You're a new parent — congratulations! In the beginning, nothing can break the euphoria and pure love for the new, precious bundle in your arms. You've posted your proud parent picture on Facebook, you've texted the baby's stats to friends and family and your nursery at home is picture perfect and ready for the new addition.
Ever so gradually though, soon after you make your descent from cloud 9, both you and your spouse will discover that this beautiful, little person takes work — a lot of work. And no matter how good your relationship was pre-baby days, this parenting thing can rock the foundation of the strongest marriage. Why? Because no longer are you leaving the house at five minutes' notice to catch the latest blockbuster. Sleep and time spent together is now a luxury. And instead of discussing current events or laughing about the funny office banter, your conversations now swirl around spit-up, diaper blow-outs and how many times one or both of you got up in the night.
With all of your time, attention and affection focused on your baby, your feelings toward each other are completely ignored and emotions can run high. According to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, "30 to 50 percent of all new parents feel as distressed as couples already in therapy for marriage problems." In an article titled "Let Parenthood Strengthen Your Marriage," Dr. Sari Harar and Dr. Rita DeMaria, co-authors of "The 7 Stages of Marriage," stated that "at least one-third of mothers and fathers experience significant depression as they become parents."
So the question is, how do you find time and energy to reconnect as husband and wife when this little one makes you feel like Night of the Living Dead? Let me offer you a few suggestions:
Support and applause each other in this new venture
Harar's and DeMaria's article mentions a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University where they tested the co-parenting skills and marital happiness of 46 couples. Part of their study revealed that partners who admired, supported and agreed with each other’s parenting styles when their children were babies had happier marriages 2 1/2 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.
Cut each other some slack. This baby thing is foreign territory for both of you. As you figure out this new little person, try to remember to praise and offer support to your spouse instead of being so quick to criticize. This is a lot to ask of two walking zombies, but so very critical for nurturing and reconnecting as husband and wife.
Dr. John Lund, author of "For All Eternity," puts it this way: “All frustration comes from unmet expectations. Everybody thinks that their expectations are reasonable and realistic and that somebody else has the problem."
Are you hoping your spouse will just tune into your fuzzy, discombobulated thoughts and suddenly start loading that stack of dishes that have piled for days? Were you expecting parenthood to be much like those giggly, care-free baby commercials? Lay it all out on the table for your partner and don't play the martyr mind-reading game. If you want help in the night, ask for it. If you feel you're going to snap if you don't get an hour to yourself, then communicate those feelings. If you are on the receiving end of your spouse's venting session, just listen and validate. Most people don't want their problem solved, they just want to feel heard and understood. Honest communication and validation will not only create a "we" approach to parenting, but also diminish the number of angry blow-ups from unvoiced expectations or pent-up feelings.
Carve out time for each other
Are dinner and a movie a distant memory now? Make date nights a priority, not a last-minute idea. Just like your little one needs nurturing, now more than ever your marriage needs a little TLC. Scheduling weekly dates will allow you to enjoy each other uninterrupted. This precious time together will prove therapeutic and give you a chance to talk about something other than the 3 am blow-out.
Becoming a new parent is exciting — as well as emotionally and physically exhausting. Don't let your relationship with your sweetheart get lost in the sleepless nights and crazy work schedules. Show your love and support, listen and voice your expectations, and most of all, schedule quality one-on-one time. In the end, you'll find yourself a much happier spouse as well as parent to your new bundle of joy.