While exciting, there is no doubt that bringing a baby home can also bring a serious strain to your relationship. While it used to be just the two of you – sleeping, eating and playing whenever you wanted – now your time demands have increased exponentially. New parents are so busy nurturing their new bundle of joy - and trying to find their footing through the sleep deprived haze - that they forget to set time aside for themselves and their relationship. If you're in this phase on parenthood, don't lose hope! Here is how to improve your relationship satisfaction throughout those early baby years.
Identify and discuss your parenting style
According to research done by the Gottman Relationship Institute, couples who hone their parenting strategies and styles early on are happier together – and ultimately make better parents. Their research has shown 4 different styles of parenting - Dismissing, Disapproving, Laissez-Faire, and Emotion Coach. With so many different ways to parent (and the overload of information online), it's common for parents to have differing views or even be confused about what their view is - especially in the beginning. But knowing which category you and your partner fall under can help you know your individual/couple strengths and weaknesses, improve your parenting skills and make decisions as you move forward and grow as parents. If you’re interested in learning more about what parenting style you are, you can take this free assessment on the Gottman Institute's website.
Give each other the benefit of the doubt.
It can be so easy to play the blame game when you’re exhausted and surviving on leftover take out and 2 hours of sleep. I’ve been there, and it was not pretty! Babies don’t come with an instruction manual so try to remember that you’re both in the thick of it and trying to figure things out as you go. This may seem impossible at times. But, if you can remind each other that you’re in this together, forgiving the little things will be much easier.
In the newborn days, you will likely find yourself teetering on the edge of sleep deprived insanity. But taking steps to make sleep a priority can help you both be more patient and communicate better with each other. Even just one good night of sleep a week can be enough to make you feel like you can accomplish anything! So, try to work out a schedule with each other so that you both get to catch up on rest. For instance, each of you can claim a weekend day to sleep in. While I don't recommend sleep coaching until 4-6 months of age, you can also create healthy sleep habits from the very beginning by employing the 5s, creating a routine, consistent schedule and trying to lay baby down while still sleepy, but not asleep.
Make time for reconnecting
While sex may be off the table at first, make sure you still get lots of physical touch and snuggling time for each other when you can. All new moms know that it can be so easy to feel “touched out” after holding a colicky baby all day. So if that’s the case for you, then try to do something that makes you feel like it’s just the two of again. For some, that may be binge watching a Netflix show in the evening or heading out for a walk around the neighborhood. Others may want to take up a new sport or hobby together. What’s most important is that you both feel connected.
Talk – a lot!
Positive communication is an important aspect of all healthy relationships, but it becomes crucial when there is a new baby in the house. Find time to sit down together and talk about the big and small things on your mind. I tell my clients this all the time, but scheduling a weekly family meeting can be super helpful for setting this time aside. Being able to freely discuss how you’re feeling can help alleviate the feelings of isolation and overwhelm that accompany new parenthood so try to remain empathetic, stay calm and edit criticism when discussing big issues with your partner. For more positive communication strategies, check out this blog post as well.
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Disclaimer: Although Jennifer Howard is a licensed therapist, this podcast/blog - or any information listed on this site - is not a substitute for therapy or professional medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum or perinatal mental health disorders, please schedule an appointment with a therapist or doctor in your area. If you are in crisis, please seek assistance from your local emergency room
Additionally, Postpartum Support International has a wealth of online information and local support for new parents. You can call their Helpline (1-800-944-4773) or text (503-894-9453) anytime for support. You are not alone.