Be the happy family you've always dreamed of becoming.
You've found and fallen in love with the love of your life. You've dated, become engaged, and gotten married. And, then, because you've longed to make your duo into a trio, after some waiting, you now have a newborn baby!
What could possibly go wrong?
Even the strongest relationships are challenged during the transition to parenthood, which is why preparing yourselves with the marriage advice for new parents is critical if you want to safe-guard your marriage and stay in love.
Most new parents find themselves without time to talk or touch and are often sleep-deprived, irritable, and prone to snapping.
There is suddenly an exponential increase in tasks to complete. Often, first-time parents stress about financial concerns. Grandparents rush in to help, but sometimes, their help feels like interference — adding even more stress to your marriage.
Add to all of that, there may be some post-partum depression, health problems, and concerns for the well-being of your newborn. What if you just don't know what you're doing?
When perfectly competent adults become new parents, they can also face feelings of extreme confusion and overwhelm with a newborn baby — the stuff of sitcoms.
Why is marriage so much harder after having a baby?
All of these factors add up and translate to a decline in marital satisfaction. According to Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on marriage and co-founder of The Gottman Institue, as many as 67 percent of new parents experience conflict, disappointment, and hurt feelings during this stage of marriage.
Their research also shows that the single highest predictor of marital adjustment after a baby arrives is the quality of friendship in the marriage.
These statistics prove that it is vitally important to prioritize your relationship, even after having a baby, and to remember that it is the foundation of your family. If it crumbles and falls, the kids go down with it.
Babies require a lot of time and attention, it's true, but your relationship will need some as well to survive.
Based on John Gottman's research, here are 4 relationship-saving pieces of marriage advice for new parents that will help make your transition into parenthood easier when you have a newborn baby.
1. Make sleep a priority.
Absolutely everything seems harder when we aren't getting enough sleep. We are crankier, fight more, and exaggerate our feelings when tired. Try to nap as much as possible during the day even if you've never been a napper.
Resist the urge to stay up at night after the baby falls asleep. Those dishes and mail will wait until tomorrow. If you possibly can, work in shifts, taking turns with the baby.
Hire a night nurse if your baby has health needs or needs constant care. Even consider sleeping in separate rooms for a brief time if it helps you to get a better quality of sleep during the early months.
2. Remember to connect during four critical moments of the day.
Quite simply, this means greeting one another with a six-second kiss when you first wake up in the morning, when you part during the day, when you reunite after being apart, and before falling asleep. Just knowing the other is still there goes a long way in keeping you connected.
This is a time of diminished sexual activity, so keeping the affection alive is important.
3. Express your gratitude.
You might be surprised how important gratitude is to the maintenance of your friendship with your spouse. Both of you are under varying degrees of stress with a new baby, but look what you've done! You've brought a new life into the world and each of you played a part.
It's easy to grow resentful if you start comparing your contribution to his. Remember that each of you is struggling with your new role in different ways.
So appreciate their effort and express it lovingly. You can also use three-part appreciation to get your point across clearly: "I appreciate that ... I appreciate it because ... It makes me feel ..."
4. Listen to one another.
People survive in isolation and thrive in connection. Don't keep all of your feelings bottled up. Remember that the two of you are in this together.
You both could use a sounding board for what's going on during this important transition from a family of two to a family of three. No need to try to fix the other's woes. Just listen and empathize.
While this period of your relationship seems impossible at times, try to focus on the joy that it is. Just think how much easier it'll be when you go from three to four!
Seriously, it does get easier as you get more comfortable with your roles and the baby starts to sleep. You'll get into a rhythm and hopefully get back to your intimate connection. Just remember to stay friends along the way.
If you are experiencing serious cracks in your relationship, get help. There are many books, workshops, and therapists who can guide you through this transition.
Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California.