Your baby is a nuclear bomb. Is it cute and gurgly and the most incredible thing to ever happen to you? Absolutely.
But it has the power to reduce your relationships to ash, including, yes, the one you have with your spouse.
Myriad studies confirm that a sort of domino effect is triggered by the presence of a baby in a couple’s life. They have less time to spend together, which, necessarily, means you’re having less sex, which often leads to more frequent fights, which consequently finds both of them less happy.
“Eventually, they readjust, but that doesn’t mean that they’re able to get back to where they were,” Eli Finkle, a social psychologist who runs the Marriage Lab at Northwestern University, said.
“The truth is, of course, it’s hard to cultivate the relationship when you have this massive additional responsibility that requires so much attention.”
So, what can be done? To continue with our metaphor here, you must build a bomb shelter around your marriage. It really pays to be an apocalyptic, doomsday-prepping survivalist and stock it with a lot of metaphorical bottled water and canned food, and hope your baby doesn’t destroy its structural integrity when it goes off.
To help you do just that, we spoke to a variety of experts who gave us their best advice for preparing your marriage to survive your child. At least, until they’re a teenager.
Plan for the worst
Planning for the birth of your child is a huge undertaking, but it’s important to budget time to plan what happens next. “For many women, birth and labor become the ultimate obstacle, but it’s really only the beginning,” says Shanna Donhauser, a psychotherapist specializing in young children and families.
She recommends identifying a few things you might need or want during the postpartum period and put together a plan with your partner. From figuring out what food you’ll need in advance, to organizing a visitor schedule that isn’t exhausting during this time frame, the preparation is important for minimizing outside stress.
Class it up
A frequent roadblock for new parents is a lack of a mutual understanding of how you’re going to talk about parenting. In the thick of the Hurt Locker-ing your marriage, you may find that a parenting class helps you make sure you’re talking about the same thing.
“Couples who take parenting classes together before having children report that they acquire a common language and foundation that makes future decisions much easier,” says psychotherapist Dr. Tina B. Tessina, and can prevent those pesky red wire-blue wire communication breakdowns that stress you both out and cause infighting in the bunker.
Prioritise time together
A major problem that faces all new parents is that dividing up the mountain of tasks you’ll have to accomplish separates you for much of the day, giving small resentments time to fester and grow. These will never go away, but it’s paramount to schedule in time together and to communicate through any impasses.
“Try to organize your schedule so that you have some time together, without having to do chores or work, after the baby is asleep,” says Tessina. “Talk frequently about how you’re both doing, whether your arrangement feels fair, and encourage your partner to talk about what’s bothering him or her.” If you keep in constant communication about this, your baby’s many mini-explosions won’t rock the boat so much.
Set boundaries with extended family
If your baby is going to order an air strike from above, it’s going to come in the form of your extended family. Setting boundaries with in-laws and relatives from the start will save you a lot of grief. The key to doing so lies in tact. “Convey this boundary to your in-laws in a gentle way,” psychotherapist Susan Silver previously told Fatherly.
“Be explicit if it becomes necessary, just know that it’s your job to make your in-laws – and, more importantly, your spouse – feel like he or she is number one. This will build trust and commitment, which are two important pillars of any marriage.” Hopefully, your situation won’t turn into a tag-team melee. But, if it does, make sure you’re in the right corner.
Make. Time. For. Sex.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Or, to track our metaphor, the potassium tablets in the bunker (you’re going to need to meet me halfway on some of these). Maintaining a healthy relationship will require a bit of sex scheduling, which doesn’t sound sexy, because it isn’t, but that’s okay. “It might not be as spontaneous as it used to be,” says LCPC Tayla Knable.
“But this physical intimacy is incredibly important in feeling connected to your spouse. Use those date nights to plan time for sex. After the kids go to bed, spend that time together as often as possible.” That time should be separated from your normal duties as parents as possible, which means making your bedroom a “kid-free” area.
“Nothing kills the mood like having baby items and toys scattered all over the bed,” says Knable. No kidding.
Establish your baby’s routines
It sounds obvious but without set routines, you won’t be able to carve out time for your relationship. “Routines start early and often,” says Donhauser. Everyone benefits from them; you, your partner, and your little bomb there. “Couples with strong routines for their small children tend to feel less stress in their relationship,” she notes, “because they can predictably make room for their marriage and their children are often more regulated.” Essentially, settling into a routine lets your baby know to hang onto their grenade pin for a bit while you sort everything out.
Unfortunately, the single most important feature of your bomb shelter is also the hardest to come by: An army cot. “Lack of sleep in those early years of parenting can create tremendous strain on a marriage,” advises Donhauser. “People say it all the time, get sleep when you can. It feels trite. It’s not.”
Getting sleep as often as possible, giving your partner the opportunity to sleep whenever you can, and, most importantly, being transparent about your own need for sleep and asking for help whenever you need it, is what will bury your bomb shelter so far underground and outside the blast radius that no matter how many times your baby decides to detonate (and it will be quite frequently) you can simply dust off your shoulders and dive back in.