tend to take for granted that our partners know us inside and out. We can “finish their sentences.” We know all of their likes and dislikes. Our feelings are hurt when they do or don’t do something that we assumed they knew we would or wouldn’t like. In reality we are living organisms. We are constantly growing, evolving into better (hopefully) versions of our selves. In some apparent but often far more subtle ways, we are changing. Sometimes these changes happen without our even being fully conscious of them. Your lives have just undergone a major overhaul. Ask how your partner is doing on a given day even if you think you know the answer. The effort will be appreciated, and the answer may surprise you.
Fight Fair. Fighting is an essential and healthy part of relationships, particularly long-term ones. The key is knowing how to fight fairly and productively. While it may be difficult to remember how to fight effectively in the heat of the moment, these are skills that can be practiced and improved upon. The better you and your partner become, the stronger your partnership will be. Thinking about what we want to say when we are in moments of extreme emotion is difficult but it can be done. And it’s well worth learning to do. We can forgive each other for things we say, especially when we understand they are said out of anger. It’s better if we can stop ourselves from saying them in the first place, particularly when they are intended to hurt the other person because we have been hurt ourselves.
Time outs are not just for toddlers. When you feel yourself becoming so angry or fired up that you can no longer hear what either of you is saying, it’s time to call a “time-out.” Take a deep breath. Really–it helps. Tell your partner you need a five (or ten or twenty) minute break and leave the room. Go into another part of your home where you can have some quiet time for yourself. Breathe (again.) Count to ten. Take a few sips of water. Do whatever you need to do to help calm yourself down. Either one of you reserves the right to call and use a time out at any point. You can return to the source of the conflict at a later time when you have both settled a bit.
Remember, you likely haven’t slept in days. If you are not getting good sleep then you are not functioning optimally. This will contribute to lower levels of patience and higher levels of irritation. We are predisposed to conflict when we are in such a state. Learn to take your emotional temperature. If you know you’re already feeling exhausted, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to let other things go. This is not the time to tackle a mound of dirty onesies (Unless of course laundry relaxes you. In which case, you are welcome to do mine anytime.) Instead, sit down and rest–even if it’s only for a few moments. Encourage your partner to do the same. Taking these opportunities can be restorative. And the more you feel in tact, the lesser the likelihood that you will be at each other’s throats.
Get Help, Pronto! Even the strongest marriages can be tested by the stress of a new baby. If either you or your partner feels like things are “off” in your marriage, then get thee to a therapist. ASAP! There is no shame in asking for professional help. In fact, it may be the best thing you can do to ensure the health of your relationship and your family. Many couples make the mistake of waiting too long. By the time they make it into the therapist’s office, one or the other person has already “checked out” of the partnership. If you feel like your marriage is not where you want it to be, get help. Now.
If your happiness is not incentive enough to seek support, consider your baby. Babies are incredibly sensitive beings. Even if you are not screaming at the top of your lungs in front of your little one (and if you are, you should consider what affect that might be having on him) babies can pick up on how you are feeling. This does not mean that you have to be a ball of sunshine around your baby every second of every hour of every day. What it does mean is this: If you and your partner are screaming, crying, sulking, frowning, or giving each other the silent treatment on a regular basis, then you are creating a chaotic, scary and insecure environment for your child. Adults can usually make a choice to establish a more pleasant home life for themselves. Babies get what they get, and they are stuck with it unless their parents care enough about them to make a change. You deserve to be in a home that feels safe and loving, and so does your baby. If your marriage is not feeling how it should, the time to change it is now.
Bringing home a baby is overwhelming; Delightful and also challenging! Expanding the family provides a beautiful opportunity to strengthen its foundation–the relationship between you and your partner. Creating and maintaining a warm, loving and secure home for yourselves is among the best baby gifts you can give, and the effects can last for generations to come.
Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT is a Postpartum Specialist in private practice in Manhattan. A licensed social worker and certified personal trainer, she provides comprehensive support services for women transitioning to motherhood. She is currently writing a book for new mothers. Learn more at www.daynamkurtz.com, Twitter: @daynamkurtz.
Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT