Two-thirds of couples report significant decrease in their relationship satisfaction following the birth of their first child. This is due to a combination of tiredness, depression, and loss of romance. Conflicts between the parents typically increase, and when the marriage suffers, the baby suffers, too. We know that even babies react to conflict in their environment (rising blood pressure, distress) and parents who are caught up in their own problems are more likely to unintentionally neglect some needs of their child.
What can new parents do to protect their marriage?
1. Be flexible in building your parenting partnership.
- Flexibility: Allow freedom for your spouse to build a connection in a way that is natural for him.You both bring your own histories, values, and dreams into your parenting role. Do not be rigid in your expectation of how parenting should be done. Decide the absolutes, but allow much freedom in determining what to keep, leave, and create together.
- Partnership: Work together through negotiation and compromise, but learn to appreciate and build on each other’s unique styles & strengths. We assume a mother’s role, but fathers are important in the development of a child, too. (Research supports the significance of a father’s role, especially in the development of intellect, empathy, and social competence).
2. Take a wide perspective on parenting.
- A wide view of experience: Your problems are not unique to you.Talk to other couples, especially ones who have “made it” through the first year of a new child.
- A wide view of time: This stage will not last forever. All the care that a new baby requires will change as your child matures and learns to become more independent in thought and behavior. (Of course, that means you’ll have new challenges down the road; but that’s another article.) One of the things I chose to do for my first child was to keep of journal of my hopes and dreams for her. That helped me keep things in perspective, and now that is the most enduring record of the first years of her life.
3. Keep your marriage in the center of your focus.
Guard against creating a child-centered family. The best gift you can give your child is a healthy relationship between its parents. Work on…
- Fortified Friendship: Make sure you invest in affectionate talk & touch every day. You may have less time to devote to this right now, but make sure it remains a priority. Don’t neglect each other.
- Intentional Intimacy: Planned sex is still good sex.
- Controlled Conflict: Avoid conflict in front of children until around age 4, and then allow them to see healthy conflict with resolution. What is healthy conflict? It’s characterized complaining rather than blaming, understanding rather than persuading, respect rather than retribution.