New Baby, Changing Marriage: Having a Healthy Partnership as Your Family Expands
Dr. Millie Riss and Courtney Morton, LCSW at Greenleaf Counseling Center are licensed therapists who work with women, couples and families. They help people with struggling with eating disorders, life transitions, parenting concerns in addition to other life issues, such as depression and anxiety. They always offer free one-hour consultations to meet with potential clients about their concerns and discuss how therapy can help.
Having a new baby brings both growth and challenges to a marriage. Parents, especially moms, often say that they are too tired for anything after caring for an infant, not to mention if they are caring for older children as well. Sex drive disappears for many; money goes to diapers, college funds and babysitters; date nights a rare event; and work doesn’t end when you leave the office.
Particularly challenging areas for couples after having a baby include finances, sex and intimacy, time management, parenting issues, and negotiating advice from in-laws and the well-meaning public. Below are some suggestions for how to handle these struggles.
Finances: After hospital fees, diapers, doctor appointments, baby supplies, college savings, and babysitters, what’s left over for you? With all these variables that come with baby’s arrival, it’s important to set a structured budget while giving yourself flexibility and the freedom to make mistakes and learn from your financial experience. Remember, you don’t have to buy everything Babies R Us tells you you need.
Budgets can be helpful, but it’s hard to know exactly what to expect when baby arrives. If you use credit/debit cards, most banks have a program that helps you track what you spend in different categories. This tracking can be a good starting place when first setting up a budget. Where are you spending money now that baby is here, and what changes do you want to make? Having regular times to check in with your partner about the budget can help you stay on the same page and keep you in the black.
Physical and Emotional Intimacy: You just had a baby. You are tired. You are in pain. Your body is not familiar anymore. You may not feel sexy, or you may lack the energy to even contemplate sex. If you struggled with getting pregnant and had to schedule sex to conceive, being spontaneous takes extra effort. Many couples worry when they have a decrease in sex drive, but it is normal and will return, with some work initially for some. After you get the okay from your doctor to have sex again (usually 6 weeks), schedule a date night to commemorate the occasion. Continue to plan regular dates with each other where you spend most of the time talking about things other than baby. In order to cut costs, trade date nights with another couple with a child.
Most people have probably noticed that men tend to be more emotionally intimate if there is physical intimacy, and women tend to be more physically intimate if there is emotional intimacy. While physical intimacy can be a struggle due to a lack of time and energy, emotional intimacy can also be a struggle because you are tired and stressed. When you are more stressed, regular arguments you typically have as a couple (we all have them) become bigger issues. Don’t worry – this is normal. Once you start getting more sleep (hopefully after baby is 3 months or so), and you are able to spend some quality time together, both in and out of the bedroom, things will start to get better again. Also, humor is a wonderful way to help you get through these first few months as the stress builds and emotions strain.
Parenting: You tell your friends and family you are expecting a baby. What happens next? You get flooded with countless words of advice, which only compounds once baby arrives. As a new parent, you may be surprised initially when complete strangers approach you in public with suggestions, recommendations and questions about how you are parenting your baby, or when family calls with advice on what you “should” be doing.
Here’s the deal: You know your child better than anyone else. Who wakes up at 2AM to feed him/her? Who knows their different noises and changes dirty diapers all day? You. This maybe your first time as a parent, but you both know what’s best. Listen to the advice of others if you want, but don’t let it make you doubt how you are caring for your infant or make you feel bad about a certain action.
In co-parenting, it is vital to be a united front with your child/children. Make the time to check in with your partner about parenting issues and reach a consensus before bringing these to your child. That time may be a quick 10 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes before bed, or even a lunch phone call. Be creative, but don’t neglect this essential task. The best thing for your marriage is that you and your spouse are on the same page as much as possible.
Time Management: Isn’t it amazing how in one day, a trip to the grocery store goes from a 30 minute journey to a 90 minute process (involving the inevitable dirty diaper the minute you walk out the door)? Instead of feeling like “a quick trip to the store,” it feels more like you have taken a beating when you arrive back home with only milk and eggs. It’s difficult to predict how your day will go. If you do expect to have a strict, and predictable schedule, parenting will likely be more stressful. Each baby has a schedule of their own that changes as they grow, and it’s important that you try to relax and be flexible as their schedules change.
At its heart, time management with baby is really about priorities. What do you have to do, what’s negotiable, and what can wait? And remember, YOU are also a priority. If you don’t take care of yourself and your marriage, you will not be able to be the parent you want to be. Some parents find it helpful to take even just ten minutes to read, do their nails, take a warm shower, watch part of show, or sit in silence with a nice smelling candle. Don’t spend all of baby’s naptime on housework. Your baby will know if you are relaxed too.
Keeping a marriage healthy after baby takes effort, commitment, and a sense of humor. Keep it simple, have fun, take all the breaks you can, and love on your family as much as possible. You will benefit in the process.