By Katherine Caputo, Google Author
Whether you’ve been married two years or twelve, having your first baby will turn your world upside down. The wonder of having created a new life together can inspire new levels of love, connection, and respect for one another. It can be a time of great highs and lows – delight, excitement and joy, along with frustration, exhaustion and (possibly) no small measure of confusion!
Post-baby life will be uncharted territory for you both. As with any new challenge, it’s best to approach it with realistic and balanced expectations – how will your lives change, and what might this mean for your relationship?
Once the baby arrives, you and your partner will be on call 24/7. That infamous sleep deprivation is often one of the first things to start taking its toll on the relationship between new parents!
From a practical perspective, you can try alternating feedings, either in 3-4 hour shifts throughout the night, or with one parent assuming responsibility for one whole night and the other taking over the next. Grabbing naps when you can throughout the day can also help, of course! Get some more excellent tips and ideas here.
However, the fact remains that you will both be sleep deprived to some extent, for some period of time, and this can lead to cranky tempers, irritable squabbles and hasty words.
“Sharing the Night Shift” means more than just sharing the practical aspects of round-the-clock feeding – it means empathizing with one another, having more patience, and recognizing when tiredness is leading to irrational thoughts or behavior.
– Remind yourself that your partner is probably feeling everything you’re feeling right now, even if he or she isn’t expressing it. If you’re tired and frustrated, he or she may be feeling equally, or even more so. Now is a time for kindness – remember you’re on the same team!
– Summon up a happy, positive memory whenever confronted with a problem that you know is being made that much worse by lack of sleep. Take a moment to hold that memory and make it vivid in your mind. Relive every last detail. This will help put your immediate present into perspective, and remind you that “this too will pass”!
– Try to show appreciation for your partner whenever they take over the night shift, even if it’s just a kiss and a quiet “thank you”. It’s lovely to be appreciated, and he or she is very likely to reciprocate, making the whole experience that bit more bearable for both of you!
With the addition of a third member into your family, the time and energy you once had only to lavish on each other will now be significantly split.
Date nights will probably have to be put on hold for a while. Some women may feel shy or more inhibited in their post-pregnancy bodies, just as men may have their own anxieties, such as the fear of hurting their partner. And of course, both of you may be too shattered once you hit the sack for anything other than sleep!
Once recovered from the physical impact of birth, however, there are some small steps you can take to encourage a return to intimacy:
– If possible, and if you have the space to do so, try to set aside the baby’s bedroom, the living room, or any other room in the house for putting the baby back to sleep, breastfeeding, changing diapers, etc. Try to keep your bedroom private and off-limits as much as possible. Having a sanctuary to yourselves is helpful for maintaining a romantic and sexual connection.
– Take advantage of any brief, quiet periods to reconnect physically – you don’t always have to have sex! The key thing is to be intimate in ways that make you both feel loved and secure. This could be as simple as curling up in each others’ arms to rest, or giving a gentle massage. Take it as slowly as you need to.
– Be open with each other about any body confidence issues or sexual anxieties. By expressing these feelings, you’ve already gone some way to addressing them, and you’re building an ever-stronger bond of mutual trust and understanding.
See here for more information and ideas about rekindling your sex life after a baby.
#3 Communicate, Plan, Communicate!
It takes two to tango, and so it takes two to share responsibility for the product! Allowing the brunt of duties to fall on one person is a surefire way to breed resentment and negativity.
On a practical level, this can happen quite by accident – often when couples haven’t sat down and had a proper conversation around sharing tasks, splitting chores, and planning for various eventualities. It’s important to work out a fair and equitable system of splitting chores, both general tasks around the house, as well as care-taking necessities.
On an emotional level, however, resentment can build if one or both partners are feeling unsupported, or taken for granted – even on a subconscious level. This may manifest itself in various ways, such as:
– Lack of care with regard to your own share of household tasks, or feeling that too much is being expected of you
– An urge to keep communication between the two of you superficial, even brusque
– Feeling frequently unhappy, angry or depressed for no obvious reason
– A tendency to find fault with your partner’s actions*
This kind of situation can be damaging if allowed to continue. If you recognize any of the above signs, it’s crucial to think deeply and determine whether or not you feel properly supported – and if not, why not. Then sit down and talk! Bring your feelings out into the open. Keeping the the lines of communication open is absolutely imperative.
Sometimes, you may find that this is not enough. Anger and resentment can be huge barriers, and at these times you may need the help of an experienced couple therapist. Couples therapy can be a powerful means of overcoming even the most deep-seated of communication issues.
Enjoy this special time, and be reassured that you and your new family have a bright future ahead!
Park Avenue Relationship Consultants’ compassionate, expert therapists are here to help you and your partner navigate the difficulties your relationship may be facing after the birth of a baby. For confidential help and advice, call us 7 days a week on 212.289.0295.
*Please be aware that any of these symptoms can also signify postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious condition that affects many new mothers – find out more here. If either of you suspect that postpartum depression may be developing, contact your health provider immediately.