4 Easy Steps to Survive the Transition to Parenthood

For many couples, becoming a parent is a dream come true! But some aspects of parenthood may seem like a nightmare, especially at first.

With the birth of a new baby, it’s not just other children that struggle. Devoting so much time and attention to a new little one can leave a husband or wife thinking, “But what about me?” In fact, in one study, ⅔ of couples showed a significant decrease in marital satisfaction and an increase in conflict after their first baby was born. (1)

Unfortunately, when your marriage suffers, it affects much more than just you and your spouse. Research shows that an unhappy marriage harms your baby too! (2) So as marriage expert Dr. John Gottman puts it, “The greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of you.” (2)

How can you keep your marriage healthy and strong during the transition to parenthood, for you and your little one? Here are a few simple steps that may help.

1. Enjoy your baby together

While babies are a lot of work, they can also be a lot of fun! Taking time to enjoy your little one together as a couple can remind you of why you  decided to become parents in the first place. Here are a couple tips to help you enjoy your baby as a couple:

Get on your baby’s level. When interacting with infants, we naturally talk in high-pitched voices, use baby talk, make ridiculous faces, and more. It turns out, these things are actually good for your baby! (2) Don’t be afraid to work as a team, whether it’s playing peek-a-boo or singing a silly song.

Don’t forget dad. Including dad in play time is vital for your baby and your marriage. Research shows that involved dads help children develop emotionally, intellectually, and socially. (3) Good dads also help mom be a happier, better parent. (4) Enjoying the baby together can help you grow closer as a couple. So moms, don’t leave dads out, and dads, be sure to get involved!

2. Keep your conflicts under control

Conflict in marriage is pretty much inevitable. But for sleep-deprived new parents, it’s all too easy for conflicts to become vicious. (4) And being vicious isn’t good for your marriage or your baby! Here are a couple of tips from Dr. Gottman to help you keep your conflicts under control:

Use a “soft start-up.” Research by Dr. Gottman shows that 96% of the time, the way a conflict starts determines how it ends. (5) If you start out blaming and attacking, things will probably only get worse from there. Try instead to soften your start-up by stating your feelings or needs and describing the problem neutrally.

Take a breather. If you feel your blood starting to boil, chances are your conversation won’t be too productive. When you or your spouse are getting too agitated, don’t be afraid to take a break! Do something to relax for 30 minutes — yoga, reading, cleaning, or whatever helps get your mind off things — then come back and try again.

3. Invest in your friendship

With endless diaper changes, housework, peek-a-boo, and much more, taking care of a baby sure takes a lot of time! As couples try to balance the juggling act of parenting, it can be all too easy to drift apart from each other. Here are a couple of tips that can help you improve your friendship as you transition to parenthood:

Get to know each other. As you both adopt the new roles and responsibilities of parenthood, it is an important time to keep getting to know each other, or as Dr. Gottman calls it, building your “love map.” (6) Take time to really talk and ask each other open-ended questions. You may be surprised what you learn! (Check out Dr. Gottman’s website for a 20 questions game you and your spouse can use to build your “love maps.”) (7)

Make time for date night. With a new baby, obviously date night becomes even more difficult to work into the schedule. But research shows that taking time to do something fun together as a couple can really help you grow closer and happier. (8) So whether it’s a date night in or getting a sitter so you can go out, be sure to make date night a priority!

4. Rekindle your intimacy

After the baby enters the scene, things are going to change for your sex life. And that’s okay!

Research shows that lots of couples struggle with post-baby sex. (9) Birth often brings physical changes, different levels of sexual desires, and a wailing baby to interrupt love-making attempts. But in spite of all these challenges, couples can figure out how to stay close physically. Here are a couple places to start:

Keep being affectionate. Dr. Gottman’s research shows that genuine, nonsexual touching over time can help couples get back on track with their sex lives. (2) That continued physical affection can pave the way for post-baby romance and is an important part of keeping the flame alive.

Talk about it. Even if you’ve discussed physical intimacy in the past, things may be different now for you — physically and otherwise. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page so you can meet each other’s needs. Then once you’re able to start being physically intimate again, make sure you carve out time to meet those needs.

You can do it!

While being a new parent can be exhausting, it doesn’t have to exhaust your marriage. As you try your best to enjoy your little one together, manage conflicts well, continue your friendship, and rekindle intimacy, your post-baby marriage can thrive.

Research shows that an enduring, healthy, harmonious marriage between mom and dad not only brings health, happiness and fulfillment to the adults, but these benefits also flow to their children.

So for your sake and your baby’s, make sure to take care of your marriage as you start this new adventure of parenthood!

For more information on bringing home baby:

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1. Shapiro, A. F., Gottman, J. M., & Carrere, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 59-70.

2. Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three: The six-step plan for preserving marital intimacy and rekindling romance after baby arrives. New York, NY: Crown.

3.Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2006). The importance of fathers in the healthy development of children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

4. Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three: The six-step plan for preserving marital intimacy and rekindling romance after baby arrives. New York, NY: Crown.

5. Wilson, S. J., Jaremka, L. M., Fagundes, C. P., Andridge, R., Peng, J., Malarkey, W. B., Habash, D., Belury, M. A., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2017). Shortened sleep fuels inflammatory responses to marital conflict: Emotion regulation matters. Psychonueroendocrinology, 79, 74-83.

6. Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three: The six-step plan for preserving marital intimacy and rekindling romance after baby arrives. New York, NY: Crown.

7. Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work : A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert (2nd ed.). Harmony, NY: Three Rivers Press.

8. The Gottman Institute. (n.d.). Love Maps. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.gottman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Love-Maps-White-Paper.pdf

9. Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C., & Faingataa, S. (2014). Date nights’ take two: The maintenance function of shared relationship activities. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 125-149.

10. Dixon, M., Booth, N., & Powell, R. (2000). Sex and relationships following childbirth: A first report from general practice of 131 couples. British Journal of General Practice, 50, 223-224.

*Pictures retrieved from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=11263 and https://pixabay.com/en/couple-african-happy-man-woman-1030744/.

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