Written by: Zach Brittle, LMHC
A couple came in for therapy last week because they were pregnant and nervous. She was 20 weeks along and just starting to show. He was starting to panic. They both were concerned about what the new baby would do to their relationship. Essentially they wanted to know how to “babyproof their marriage.”
I told them the truth: you can’t.
A baby, especially a first baby, is like a tiny sweet-smelling grenade that gets thrown into your home and disrupts everything. There’s really no way to predict his or her impact or “proof” yourself against the inevitable havoc it will wreak on your bodies, your minds, and your relationship.
The birth of a couple’s first child signals a decline in relationship satisfaction for two out of every three couples. The most common window for divorcing couples is between year four and seven of marriage, which is also consistent with when most first babies are about three years old. It takes an intentional, consistent effort to prevent your relationship from becoming a statistic.
The good news is that there’s plenty that you can do right now to prepare for parenthood, and later to rekindle romance after baby arrives.
Talk about it
This may sound obvious, but it isn’t for most couples. Very few couples make time for intentional conversation. And I’ve found that most couples are surprised by the amount of stuff they’ve never talked about. I have an advantage in that it’s my job to ask and investigate and reflect, but this is not a natural instinct for most people in relationships.
As you prepare for the baby, make sure you’re talking about more than what color to paint the nursery or which stroller to buy.
Go deeper on purpose.
For example, here’s an easy one: What do the words “mom” and “dad” actually mean to you?
These words have meaning based primarily on our own parents, but that meaning is about to change, profoundly.
Be intensely curious about how your priorities as parents will change over time. Talk about your fears and your hopes. About what you need from one another, even if you don’t yet know what that is. Discuss your assumptions and expectations. You don’t know what you don’t know, so ask questions. Out loud. It’s really important that you talk about it.
Prioritize time together
After your baby is born, it’s easy to want to give them all your time, attention, and love. Indeed, the baby wants all of that and more, and doesn’t care if you don’t have any left over for your partner.
Couples make a huge mistake, often with noble intent, when they don’t make time for one another after the baby arrives. I know it’s hard to trust someone else with your baby. I know that childcare can be expensive. I know that the last thing you may want to do when you get away from your baby is stay awake. But it’s a mistake to not be creative and intentional about carving out time for your relationship.
It doesn’t have to be a big production. Just get out and take a walk. Or plan a monthly date. Or shower together. Make time to remind one another that you were a family before the baby came, and you will continue to be a family after she grows up and goes away to college.
The second most popular window for divorce is around 23 years, when couples become empty nesters. If you don’t want to become a statistic, it’s critical that you learn early to prioritize your time together without kids.
Take care of yourself
One of the most problematic realities of bringing a new baby home is what it will do to your sense of time and space. You will no longer be able to just go for a run, or take a shower, or sleep. Your space is no longer your own.
You may even feel like a stranger in your own body. You’ll need to be proactive about taking care of yourself. Ideally, you’ll help one another by encouraging a discipline of physical and mental health.
Additionally, it will be important to focus on emotional and intellectual intimacy while physical and sexual intimacy become less of a priority. Intimacy and intercourse are not the same thing. Especially while mom is dealing with the changes in her body caused by childbirth and breastfeeding – you’ll need to be patient with each other.
Drink plenty of water. Breathe fresh air. Hold hands. Exercise, even if it’s just a short walk around the block. And by all means, sleep. Sleep deprivation is a big deal for new parents and it makes everything harder. Go out of your way to find help. The best thing your can do for your baby is take care of yourself – body and mind.
So what about babyproofing?
Again, there’s no way to completely protect your relationship from the impact of a baby. A baby is disruptive. A baby is also wonderful and amazing and life-altering in powerfully good ways.
But if you don’t want to become a statistic, these principles are a good way to protect your relationship from the standard obstacles. If you don’t want to risk divorce, make sure that you get out ahead of these issues. If you don’t, you run the risk of becoming a statistic. Don’t be a statistic.
This article was originally published on Motherly and edited with permission from the author.
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