Bringing a newborn baby home can be the most exciting event in a couples’ life. It is a special day every parent can remember. It is a time full of great joy and excitement. Family members and friends are thrilled for you want to see the newborn and celebrate the birth with you.
At the same time, the arrival of a baby brings dramatic changes to the relationship for all couples. After the initial excitement, comes the loss of personal time and sleep. Feeding, burping, diaper changing, soothing, rocking, more crying to sooth, housework, sleep deprivation put you at the mercy of your baby’s schedule.
Starting a family can take its toll on a marriage. Research on couples with first born babies shows that marital relationship satisfaction drops dramatically for two-thirds of couples in the first three years after baby arrives. For these couples, conflict and hostility dramatically increases. As a result, emotional intimacy deteriorates in these couples. So along with being sleep deprived, couples with babies and toddlers feel less passion, their sex life plummets and they feel less connected.
About 15% of women in Canada have full blown postpartum depression. Fifty to 80 percent of mothers have some symptoms and suffer baby blues during pregnancy and the first weeks or months after the birth. Fathers can be affected too. Thirty percent of fathers have symptoms similar to postpartum depression, according to the Relationship Research Institute director John Gottman. Depression of any type puts a strain on relationships.
Plenty of studies show how important it for the healthy development of a newborns brain to be raised in a happy, loving home. Growth in a newborn happens rapidly in the first six months requiring mother, father and other care givers to be actively engaged in care, play and stimulating responsiveness. It can make big difference during this time when mother and father have a strong loving relationship.
Tips for Preserving Intimacy When Baby Arrives
In their book And Baby Makes Three, John and Julie Gottman outline how to strengthen your relationship, effectively manage stress and conflict, recognize and respond to postpartum mood anxiety and adjustment issues and postpartum depression, meet the emotional and psychological needs of a child and keep both parents involved in parenting. Here is a summary of the seven main points.
- Adjust your expectations
The challenges, the stresses, the hassles, the extra work, and the joys too, are the ingredients of ‘the soup’ that all couples with babies find themselves in. There is no way to eliminate them. They are the natural part of becoming parents. Increasing awareness of the ingredients of ‘the soup.’ Adjusting expectations to what you can and can’t do while keeping your couple relationship healthy will nourish babies and fortify the family.
- Delight in your baby
Touch, massage, altering voice pitch, repeating words, baby talk, singing, playing, cuddling all help strengthen the natural biological and social attachment process between parent and child. Babies are fascinated by play. It is a great adventure for them. It can be a tremendous joy and delight for parents too.
- Cool down your conflicts
When exhausted, we are all more prone to quarrel. To keep the conflict respectful and not hurtful, it is best to manage conflict in the following ways:
Soften how you bring up a problem by starting with a positive comment or appreciation. Do not begin harshly with criticism. Instead say what you feel, describe the problem neutrally, say what you need, not what they are doing wrong.
Learn to state your partner’s point of view to his or her satisfaction to ensure that each one feels understood. This helps to set the stage to influence and be influenced.
Compromise by focusing on the common ground rather where you disagree.
Repair the injuries caused. Successful couples apologize and accept each other’s repair attempts and don’t ignore the hurt they have inflicted and don’t hold grudges.
Accept that there are “unsolvable problems”. All couples find recurrent issues that come up time and again and can cause communication gridlock. Successful couples find their way through this by accepting the feelings and values of their partner and looking to the future rather than the past.
- Savour your friendship.
Know your partners’ inner world what they are passionate about. Learn what their life dreams are. Express appreciation, affection and admiration. Turn toward your partner when they make a bid for attention or emotional connection.
- Attend to your sex life.
Because there is a dramatic drop in the sex life of most couples when baby arrives and sexual desire does not return easily, it is important to remember how sex is an important part of strengthening a marriage. Accept that things have changed. Ask each other for sex. Talk about what feels good sexually and make it better. Express non sexual affection, especially with touch.
- Keep fathers engaged.
Studies show that one of the best predictors of a child’s empathy in adulthood is a father’s involvement when they were 5 years old. Increased time spent by fathers with baby is highest when there is low conflict with mother, constructive conflict resolution, intimacy between parents, and when fathers have or learn the skills to help with baby.
- Create your own family culture.
Successful couples transform their sense of identity from me to us when baby arrives. Teamwork is strengthened. Traditions from their own family and culture are borrowed and new ones are created. The establishment of holiday traditions, goals, new roles, a balance between work and family and strengthening of shared values and beliefs help deepen our lives with meaning together. Everyday events take on special meaning as a new family history is created.
Many couples identify the arrival of the children as the point at which the intimacy in their marriage began to deteriorate and never returned. The joy of parenting cannot be a replacement for the joy of couple intimacy. The two need to occur together to sustain a lifetime of family cohesion and couple satisfaction.