This week, we’d like to give a shout (or a cry, or even an adorable wail) in the direction of all the parents out there. Today’s post is specifically for expecting parents and those of you with newborn babies. Though they can be the most beautiful, amazing, and blissful addition to your lives, babies can also set off an explosion in your marriage, making it especially important for new parents to focus on their relationship after bringing their baby home. Today we will give you a few tips from a section on becoming parents from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, luckily located in a chapter called “Coping with Typical Solvable Problems!” 

As Dr. Gottman explains, the following tips can help you in accomplishing the greater task at hand, namely expanding your sense of “we-ness” as a couple. Regrettably, research on new parents has revealed that, 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 tiny baby knows, such a vulnerable little creature is an enormous responsibility. Your newborn may excel at creating 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.

For Dr. Gottman, the most interesting finding in his 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 his study, which followed 130 couples from their newlywed stage to as long as 8 years afterwards, he managed to make some fascinating headway into the mystery. Dr. Gottman’s results were stunningly counter-intuitive.

Bizarrely enough, 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 Dad 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. “Don’t bounce her like that, you idiot!” “Stop tickling her feet, she’s crying!” 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 Dad a little credit. Unless his approach is really unsafe, there is no reason to exclude him from the care of your baby. Giving him official roles, such as Offical Burper, Official Lullaby Singer, etc., will make him feel much more connected to both mother and child. As Mom begins to feel more comfortable, and more exhausted, let Dad take over some responsibilities. He can take shifts taking care of the baby to let his wife take a much-needed break, go out, see some friends, and rejuvenate herself.

Let Dad be Baby’s Playmate: Innumerable studies have confirmed that women and men differ in their methods of connecting to the baby: Women are generally more nurturing, while men tend to be more playful. Playing with a helpless baby may seem to many men as a recipe for disaster, which may lead them to feel superfluous at this time in their child’s development. In reality, as fathers who spend time with their babies know full well, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Babies smile, laugh, wriggle in delight, and make absolutely charming and endearing playmates. Being sensitive to Dad’s needs and desires will help him to feel much more included as an indispensible part of your new family.

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 baby-sitter or a friend or relative to take a breather, 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.

We hope these suggestions will help your relationship flourish, both with each other, and with your newborn! Remember: the best gift that parents can give their newborn is a healthy partnership. Look forward to Wednesday’s blog post, where we will continue our discussion of parenting, and give you ways to enrich your bonds with your child as they grow, while maintaining a deep connection as parents.

Gottman, John, and Julie Gottman. “The Art and Science of Love: A Weekend Workshop for Couples” Workbook. Seattle: The Gottman Institute, Inc., 2000-2011. 100-103. Print.

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Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.