We all know having a new baby is challenging. And while some new parents navigate the trials, tribulations and triumphs of new parenthood with grace and ease, many others find themselves snapping at their significant others, having aggravation levels far above normal and a distinct lack of intimacy and romance. That sounds more like what I'm dealing with and I suspect I am not alone.
If you're an expectant parent, I gently suggest giving your relationship some thought, care and attention before baby comes and continue to do so after baby arrives. If you're like me, with a baby under one and a marriage that just turned two, you may want to consider some early interventions to prevent those little fights from blowing up into full-blown divorce. The tiny cracks in the sidewalk of your relationship can become gaping chasms when your duo becomes a trio.
I didn't expect my baby to create so much stress in my marriage. Sure, while I was pregnant, my best friend and mother of three whispered, "You're going to hate your husband so much. You'll think he's an idiot." I laughed because I couldn't imagine a scenario where I hated him.
He always gets me the best gifts and has watched all my favorite movies with me from "Mermaids" to "Newsies." He picked up the pieces after I fell apart from the trauma of a miscarriage. He comforted me through nine months of an anxiety filled pregnancy and fulfilled my every whim. He changed all of our son's diapers for two weeks after my C-section. He brought me water while I nursed and wiped my tears when I stopped breastfeeding earlier than planned. He called my doctor when he realized I had postpartum depression, even though I kept insisting I was fine.
Logically, I know he is a wonderful husband and father.
Emotionally, everything he does annoys the crap out of me.
Sound familiar? I hope so because there's no way I'm the only first-time mother feeling this way about the love of my life.
When he comes from home from work, I know he's tired and wants a break from a long day—but I, too, have had a long day. I want him to get on baby duty the minute he walks through the door. This may sound unreasonable to the working parent, but to the stay-at-home parent, it can feel like the one who has been out of the house all day (and is not covered in spit-up and poop) has already gotten their break.
I've never considered myself a nag but now when my husband doesn't do his chores around the house in what I consider a timely fashion I become enraged. He feels like he can't do anything right and that I overreact. I feel like he's not doing enough and consider my reactions rather restrained, I mean, I haven't smashed every dish in the house or stabbed him, so I think he should consider himself lucky. We're having a hard time putting ourselves in each other's shoes and I'm scared that our beautiful redheaded baby may burn our marriage down.
Sound familiar? I hope so because there's no way I'm the only first-time mother feeling this way about the love of my life. Lately, the strain has become so great that I confessed to my therapist that I'm questioning if I should stay married. She assured me this is quite normal, especially during the first year of parenthood, and handed me a book: "And Baby Makes Three" by John M. Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. I started reading it and immediately felt less alone. As they say in the first chapter, "we're all in the same soup."
The stress of having a new baby isn't going anywhere; it's how we deal with that stress and each other that is going to make the difference.
In their 13-year research study with 130 families, they discovered that in the first three years after babies were born 67 percent of the couples were unhappy and experienced a significant drop in the quality of their relationship. The other 33 percent had the same stress but were still very content with their partners. The authors wanted to find out what made the difference between what they call the "masters" and the "disasters."
They discovered that the "masters" handled conflict differently than the "disasters"—they were kinder, more gentle and funnier. They fought over the same issues but, even though they "might explode with anger, their words were less like knives and more like declarations of their rights."
The result of their research is a very insightful book about communication styles and strategies to facilitate conversations to help guide couples through the potential minefields of new parenthood. I asked my husband to read it as well and he agrees that we have some work to do if we want to increase our happiness. We can't focus all of our time and energy on our baby for the next three years and expect to wake up in a happy marriage. The stress of having a new baby isn't going anywhere; it's how we deal with that stress and each other that is going to make the difference.
Acknowledging that we're struggling to be happy in our relationship has already improved things in my house. We love each other and our son and want what's best for all of us. I asked a married friend with a young child if she and her husband had experienced discontentment after their son was born and said, "Yes! And I wish more people talked about it." Having a kid is hard, people! In more ways than you can possibly imagine. Don't ignore the problems and turn away into Netflix or your phone, or focus solely on your baby.
Nurture your marriage, it needs just as much love and care as your new baby.