Whether you’ve recently welcomed your first baby into your family or your third, you and your spouse probably experienced a bit of upheaval and a large amount of change. You might be thinking “You have no idea…it’s never going to be the same again.”
You’re not wrong.
How does parenthood affect marriage?
Having a baby completely changes the reality of your relationship with your spouse, not to mention your entire life. Suddenly, you have a little human demanding all your attention and care. You aren’t sleeping, every inconvenience is a challenge and you can feel yourself clashing more often with your spouse.
If this sounds a little like your reality, don’t panic. Every couple experiences this. The key factor to remember, though, is that even though post-baby stress is totally normal, it’s the methods used to handle the stress that will determine the future of your marriage through parenthood.
Recognize that change is normal
A new human in the house is a huge change. Suddenly your ‘two is company’ switches to ‘three’s a crowd’ and if you’re not mentally prepared for that reality, it can severely catch you off guard. Talking about this reality is a vitally important thing to do with your spouse. Brainstorm together the ways you think your routine, life and habits will change. Be open with each other about your expectations. Come up with a game plan on how you’re going to ask for help and how you’re going to handle moments of high stress.
The more you understand the other’s expectations, hopes and fears regarding the new baby, the less likely you will be to feel misunderstood or afraid to talk.
Search for ways to be grateful
A lot of parenting happens behind the scenes. While you might be focused on rocking the baby to sleep, your spouse might be walking the dog, folding laundry, mowing the lawn or prepping the kitchen for dinner. So when you come out of the baby’s bedroom and notice the mess of toys on the living room floor, don’t comment on what didn’t get done – comment on what did get scratched off the checklist. By focusing on the positives and gearing your comments towards gratitude and not negativity, you both will build an environment of encouragement and supportive teamwork.
Split the tasks
It’s likely that at some point or another, one parent will feel like they’re pulling the weight of household tasks. Odds are that if one of you feels this way, both of you are probably feeling it. This could be due to a lack of communication, a lack of asking for help, a habit of noticing what still needs to be done versus what has been done or simply overlooking the truth that the other spouse accomplishes much when you’re not looking.
A simple fix here is stating your needs (“I feel like I’m doing a lot of the housework and baby-work and am feeling overwhelmed”) and asking to talk about it. Come up with a game plan together of who is going to do what. It might seem elementary, but a simple chore chart that the two of you work through together on alternating days/weeks will help alleviate some of the weight while being a visual representation of everything getting done around the home.
Date each other
Because your life becomes “baby this” and “baby that,” you don’t have time or energy to invest in each other the way you used to. While this is a tough reality, it’s important to not let it become a permanent one. It might take some time, but it’s important to do the things you used to do pre-baby (within reason, of course).
If you used to make dinner and watch a movie on the couch once a week, try to continue that. Perhaps you spent Sunday afternoons hiking together. Ask the grandparents to take the baby for a few hours so you can have that quality time together. After all, you’re still partners and should continue to foster that relationship.
Communicate and communicate some more
People can’t mind read—if you’re not being direct about how you feel, how can your spouse know? Taking it one step further, how can they be expected to help? It is your job and your spouse’s job to communicate your needs to each other. If you feel like you’re going to hurt someone if you don’t get a nap, say it. If you really need a night off, ask for it. If you really miss your spouse and want to spend intentional time together, communicate it. Over half of your problems can be solved if you simply voice them kindly and respectfully.
Nurture your relationship with your spouse
All the attention on the new baby might leave you or your spouse feeling a little neglected. In order to keep resentment from breeding, make sure you’re checking in on each other frequently. By communicating with each other, being grateful toward each other for the work they are doing and making little sacrifices out of love for your partner, you can continue to nurture a healthy marriage in the midst of parenthood.
If you find yourself really needing help or guidance during marriage and parenthood, especially in its early stages, counseling services, including those at Pyramid Online Counseling, can provide support, encouragement and concrete advice in handling parenthood and saving your marriage from struggling more than is necessary.