When you consider how your life will change once the new arrival, well, arrives, what changes are you most concerned about? Maybe you’re afraid that important aspects of your relationship will just disappear. Why wouldn’t you be worried about this? I mean, people love to tell us that
“Everything changes!”, “Say goodbye to sex!” and “You’ll never sleep again. Ever!”
There is a both/and answer to these negative expectations. There are ways to prioritize your child while also prioritizing your relationship.
Alternatives Exclude – closing door to something else
‘Alternatives Exclude’ is a quote from John Gardner’s Grendel that the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom often cites.
I thought it appropriate when looking at the fear that can arise when couples make the choice to have a baby. It’s an exciting new chapter, but there are things that are lost. What keeps many people paralyzed and non-committal is the idea that whenever you make a choice in life you’re also closing a door to something else.
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It’s like standing in a bookstore and not choosing a book to read because deciding to read War and Peace also means you’re deciding not to read Beloved, or The Great Gatsby, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And you end up not reading anything.
You’ve made a choice. You and your partner are bringing a child into your family. Your two-person family with all the negotiations, life shifts, and integration of new family and friends that you had to accommodate when you went from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ now has to accommodate someone else. And this alternative couple-with-child life that you’ve chosen will exclude some aspects of the me-and-you-against-the-world life you may have had.
Are you noting any anxiety rising as you think about that? Here’s what to do next:
1. Write down all those things you are afraid of losing
Make it as detailed as you can, but just get it all out of your head and onto some paper (or a notes app or something digital. I’m flexible. No one is going to be collecting this. I like the concreteness of making a list like this because some of the worst anxiety in the world is when there’s just a formless fear that isn’t actually connected to anything. Just free-floating anxiety ready to drop down and kick you in the gut, leaving you stunned.
2. Get your fears front and centre
Right now you may just be afraid of the change without really understanding what exactly it is you’re worried about missing. Let’s get those fears front and centre. These can be as general as ‘lazy Sundays in bed together with the paper’ or as specific as ‘seeing the opening night of the latest Star Wars movie—which you would always see together!’
Put it all down. If you have less than ten things then you’re not finished. You’ve had quite a bit of time where it was just the two of you, so allow yourself to settle into all the private moments you worry will be lost. Most likely the overall big theme and fear for the relationship come down to: Will I lose the partnership that we’ve built? Will we never feel like a “couple” again?
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Remember, though, that when you started your relationship you may have been asking: “Will I lose myself?” Hopefully, through the work, you both have put into the relationship you’ve been able to create a partnership that doesn’t mean that you, as an individual, have been lost. And that idea is good news. You’ve done this before. You’ve made it through one life cycle crisis and emerged.
So what to do with your list now?
3. Don’t co-parent alone
Here’s the difficult part as it might be a new muscle that you need to develop: Text your partner and make a date to go through your list.
This is important because it can be hard to make the transition from “I am the captain of my ship and the master of my soul” to have to check with someone else to make sure the baby is taken care of if you need to stay late at work.
In a healthy family, there’ll be a real interdependence that comes into play and that can be scary and discomforting if you’ve always prided yourself on your independence. But you can’t make these plans or face these fears alone and hope to be successful. I mean, you can, but you’re not going to get very far and it’ll end up being pretty frustrating for the both of you.
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So make a date to sit down and talk about each other’s concerns, fears, and worries—and couple this with what you love about each other that you don’t want to lose. Understand, and help them understand that these fears are really about how to ensure that the two of you can go on being the dynamic, interesting, special two people you have both become.
Decide together—before the baby arrives—how you will negotiate issues as they come up. Yes, the best-laid plans might all fall apart once the baby is here, but a large portion of parenting is learning to adapt—heck, a large part of living is that as well!
Making the plans ahead of time means that you’re at least setting some intentions. You can remind each other during stressful times how important certain aspects of your relationship are and renegotiate how to get to there. Co-parenting will require more cooperation, compromise, and communication. Excitingly, that means that if you do this well, you’re going to end up deepening your relationship.
Having a baby will shift your relationship, but you don’t have to lose the aspects of it that you love. Be brave and open with your partner about what you love about them, what you’re afraid you’ll lose, and find reassurance in each other knowing that you’ll face this new part of your journey together.