A growing stack of research reveals that happy marriages take a nosedive when a couple becomes a family. Thanks to sleepless nights, new expectations and the demands of bringing up baby while holding down a job, 30 to 50 percent of all new parents feel as distressed as couples already in therapy for marriage problems, say researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.
Happily, even newer research reveals something smart couples have always known: Parenthood can sweeten and strengthen your relationship. Here’s how to make sure your marriage stays solid when the new baby arrives.
1. Talk about what’s ahead
How will you split household chores and errands? What will you do for daycare–and who will get baby to and from the child-care center to the sitter’s house? These seemingly small details can loom large in your relationship once baby makes three.
2. Break the silence about parenthood’s downside
Caring for a baby (or multiples!) isn’t all kisses and cuddles. Feeding, changing, bathing, and entertaining a little one 24/7 can stretch your physical, emotional and mental resources beyond the breaking point. Find time to talk together about your frustrations, fatigue and even moments of anger. Be specific, be supportive and be honest. These feelings are normal—not a sign that you’re a bad parent. Admitting them, accepting each other’s feelings and working together to solve underlying problems can keep you feeling saner—and closer.
3. Be frank about the losses as well as the gains
You’ve got the baby of your dreams, so why are you feeling so sad about your lost sex life or the elastic-waist jeans that have replaced your sleek, pre-baby size 6? New parents often mourn silently and separately about all the ways a new baby has changed their lives, creating marital distance and even a sense of shame. These feelings are normal too. Sharing them will help you feel better and strengthen your bond as a couple.
4. Don’t blame yourself or your spouse for marital blips
Experts say the first baby is the biggest challenge your marriage will ever face. You’re both exhausted—and grappling with new identities, new expectations for yourself and your spouse, and virtually no time for personal pleasures. Your first fix-up step: Don’t feel guilty or personally responsible for the downturn in marital bliss—and don’t blame your spouse. It’s a given. You’re only responsible if you don’t do anything to turn it around.
5. Understand the new definition of a good marriage
When Ohio State University researchers tested the co-parenting skills and marital happiness of 46 couples, they found a revealing connection: Partners who admired, supported and agreed with each other’s parenting styles when their children were babies had happier marriages two and a half years later. Couples who criticized or even undermined each other’s attempts to parent their young child were less happy with each other later on. Admire everything you can about your partner’s parenting and discuss areas where you disagree.
6. Weave a support network
Comparing notes with other parents of children the same age as your own can provide emotional support and a reassuring sense that no matter how busy or how crazy things are, it’s much more likely to find solutions—and feel good about what you’re doing together. Look for couples’ groups for new parents at your religious institution or make an effort to cultivate friendships with other couples, experts say.
7. Expect the unexpected
No book, video, class or tip from a friend can fully prepare the tow of you for the enormous changes parenthood brings. Plan to give yourself some slack, to be surprised and even shocked. This too is normal.
From The 7 Stages of Marriage (Reader’s Digest)