Having a baby sets off an explosion in your relationship. When the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was. In the year after the first baby is born, about 70 percent of moms and dads experience a decrease in the satisfaction levels of their relationship with their significant other. Lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated, the responsibility of caring for a baby, juggling parenthood with a job, economic stress and lack of time for oneself, all lead to unnecessary strain on the relationship.
However, there are couples who are able to remain satisfied with their relationship. How? Having a baby typically causes a significant change in the new mother where she reorients her life so that her child becomes the priority and she experience high intensity of feelings toward the baby. If the father goes through these emotions with the mother, their relationship becomes stronger. The family of two becomes a family of three and there is no wishing for the old life. If the father does not go through these emotions with the mother, he may become resentful that the mother is preoccupied with the baby. He loves the child but he wants his wife back.
Some tips to stay connected after the birth of the first baby:
- Before the baby comes, make sure that you are a team and are truly connected.
- Encourage dad to take responsibility for special roles with the baby, especially if mom is breastfeeding. Moms must make sure that they don’t criticize dad when he is caring for the baby.
- Spend time away from baby where you can talk about the baby or anything else. It is so important that couples nurture their relationship by spending some time away from the baby. Even if it is only once every couple of months, it can really make a difference.
- Give each other breaks. No matter who is doing more of the caring for the baby, each parent needs time for themselves. Ask each other what you can do to give the other a break and make sure it happens.
- Show appreciation as much as possible. Even if you are exhausted at the end of the day, tell each other what you appreciate about each other.
Relationships can really change after the birth of the first child. With some work, the change can be very positive and it can set up a strong marriage which is the basis for a strong family going forward. But sometimes relationships take a downturn with the birth of a child. With the exhaustion and lack of time for the each other while caring for the baby, couples lose out on the closeness of their relationship.
Typically couples start marriage counseling when it’s too late – after an affair, when they’re thinking about divorce, when there are years and years of anger and resentment built up. Although counseling can help a couple at almost any time, the sooner you start counseling, the more likely the couple will be able to make significant positive changes in their relationship.
The best time to start couples counseling is when you first see signs of issues. Even before there are any issues, most couples can benefit from counseling. During one of my sessions with a couple, one client said, “I wish I had known this years ago.” If couples were to start couples counseling early on then they can avoid issues that can develop over time.
Here are some signs that couples counseling is a good option:
- When you’re not talking
- When you don’t feel like your partner hears you
- When you’re communicating in a negative way – where you feel judged, shamed, disregarded or the tone of communication is condescending or sarcastic
- When affection is withheld as punishment
- When you see your partner as an adversary
- When you keep secrets
- When you’re considering having an affair
- When you find you’re staying together for the children
Couples counseling can be a safe place to learn how to heal through awareness, compassion and behavior change. When couples are committed to the process, they can develop a truly connected relationship where they can remember why they fell in love.