You've found the love of your life. You've fallen in love. You've dated, become engaged, and gotten married. You've longed to make your duo into a trio, and after some waiting, you now have a baby!
What could possibly go wrong? We know that even the strongest relationships are challenged during the transition to parenthood. Couples find themselves without time to talk or touch, sleep-deprived, irritable, and prone to snapping. There is suddenly an exponential increase in tasks to complete, and often couples stress about financial concerns. Grandparents rush in to help, but sometimes their help feels like interference.
Add to all of that postpartum depression, health problems, and concerns for the baby's well-being. What if you don't know what you're doing? Many perfectly competent adults face feelings of extreme confusion and overwhelm with a new baby. This is the stuff of sit-coms. And yet…
All of these factors add up and translate to a decline in marital satisfaction. According to Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on marriage, as many as 67% of new parents experience conflict, disappointment, and hurt feelings during this stage of marriage. They teach a workshop for new parents called Bringing Baby Home. In it, they prepare couples for life with a baby.
At Imago Relationships, we also teach parenting courses called Babies Brains that cover the developmental steps of infants, the impact of connection on the evolving brain, identifies the methods with which babies convey their needs, and identifies the receiving paths of babies.
The research done by Gottman shows that the single highest predictor of marital adjustment after a baby arrives is friendship quality in the marriage. It is vitally important to prioritize your relationship and remember that it is the foundation of your family. If it crumbles and falls, the kids go down with it. Babies require a lot of time and attention, it's true, but your relationship will need some as well to survive.
Four Tips For New Parents After Having a Baby
Tip #1 - Make Sleep A Priority
Absolutely everything seems more challenging when we aren't getting enough sleep. We are crankier, fight more, and exaggerate our feelings when tired. Try to nap as much as possible during the day, even if you've never been a napper.
Resist the urge to stay up at night after the baby falls asleep. Those dishes and mail will wait until tomorrow.
If you possibly can, work in shifts, taking turns with the baby. Hire a night nurse if your baby has health needs or needs constant care.
Even consider sleeping in separate rooms for a brief time if it helps you get a better sleep quality during the early months.
Tip #2 - Remember To Connect During The 4 Critical Moments Of The Day
Quite simply, this means greeting one another with a 20-second hug or a six-second kiss when you first wake up in the morning, when you part during the day when you reunite after being apart, and before falling asleep.
Just knowing the other is still there goes a long way in keeping you connected. This is a time of diminished sexual activity, so keeping the affection alive is essential.
Tip #3 - Express Your Gratitude Toward One Another
You might be surprised how important gratitude is to the maintenance of your friendship with your spouse. Both of you are under varying degrees of stress with a new baby, but look what you've done! You've brought a new life into the world, and each of you has played a part.
It's easy to grow resentful if you start comparing your contribution to his. Remember that each of you is struggling with your new role in different ways. Appreciate the effort given and express it lovingly.
Try this three-part appreciation for couples:
- I appreciate that…
- I appreciate it because…
- It makes me feel….
Tip #4 - Listen To One Another
My mentor always says that we survive in isolation and thrive in connection. Don't keep all of your feelings bottled up. Remember that the two of you are in this together. You both could use a sounding board for what's going on during this important transition from family of two to family of three—no need to try to fix the other's woes. Just listen and empathize.
While this period of your relationship seems impossible at times, try to focus on its joy. Just think how much easier it'll be when you go from three to four! Seriously, it does get easier as you get more comfortable with your roles and the baby starts to sleep. You'll get into a rhythm and hopefully get back to your intimate connection. Just remember to stay friends along the way.
If you are experiencing serious cracks in your relationship, get help and prioritize your relationship as a couple. There are many books, workshops, and therapists who can guide you through this transition. You may also want to look into additional Imago Relationships Parenting courses called The Parental Contract and Parenting Teens the Imago Way.
If you're struggling with keeping your love alive after having a baby, check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!
This blog was written by Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. I have 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. I have two advanced certifications in working with couples: Imago Relationship Therapy and Encounter-centered Couples Therapy.
I work with spouses and parents to deepen communication, resolve conflict and rediscover the joy of being together. In addition to private sessions in my Los Angeles office, I am also passionate about leading workshops for Engaged Couples. With years of experience in premarital counseling, I am happy to offer an Imago-based workshop entitled, Start Right, Stay Connected. I also facilitate a Weekend Couples Retreat, Over the Bridge, for couples wanting profound transformation. For couples who desire deep, intensive, quick resolution in a private setting, I also offer one and two-day Private Intensives.
I have also been active throughout my career in educating and training students and interns to become practicing therapists. I have taught and supervised at various universities and training sites around Los Angeles. Prior to coming to California, I served as a team therapist and supervisor at Houston Child Guidance Center working with children and troubled adolescents. I have given numerous workshops and presentations, taught graduate courses, and supervised many interns on their way to becoming licensed.
I am an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California IMAGO Institute. I am a Master Encounter-centered Couples Therapist. I am active in various spiritual settings and community endeavors. I love my profession and truly enjoy helping others to heal, grow, develop a heightened state of well-being and create more love and peace in their lives.
Several years ago, I co-founded The Conversation Group, an organization of like-minded licensed and pre-licensed therapists. We work with you in a very safe and collaborative way to create conversations that open up paths to clarity, insight, and healing which can motivate movement toward the life you desire. Join our Facebook page for daily meditations and healing quotations.