Are you ready for a cold, hard dose of truth? I’m warning you:
DO NOT READ ON IF YOU WANT TO REMAIN BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF THE REALITY OF BEING MARRIED WITH CHILDREN.
To start this off nice and terrifyingly, let’s read a quote from one of my favorite books Brain Rules for Baby by Dr. John Medina:
“We now know that this long-term erosion is a regular experience of married life, starting in the transition to parenthood. Marital quality, which peaks in the last trimester of a first pregnancy, decreases anywhere from 40 to 67 percent in the infant’s first year. More recent studies, asking different questions, put the figure closer to 90 percent… Indeed, one-third to one-half of new parents display as much marital distress as troubled couples already in therapy trying to save their relationship.”
What’s more, that stress and distress felt in a marriage is also felt by the baby. Dr. Medina goes on to explain:
“Infants younger than 6 months old can usually detect that something is wrong. They can experience physiological changes–such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones–just like adults. Some researchers claim they can assess the amount of fighting in a marriage simply by taking a 24-hour urine sample of the baby.”
I can hear your internal screams and worries now:
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? HOW DO I STOP IT? IS IT INEVITABLE?
I had the same thoughts, fears, and panic. I love my husband. I love my family. What do you mean I have a nearly 50% chance of becoming miserable just because I had a baby? That can’t be!
Well, four months into parenthood, I can tell you, it can be. I’m not saying that it is. Hubby and I are actually doing really great. But, that’s because we sat down before our baby girl arrived and talked about all of this stuff. I’m not saying that we’re relationship gurus over here, and that our marriage is perfect. Far from it.
What I am saying, though, is that it’s good to be aware of the new stresses that are going to bombard your relationship and to come up with a plan of attack for how to handle them when they do. Dr. Medina, in his book, goes on to discuss the biggest struggles new parents will face and how to prepare for them. And yes, we have faced them. We’re still facing them.
But, we were prepared.
And, my hope with this post is to help you and your partner get prepared, as well. Our way may not work for you, but hopefully this will spark you to start having these conversations and figuring out your way to prepare for, handle, and make it through all the troubles of being married with children.
According to Brain Rules for Baby, the four biggest points of conflict in a marriage that has recently welcomed a new addition into the mix are:
- Sleep Loss
- Social Isolation
- Unequal Workload
Let’s chat about each of these things and how hubby and I decided to confront them, shall we?
This one is pretty obvious, I think. Of course with a new baby you’re going to sleep less. There is no way to avoid it. However, you can prepare for it.
Even though I’m the only one who can feed our baby (she will not take a bottle no matter what we do), hubby has made it a point to help out whenever and however he can. Maybe she’s being fussy and won’t go back to sleep. He’ll step in and snuggle her until she does. When she was very little and keeping me up all night long, we came up with a schedule. He would stay up with her until midnight, and I would sleep from 5:00pm until that time, only getting up to feed her really quickly and then going back to bed while he burped her, changed her, and took care of all the rest.
The point? Plan to learn to function on very little sleep. And while you’re planning for that, start talking about ways that you can help each other through that. Will you split night time feedings? One takes baby from 8:00pm-2:00am and the other from 2:00am-8:00am. What if baby won’t take a bottle? How will you make that work?
Start talking about it now!
“Loneliness, painful and ubiquitous, is experienced by as many as 80 parent of new parents,” Dr. Medina warns.
Seriously?! You mean my home won’t be flooded with friends and family bringing me food constantly and wanting to fawn over my little bundle of joy?
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. There will be times in the first couple weeks that everyone and their mother (and your mother) will want to come over non-stop. But, slowly, that dies down. And then, you’re left there, sitting in the middle of your family room with the baby crying her little head off, and you’re so tired, and you just want someone to come and help you, and now you’re crying, and all the while your partner is off at work in the adult world, having adult conversations, and you’re there–alone, exhausted, and miserable.
This social isolation leads to loneliness, which leads to depression and/or resentment. It’s a slippery slope from there.
How can you prevent it? Again, talk to your partner about what you plan to do to keep yourself involved in your social circles. For example, some Saturday mornings, I’ll leave Norah with hubs, and go grab quick cup of coffee with the girls. Sometimes, I’ll even bring her along with me!
We invite friends over, and even on the nights I don’t want to entertain because I’m tired and Norah is cranky, I always end up enjoying it. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes, I need it. Even if I don’t want it.
And hubby is the one that pushes for that. I’m so thankful he does. Because I would have turned into a hermit if it weren’t for him. So, keeping us socially active? That responsibility fell on my husband.
Who will be in charge of that in your relationship? One or both of you? What events will you attend? How will you manage bringing the baby? Or will you leave the baby with someone? Think about these things now. Because when it comes time to actually leave your house, you may not have the energy to make all of those decisions, and just giving up and staying home might seem so much more appealing. Don’t do it!
Enough Said. Amiright?
Okay, not enough said. But, I’m sure many of you read that and nodded your head in agreement instantly.
It’s hard to balance everything and divide it all up equally. There’s so much that needs to be done already, and adding a baby to the mix only adds more to your never-ending to do list.
There’s no right or wrong way to divide up the workload around the house. It doesn’t have to be a straight up 50/50 split, either. It just has to be what works for you and your partner.
For example, I’m the one working full-time right now. So, hubby does the whole, “full-time daddy” thing. He takes care of the baby all day long, and then, when I get home, while I feed her, he makes us dinner and then does the dishes!
I’m in charge of grocery shopping and laundry. He cleans the bathroom; I clean the kitchen.
We have this all agreed on, which means we don’t fight about it. And when I cut my hours back to part time (only a couple more weeks!! yay!), we’ll sit down and discuss the new division of chores. The important thing is this:
We talk about it; we agree on it. And that’s the end of it.
Postpartum Depression is a very real thing. And, it doesn’t only affect women. It can affect their husbands, as well.
Having a baby, adding a baby to your life, is extremely difficult at times. Everything in your life will change. You will change. Your friends, family, work, all of it, will seem different. Because the world is suddenly different. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yet. But, becoming a parent will alter every last bit of your existence. This isn’t always a bad thing. In so many ways, it’s a great thing!
But, if you’re feeling like the bad is outweighing the good, you can’t eat, you don’t have energy, you’re sad, lonely, in pain… ask for help! Talk to someone! It’s not weakness, it’s strength.
One thing we talked about in our home before I had the baby was the risk of Postpartum Depression. I can be a very emotional person, so hubby and I discussed the fact that I could be very susceptible to PPD. We talked about the signs and the difference between “baby blues” and full on depression.
And, after I had Norah, Hubby made it a point to check in with me. He regularly asked how I was feeling. He still does. He takes the time to sit down, look me in the eye, and make sure I’m okay.
I haven’t struggled with PPD, but knowing that I had a built in support system there, just in case it reared its ugly head, made me feel secure enough to analyze my feelings and take time to check in with myself. I knew that no matter what I found, Hubby would support me.
How to Protect Your Marriage
Dr. Medina points to one very important element that can help shield your marriage from the turbulence of parenthood:
I won’t go into this too much, since this post is already SUPER long. But, the point he makes is this: “What is obvious to you is obvious to you.” Just because you see/feel/understand something, doesn’t mean that those around you do. It’s the battle of “introspective knowledge” and “extrospective information.”
This means that your partner doesn’t mean to hurt you. They don’t mean to frustrate you. They just can’t read your mind. So, talk to them. Explain to them how you feel. And if you’re on the other side of it, understand that just because something “isn’t a big deal” to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to your partner. You can’t feel what they feel, or perceive something the way they do.
You have to “make empathy a relax.” And Dr. Medina explains how with two simple steps. When your partner is going through something, simply:
- Describe the emotional changes you think you see
- Make a guess as to where those emotional changes came from
For example (and this real-life happened): My morning is going horribly. Little things, but a lot of little things. The bread isn’t good anymore, so I can’t make the breakfast I woke up 15 minutes early just to make. Norah is extra fussy. Someone (I wonder who…) spilled paprika all over the cabinet and didn’t pick it up, and now I have to. Oh, and to top it all off, the dog puked–twice.
Cue the breakdown. Now, to a lot of people, it could seem like I’m overreacting. Nothing in that list is overly horrible. It’s all easily resolved. So, why am I freaking out?
To put Dr. Medina’s empathy reflex into play, hubby could say something like, “I see that you’re very frustrated right now. Is it because you have a lot going on and you’re feeling overwhelmed at the moment?”
No, he didn’t actually say that. But, he did react to my plight using empathy. My hubby, who knows me oh so well, didn’t get annoyed or try to tell me to “just get over it” or “it’s okay, it’s just…”. Because that wouldn’t help. Instead, he understood:
It wasn’t just this or that. It was feeling overwhelmed. It was the fact that I’m working full-time, trying to be a good mom and wife, running on little sleep, and to top it all off, I’m constantly bombarded with mom guilt about missing out on so much in my baby’s life. And now I have to clean up paprika when all I want to do is have a nice breakfast with my hubby and snuggle my baby girl before I leave for work.
So yeah, the paprika was spilled. But, it was more than that. He understood and he just hugged me and let me cry. And then he took me to McDonald’s for breakfast on the way to work. So, you know, wasn’t too bad of a morning in the end.
Make Your Marriage a Priority
It all comes down to this: make your marriage a priority. Sit down every day and talk to each other about something that isn’t baby related. Go out to dinner (even if you have to bring the baby, which we do, and we always enjoy it). Look each other in the eye and talk. Play games. Watch movies. Be you. Remember that your partner is more than a parent, and so are you.
If you make them a priority, and they make you a priority, and you both make the baby a priority, then everyone gets taken care of.
I Know This Was A Long Post…
But I really felt like it needed to be said. I’m so glad that we found this book before we had our baby. I’m so thankful that we sat down and talked about all of this before taking on parenthood.
Honestly, though, it’s never too late to have these conversations. It’s never too late to love and support and encourage each other. These are just some of the ways that hubby and I have worked on keeping our marriage strong through the beginning of our baby’s life. I’m sure we’ll face more struggles. And, like I said, our marriage is far from perfect. But, at least we know that, and we are both actively doing what we can to make it as perfect as possible for our little girl.
What about you? What do you do to connect with your partner now that you’re a parent? Or what do you plan on doing? Any tips or advice? Sharing is caring!
For more information about the book I’ve been raving about, check out my post Baby Books: What To Read And Why.