About three months after our wedding, my husband and I found out we would be adding a small addition to our new family. To say we were surprised is an understatement. Having a baby this soon was not in our plans. I mean, we had only been married three months! We were still getting used to the whole “marriage” thing plus we were both going to school full time. Needless to say, it was a rough transition!
But 2 ½ years of marriage and a chubby 18-month-old later I’m happy to say that we are still going strong and overcame the challenge of a newborn. Though it definitely wasn’t easy.
In a research article by Alyson Fearnly Shapiro, John Gottman, and Sybil Carrere they found that the transition to parenthood is one of the most difficult family adjustments. Positive interchange between couples decrease, conflict increases and overall marital satisfaction can decrease (The Baby and the Marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives).
However, Shapiro, Gottman, and Carrere found that the more aware each partner is of their relationship and their partner, the more satisfied they are with the marriage over the transition to parenthood.
Specifically, they found that husbands who show fondness and admiration toward the wife instead of disappointment and negativity predicted higher marital satisfaction. In turn, if the wife is aware of the efforts her husband is making to be supportive and loving, it also raises the marital satisfaction rates.
These all sound easy enough, right? Just be nice and understanding and everything will work out. I mean, why wouldn’t you be aware of your partner’s needs? Why would you act disappointed once a baby enters the relationship?
The truth is this happens. As much as you think it won’t, it most likely will. The wife and husband both are faced with changes and challenges that they have never been faced with before, leading to misunderstanding, miscommunication, and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
For women, not only are they now responsible for taking care of a small person night and day, but they also have many emotional and physical changes that can be hard to deal with. Hormones are all over the place, exhaustion is prevalent, and there’s not a lot of “me” time.
Men have their own struggles as well. They are also trying to help take care of the baby but are possibly also busy with outside school or work (which the wife could also be doing as well). Then they have the challenge of trying to adjust to a new schedule, a disruption in couple alone time, and their own slew of anxieties and emotions over bringing a newborn into the marriage.
Basically, there’s a lot going on! And sometimes it can be hard to really understand what your partner is going through when you are trying to figure things out yourself.
I know when we first brought our son home it was difficult to be aware of my husband’s needs when all I could think about was how tired I was or how busy I was or how erratic my emotions had been. And then I automatically assumed my husband should just understand what I was going through!
But I learned quickly that that way of thinking would get me nowhere. We were in this together. And although my husband didn’t actually have to do the physical labor of having the baby, he was just as much a part of the whole process and he had needs and feelings too.
Our transition to parenthood was definitely a tough one. A transition that I truly felt unprepared for now that I look back on those first few months. But I know we are stronger and closer because of it. And my son has truly been a blessing in our lives.
So if I could impart any wisdom that I have for those new parents out there it is this: don’t forget the person that helped you bring your child into this world in the first place. Give your spouse your heart first, and your child your heart second. Coming from someone who is a mother, that may sound cruel to say. But in order to keep your relationship afloat it is what has to happen.
Be each other’s best friend! As the research article says, “Marital friendship acts as a buffer during stressful times in the marriage.” In order to maintain that friendship after baby arrives, you need to help each other, communicate with each other, and most importantly be there for each other.
It is also important to make time for one another. Go on monthly or even weekly dates and promise each other you won’t talk about your kids the whole time. Rekindle some of that excitement and spark that was present in your dates before your little one came along.
You can also try and participate in some of the favorite activities that you loved before you had kids. You may need to adjust a little bit since your life has changed, but it is possible. For example, my husband and I love watching movies and playing games. Since we had my son, it has been harder to go out to the movie theater. So instead, we decided to get Netflix and will sit down at night after my son goes to bed and watch a show together while eating ice cream. Best $9 I ever spent for my marriage! (Okay not really the best since spending money on actually getting married was a pretty big deal but you get the idea!)
There’s a free online class for new or expectant parents on StrongerMarriage.org (http://strongermarriage.org/htm/classes-events/marriage-moments) entitled “Marriage Moments,” as well as lots of cool articles about the effects of children on marriage.
What are some ways you and your partner have tried to be supportive of each other after having a baby (or other stressful transitions)?