Suzanne Hadley Gosselin recalls that “there was no way for me (or him) to anticipate how hormones, sleep deprivation, the stress of caring for an infant, and just adjusting to a huge life change in general would test our marital bliss.”
As Gosselin notes, it’s impossible to fully predict and prepare for all of the changes you and your marriage will face. One report by State of Our Union (SOOU) identifies ten relationship factors that contribute to a couple’s odds of combining marriage and parenthood healthily and happily.
Of those ten, there are four major areas you and your spouse should invest in first, according to Wendy Kittlitz, vice-president of counselling at Focus on the Family Canada.
1. Committing to the power of “we”
What does commitment actually look like in a marriage? The SOOU describes it in a few terms.
They say it’s the “extent to which spouses see their relationship in terms of ‘we’ versus ‘me.’” For instance, when baby is crying, you may be tempted to tell your spouse, “Go tend to your baby.” But these divisive terms and the attitude behind them can be destructive to a parenting partnership.
If a child gets sick with a cold or gets a bump on their head, try not to play the blame game of who exposed the child to germs or who was in charge of the baby at the time of the bump. It was a team effort to create a child, and it will take continued teamwork to raise him or her.
Additionally, the SOOU found that a couple’s “desire to stay in the relationship ‘no matter what rough times we encounter,’” was a vital commitment factor. Life with a newborn could certainly be considered one of those “rough times.”
But in the thick of parenting, if the grass looks greener on the other side, don’t whine – water! Entertain marriage-affirming thoughts. Explore marriage resources such as books, articles and podcasts. And if you feel like your marriage is worse than ever, but you’re unsure of whether that’s the new normal, know that it doesn’t have to be. Please seek advice from a trusted couple you know, a pastor or a professional counsellor. Feel free to contact us.
2. Investing in couple time
“Intimacy is more likely to emerge and be sustained when couples have time for one another, especially after they transition into parenthood,” claims the SOOU. This quality time doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a babysitter to care for your little one for a weekly dinner-and-a-movie date night. A simpler day-to-day practice is to try to keep some of the meaningful traditions in your marriage alive.
“My husband, Silas*, and I still tried to watch comedy sitcoms together each night to laugh with each other and relax before bed,” new mom Blair* shares. “Sometimes this meant I was nursing during the show, or falling asleep before it ended. But we still tried to keep that special time alive.”
While your traditions may look slightly different after baby arrives, as will the rest of your life, you can maintain a happy marriage taking one moment at a time.
3. Sharing responsibilities
“Both men and women are . . . more likely to report that they are ‘very happy’ in their marriages when they share housework,” according to the SOOU report.
For the first few weeks after baby is born, however, it’s perfectly healthy and normal to allow the chores to go undone. Your priority is to pour time and energy into tending to the needs of your child – and yourself. Sweeping can wait, sleeping sometimes can’t!
As you figure out how to share the influx of responsibilities, it’s also crucial to be generous. For example, rather than keeping a tally of how many poopy diapers you versus your spouse have changed today, choose to be the first to offer the next time the fumes start wafting.
4. Safeguarding high-risk areas of money and sex
Kittlitz notes that, in addition to the three above areas of new parenthood, couples also need to “guard against letting unnecessary tensions develop in these two high-risk areas: money and sex.”
Money, or more specifically the stress it can cause, plays a large part in married parents’ reports of happiness and marital stability, according to the SOOU study:
“Couples who report above-average levels of financial stress—that is, worrying frequently that their income will ‘not be enough to meet your family’s expenses and bills’—are consistently less likely to describe themselves as ‘very happy’ in their marriages.”
Making more money is easier said than done. But spending less money is something a couple can actively work on to reduce their financial stress. “Prudent spending,” reports the SOOU, helps to “protect couples from the financial stresses that can erode the quality and stability of married life.” For the sake of keeping down your marital stress, try to stay within your financial means when buying for baby.
The SOOU also suggests that it is “important for couples to renew the sexual dimension of their relationship as quickly as possible.” How quickly? That differs for every couple, but the suggested time for restarting intercourse is around six to nine weeks postpartum.
“The man will likely be ready for sex before the woman is,” writes Gosselin. “A woman can be sensitive to her husband by seeking to meet his sexual needs (once she is physically and emotionally able).” Don’t worry men, this can be done even before the wife is ready for intercourse. As soon after birth as you feel ready, start cuddling, lying with your spouse in the nude, showering together and pleasuring your spouse sexually. Remember, you were and still are a couple first and parents second.
Later, if you’re finding it difficult or unusually painful to have intercourse, speak with your doctor. While it can be uncomfortable for the first few weeks after reinitiating sex, it should gradually become pleasurable again.
How does sex after baby change? Before baby, privacy wasn’t likely an issue in your own home. Now it is, especially for wives! To help each other get in the mood, prioritize privacy. If baby is sleeping in your bedroom, roll the bassinet into another room so you and your spouse can have the bedroom to yourself. Or get intimate in another room in the house while your baby sleeps. Either way works!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of raising a newborn while also protecting your marriage, the fact of the matter is your marriage has the potential to be even stronger than it was before your baby. “Social science is pretty clear that the childrearing years typically see a reduction in marital satisfaction,” Kittlitz explains. However, she adds that “investing in your relationship during these years will keep it from becoming a statistic. Hang in there, because couples who weather these years will find even greater marital satisfaction as they move into the empty nest years.”