When you have a baby, you will get every piece of advice on choosing the best diapers to the best daycare from well-meaning friends and family. You will hear about sleepless nights, nursing pads, sleep training and anything else that will help you navigate the logistics of having a new baby. It is seldom, that someone will emphasize to you the importance of ‘Stress Proofing’ your relationship or your marriage when you have a new baby.
According to Dr. John Gottman, a pioneer in the field of couples therapy; 69% of new parents experience conflict in their relationship and experience difficult feelings of disappointment and hurt. It is only natural that the spillover of stress from sleep deprivation, increased demands at home, going back to work after a ‘what should have been longer maternity leave’ and figuring out the ‘hows’ of managing a baby leaves a couple little or no room to focus on themselves.
Understanding the impact of a new baby on your relationship is the first step in ‘Stress Proofing’ your relationship. ‘Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Re-Kindling Romance After Baby Arrives’ by John Gottman, Ph.D. is an excellent read and resource for more information in this area. This will help you feel less alone in your struggles and will prevent the issues from getting piled up and be avoided.
Here are some additional strategies on ‘Stress Proofing’ your relationship:
- Put a date with your partner on your calendar: It is absolutely okay to schedule a date with your partner on your calendar and even set a reminder. And don’t hesitate in reaching out to close friends and family to help take care of the baby, while you and your partner spend some time together.
As evenings can be hard with infants, you may want to consider going on a date during the day. Keep the date realistic and not idealistic. A lunch, a movie, a walk, an ice cream run, an hour at a coffee shop together or even a nap snuggling together can be a wonderful respite.
- Find ways to effective manage your emotions: How often have you found yourself being shut down, angry or frozen during some difficult conversations with your partner (Finances is a big one for example!!!!)? This can happen more frequently after a recent life transition.
When you feel emotionally or viscerally overwhelmed in these ways, you may not be able to effectively come to a compromise. In such situations, take at least a 20 minute break to soothe yourself. You can do anything from taking a restroom break, going for a walk, taking a shower or anything else that will soothe your body. Remember energy is contagious, so how you feel will affect your baby’s emotional state.
- Manage Conflict effectively: When you are having one of those heated disagreements with your partner as discussed earlier, be mindful of not being critical or overly defensive. This only worsens the conflict. Instead, take ownership for your actions and allow each other to release their feelings, in a respectful way.
- Focus on the larger goal: It can be easy to focus on the stress of the logistics of having a new baby. Make time to have a conversation with each other about the bigger meaning behind having a baby and why that is so important to each of you. You made it and you are here, and this can be a beginning of something much larger than the day to day reality.
- Remember to appreciate your partner: Appreciation and kind words can be a buffer for your relationship in times of stress. It helps build your relationship immunity. You can do this in very simple ways like leave notes for each other, send a grateful text from work or even remembering to just say ‘Thank You’ can go a long way .
Focusing on each other in the midst of caring for a newborn can be a colossal task, but one that is essential. The best gift parents can give their child is a healthy relationship between each other!
For more information on how to effectively navigating new parenthood, you can register here for our ‘Bringing Baby Home’ workshop series.