Cover your eyes if you don't want to read this: It's not looking good after kids
Are you having marriage problems now that your baby is born? You're not alone. My husband recently shared with me the CNN article about the steep decline in marital satisfaction following parenthood. I remember reading such research back in grad school, so it was definitely old news. However, it got me thinking whether the decline has to be this drastic.
Ready for your marriage to go down the toilet?
True, parenting is a major life transition, and this complicated by the fact that you don't know who's coming out on the other side and how their temperament might fit with yours, or not. Sleepless nights, little time to yourself, and a disruption to everything you've ever known. Is there still time and energy to connect with your partner?
I want to say yes!
Here are 11+1 tips to stay connected to your partner after baby:
- Use humor – if this is your first child, in all likelihood, a lot of things ring true in Brian Gordon's comic about parenthood. Laugh at yourself and with each other. Is it an interesting finding in baby poop that wasn't well digested? Your mismatched socks? Your partner's overgrown beard? Take time to laugh. Don't take yourselves too seriously.
- Admire your partner as a co-parent – this will be your first time witnessing your partner as a father/mother. How are they different with the baby? The same? Can you take a moment to watch the two interact from a distance? How does this make you appreciate your partner all the more?
- Make use of every moment – is it the first few minutes of your partner walking through the door or when you pass by each other in the hall? Share a touch, a kiss, a something that lets each other know you're still there. These brief moments of connection can go a long way.
- Do the little things – aside from sharing a moment in between feedings, what were the little things you used to do for each other, to show that the other mattered? Is it a quick text with Emoticons, picking up his preferred brand of toothpaste, or making coffee in the morning? When you're tired and your patience is thin, knowing that you're remembered keeps you going.
- Hire a sitter – take a break, go out, or do nothing. Time away from your kid and chores makes you a better parent, a better partner. If you must use this time to run errands, remember to grab yourself a little treat.
- Set up date nights early on – while it can no longer be every Friday, unless you have a plan, months can go by without the comfort and familiarity of time together. Go out for a movie, a nice dinner, a stroll in your neighborhood. While it may seem like you have left someone important at home, taking the time to connect with your partner can make co-parenting more enjoyable.
- Focus on each other during date nights – if you're not careful, topics around your kid's music lessons, her playdate with Sally or even how you've organized the baby's drawers can quickly seep into your date night. Set a rule to minimize business talk during your night out. How is the other person doing? What's happening at work? What did you used to talk about before the baby came along? Revisit that.
- Take turns baby sitting - “me time” and time with friends are still important, even though you're pooped and your priorities have shifted. Put it on the calendar that the 2nd Tuesday is your coffee night and the 4th Thursday is bball with his buddies. When you encourage personal interests outside of the home as new parents, you're cognizant of each others' needs as individuals. That's another way of giving to each other.
- Keep the conversation going – parenting brings out the worse in all of us. Things that work one day no longer works the next because the kid changes on you. Keep talking about expectations around roles, chores, and responsibilities. Be willing to adapt to the needs and preferences of the kid, and each other.
- Visit each other at work with the child – you don't have to wait until Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Set an intention that the visit is as much about seeing your kid and showing him around as it is about meeting with your partner midday.
- Involve your child – there are ways to be mindful of your partner while you're with your child. You can talk to them early on about mom's favorite food, dad's favorite color, and let the child pick up something at the store for the other parent. That's hopefully sending the message, “I love you and I'm teaching our child ways to love you too.”
And here's a bonus and my all time favorite:
- Use terms of endearment – it often pains me to hear partners be called, “mommy” or “daddy” following the birth of a child. What happened to “Babe,” “Honey,” “Wifey” or “Apple Streusel”? Okay, maybe not “Apple Streusel,” but you get the idea. As much as possible, call your partner the names they were once known for. It's a reminder that you were partners before you were parents.
Another bonus: if this is not your first rodeo, here's an earlier post about connecting with your child around bringing home a second baby.
Mitigating the loss
While I won't argue against 30 years of studies that show time and time again a decline in relationship satisfaction following children, I do believe there are ways to soften the blow. Let me know how I can help!
Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond counseling practice in WA. She loves helping individuals and couples grow through life transitions, parenthood being one of them. She's usually overjoyed when her husband brings home the occasional dinner. She's a firm believer that we tend to remember the sweet little things.