Parenting: Avoiding Relationship Meltdowns

Here are ways to keep your relationship going strong once a newborn arrives.

Here are ways to keep your relationship going strong once a newborn arrives.

Here are ways to keep your relationship going strong once a newborn arrives.

New parents need to focus on their relationship after bringing their baby home. Here are a few tips from  “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” 

Regrettably, research on new parents shows, although a newborn may create positive or negative changes in your relationship with your mate, the majority of mothers (70 percent) experience a steep nose-dive in marital satisfaction, while a father’s dissatisfaction grows as a reaction to his wife’s unhappiness. As anyone with a baby knows, such a vulnerable little creature is an enormous responsibility. Your newborn creates strains on your relationship through the difficulties of sharing responsibility, sleep deprivation, economic stress, and the seeming impossibility of making time for yourself, let alone spending time and energy focusing on your relationship.

The most interesting finding in the Gottmans’ research on the transition to parenthood was not why 67% of new mothers feel so miserable, but rather why the other 33% seem to go through the transition without a hitch. In their study, which followed 130 couples from their newlywed stage to as long as 8 years afterwards, they managed to make some fascinating headway into the mystery. The results were counter-intuitive.

Given common beliefs about the difficulties of the transition to parenthood, what separates blissful mothers from the rest is not a baby’s ability to sleep soundly, nursing style, or amount of time parents spent at home. The main determining factor is whether or not the husband joins his wife on this deeply emotional and demanding journey.

The arrival of your adorable baby often comes with a variety of not-so-adorable problems. With stress levels running high in a totally unfamiliar situation, there may come a variety of difficulties between mother and father. As the mother becomes suddenly aware of her deep, selfless, and endlessly protective love for her child, her life inevitably goes through profound changes. A husband who does not accompany her through this transformation may feel left behind.

Though he feels the same love for his child, he may sense a growing distance developing between himself and the incredible bond between mother and child. The only way to solve this problem is for him to follow her into the new realm she has entered. The following tips will help those of you who are new parents to navigate this crucial time, by working on your sense of “we-ness” as a couple:

Focus on your marital friendship

Before the arrival of your baby, work on your love maps. If you didn’t get a chance to do this, take the time now to learn more about your partner and their world. This will help you to feel like a team, and make the transition into parenthood together, maintaining your close connection with each other as well as your new baby.

Don’t exclude your partner from baby care

Have you ever seen a video of a mama wolf guarding her cubs? Adorable and slightly intimidating, this behavior is not entirely unlike that of human mothers. Despite a father’s desire to be involved in caring for the baby, it is unfortunately common for new mothers to feel overprotective (e.g., “Don’t bounce her like that” or “Stop tickling her”). In the interest of avoiding this undesirable barrage of directions from an overcontrolling mother, and stymie their growing feeling of incompetence, fathers often have the understandable urge to run for the hills. They willingly relinquish their parenting position to Baby Expert Mom.

The solution to this common problem is simple

Give your partner a little credit. Unless their approach is really unsafe, there is no reason to exclude them from the care of your baby. Share the responsibilities; it will make them feel much more connected to both of you. Take shifts taking care of the baby to let each of you get a much-needed break.

Carve out time for the two of you

Spending time away from baby can be incredibly difficult. Though it may be secondary to focusing on your child, the transition to parenthood should always involve some focus on your relationship with your mate. Find a trusted babysitter, friend, or relative, and take a break for a moment. Don’t worry if you spend your dates talking about your little one. This is totally natural. Simply taking a bit of time off for yourselves, sharing your feelings about your shared experience of this often confusing and stressful time, and showing each other affection will keep your connection strong.

Remember: the best gift that parents can give their newborn is a healthy partnership.

Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.