The arrival of a child (particularly the first) is an important transition in life that new parents often underestimate. Life, as you knew it – romance, travel, work, financial freedom, friendships, makes way for sleep deprivation, financial obligations, and navigating between the needs of your partner, child, and yourself. As a result, almost all new parents experience a relationship dip after the birth of a child. Yet simultaneously, the quality of the relationship between the parents is essential for the well-being of the newborn baby. Here’s how to preserve or improve your relationship.
Research shows that generally, relationship satisfaction decreases over time and the arrival of a new baby can be a direct cause. Once a child is born, couples communicate more negatively, quarrels escalate faster, and couples suffer more from relationship problems. However, parenthood also can have a positive effect on relationships. Passionate love becomes enduring love based on intimacy and commitment. Research shows that the stronger a relationship is before the arrival of a child, the more likely it will last throughout the rough parts.
The Myth of Cloud Nine
Having a child can be an overwhelming life-stage transition. You and your relationship change, and the feelings of happiness often decrease, at least for a little while. This effect is different from the expectation that this should be the happiest time of your life. After birth, the first period is somewhat incorrectly described as “cloud nine.” The reality is that the day-to-day responsibilities continue but now include additional chronic fatigue and tasks such as changing diapers and mashing vegetables. Being on “cloud nine” is not exactly the reality, and many people start doubting the relationship with their partner.
There are many reasons for feeling unhappy after the birth of a child including hormonal changes, insecurities, new family obligations, and fatigue. Add to that, the parents suddenly have a new task – taking care of and the responsibility of raising a child. Sleepless nights and that extra care guarantee that parents become exhausted. Additionally, parents can differ in their take on the responsibilities, which can be another source of tension. Women tend to raise their children calmly and be protective. Men are often a little wilder and tend to act funny. It is essential to let various ways of parenting styles co-exist. It is not a competition.
Tips to strengthen your relationship with your partner after having a baby
Daily or weekly, schedule time to discuss important topics together. This way, you learn to communicate effectively with each other and model that to the children. It seems obvious, but many (new) parents often forget how much effort good communication with your partner takes, especially in the new role of parents with its additional responsibilities.
Of course, day-to-day issues must be addressed, but parents should also consider more significant concerns. Being on the same page limits stress about parenthood, which also benefits the relationship. Parents can keep their relationship strong if they make time for essential discussions.
2. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries that clarify your relationship and marriage will help keep the bond strong during turbulent years with children. Boundaries could entail keeping the kids out of the bedroom and planning dates or trips together without the kids. Many parents think that their children should be involved in every activity. However, separate activities teach them to be independent and help decrease separation anxiety issues.
3. Go date!
Having been together for years and having children does not mean that you should not go on dates anymore. Though activities with your kids are most always fun, at least once a month plan a fun outing just for the two of you. Research shows that laughing, working, and talking together are essential predictors of marital quality.
If dating is not possible, continue prioritizing each other. Focus on each other, even if it is just for five minutes a day. Give a hug, tell each other what you love about them. Having this moment of intimacy shows that you are also lovers and partners besides being parents. Therefore, making time to strengthen the bond between you and your partner is essential.
4. Limit conflict
With the arrival of a new baby, potential sources of conflict increase. In other words, what one partner thinks, does or feels compared with the other partner can cause difficulties. Of course, in every relationship, there is disagreement, so it is not surprising that this sometimes leads to a fight. However, a strong relationship is characterized by talking it out together, discussing what happened and acknowledging what went wrong.
Crucial issues, concerns, or needs should be addressed and resolved. On the other hand, minor irritations should be left behind as much as possible. There is already so little time; try to focus on respect and affection for each other rather than bickering.
5. Keep laughing
To maintain a healthy and happy relationship, the best thing parents can do is to laugh together every day. When partners can laugh together, they can get through anything together. Laughing together makes the challenging task of parenting more fun for you both!
Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M. (2009). The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: An 8-year prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 601–619.
Gottman, J. (2020). Parenting – Research. https://www.gottman.com/about/research/parenting/