When you’re pregnant for the first time, you’re hit with a barrage of unsolicited advice. Advice on how to handle labor, how to effectively breastfeed, or how you should stock up on sleep since you’ll miss those precious hours of slumber once the baby arrives. And you might receive the, “Your marriage will definitely change” counsel.
The last vague statement leads to much interpretation: “Does it mean that my husband and I won’t have any time for ourselves?” and “Will we forget who we were before the baby arrived?”
While those above assumptions are expected, it does not paint a great picture of how exactly your relationship will be altered after your baby’s arrival.
Like most situations in parenthood, many people think they are the only ones going through “it.” It wasn’t until four months after our child was born that another couple, who we are friends with, started a conversation about the struggle they encountered after their baby was born, just five months before ours arrived. While we laughed as we exchanged stories, through our conversation, I was relieved that our experiences were somewhat similar, and therefore, normal.
The truth is, as excited as my husband I both were about our new baby, I can honestly say that I underestimated the effect our daughter would initially have on our marriage.
It’s no secret that men and women communicate differently, and it’s even more apparent in parenthood. I’m a worrier by nature, my husband isn’t, so when our baby was born, my nerves were at an all-time high. For example, I freaked out when the swaddle blanket was over her face or when she started rolling over at night (for fear of suffocation). My husband didn’t take any of my concerns seriously, and neither of us knew how to effectively communicate why we felt the way we did.
Plus, the sporadic sleep didn’t help. After a few arguments in the wee hours of the night, we both came to the conclusion that it was better to communicate when neither of us were in zombie mode.
Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, told Psych Central that a lack of sleep takes a toll on everyone. “Sleep deprivation sinks your mood, makes it harder to cope effectively with stress and exacerbates mood swings and anxiety,” Marter said. “And that’s just what it does to each person.”
As a new mother, I strove not to nag my husband on his particular methods of handling the baby and decided that I would just be content with him contributing to the cause. This sounded easy but soon became frustrating when he didn’t understand why I wanted to do things a certain way, causing my initial silence to soon be replaced with side-eyes. Yes, I appreciated having a husband who didn’t hesitate to help with our newborn, but there was definitely resentment that would build when I felt like I was doing a hell of a lot more all on my own.
Marter pointed out that most couples have vague responsibilities that lead to trouble. She said of one of her clients, “By sitting down and reviewing the morning’s tasks, the husband was able to select several items that his wife agreed would be helpful for him to manage, she said. By sharing responsibilities and communicating more effectively, some of the stresses new parents face can be quelled. “Relationship requires give and take when figuring out fairness,” Marter said.
There’s no doubt that marriage is hard and can only get harder once a little person comes into the picture. But it’s all about compromise and explicitly explaining your goals. As hard as it can be, I agree with Marter on the idea that couples should, “Focus on the big things and let the small stuff go.” And while a child should change your marriage, it should change it for the better, not the worst.