For couples who have just brought an infant home, the joy of this new family member can quickly become eclipsed by marriage problems they had never expected.
Between a lack of sleep, the pressure of parenting, and an increase in the number of household chores that must be done, it is no wonder that the pressure can get to even the strongest couples. The tips that follow will help you address the marital problems that may arise after bringing your first child home and tackle these issues with them in a mutually beneficial way.
Managing Sleep Exhaustion
Unfortunately, losing sleep is a frequent problem for new parents. Sleep deprivation saps your self-control and your mental energy. Losing too much sleep is a genuine health and safety hazard and change the way your brain functions (not for the better). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine details many unpleasant side effects of sleep loss, including increased irritability, poor decision-making, and symptoms of depression.
In other words, if you’re losing sleep being up night and day with a newborn, you are not functioning at your best. It’s even worse when both partners are losing sleep. Things that don’t normally irritate you now annoy you – a lot. You may be angry at your partner over something that you don’t have the ability to articulate calmly or clearly to him or her, leading either to further resentment while your partner remains oblivious or confused. All this is happening because your sleep-deprived brain isn’t working as well as it should.
What can you do?
Ideally, you would find a way to get undisturbed sleep (humans accumulate a “sleep debt” if they lose sleep, which means you will sleep longer to make up for sleep you have previously missed). The good thing is that even a little more sleep can counteract the negative aspects of missing sleep.
If possible, you need to find a way to sleep while someone else cares for your baby. If that person isn’t your partner, do you have parents or close relatives who can help you? It doesn’t need to be overnight – you are probably tired enough that you could drop your child off in the middle of the day with them and sleep non-stop until it’s time to pick up the baby again. You could also hire a babysitter to care for your child while you’re also home, and he or she can wake you only if there’s an emergency.
Communicating with your partner
Talking to your partner is always going to be one of our most repeated pieces of advice. In this situation, though, communicating well is a lot harder than usual. If you are the sleep-deprived spouse, recognize that you aren’t thinking completely rationally, and you will likely overreact to some things. This isn’t your fault, of course, but you will want to make sure you’re not making your partner feel like it’s his or her fault, either.
If you are too tired to have high-energy conversations right now, communicate that to your partner. Say something along the lines of, “I’m exhausted and not thinking straight. Do you still want to talk about this, or could we put it off for another time?” Many times, you will be able to delay a non-vital conversation and approach it at a time when you’re at your best.
If you do need to have a conversation but you aren’t sure you’ll be able to say it without losing track of your point or getting angry, try writing it down. When you have time to write out your thoughts, you will remember to present your argument with the love and respect you hold for your partner, which might slip out of your mind if you have a face-to-face, unplanned discussion.
Dividing Chores after a Baby
One of the biggest sources of tension between new parents is the division of labor in the home. Often mothers feel like they are taking on the bulk of the work in raising the child and caring for the home. Studies suggest that in most cases, these mothers are right.
There are a few different ways of dealing with these feelings, and parenting experts recommend that couples try to take the long view. Early in your child’s life, he or she will be incredibly dependent on their mother for food and comfort, and many men have difficulty stepping in and filling these roles. However, as your child grows and their needs change, fathers often step up and shoulder more of the responsibilities.
Another way of dealing with how chores are dividing is as simple as creating an assignment sheet with your partner. By breaking down all the jobs that must be done within the house, from waking up in the night to cooking dinner, you will be able to find a system that allows you to divide the work equally. As responsibilities wax or wane, the list can be amended as needed. If either partner can’t handle an assigned responsibility that day, they should communicate that to their partner that they will handle it the next day.
Talking Openly about Your Fears and Hopes
Are you scared and worried you aren’t doing this new “parenting” thing right? Join the club of every other new parent on the planet.
No matter how thrilled you are to be a new parent, you are likely also incredibly stressed. The key to getting through these periods is in talking to one another.
Lean on your partner for support! If you are insecure, share that. If you need help, ask for it! If you’re scared and overwhelmed, talk through it. Every new parent feels these things, and such feelings are in no way a reflection of your abilities or the job you are doing raising your child.
These talks can serve to make you feel more connected once again to your spouse. This will not only strengthen your marriage, but it will also help you codify your parenting strategies with one another. By talking through your goals as parents, and what you define as successful parenting, you will be in a much better position to co-parent in the future.
Romance and Adult-Only Time
You must remember that you are not defined solely by being a parent, and your spouse should be a romantic and life partner and not only a parenting partner. Spend time away from your child with each other in relaxing settings.
New mothers often have difficulty de-stressing enough to seek out romantic encounters. She may also be insecure of her body. One of the best things a husband can do is recognizing that the best thing for his wife right now is to give her a chance to truly relax. Touch does not have to be sexual, and new mothers may especially appreciate a loving massage, especially if it is accompanied by reassurances that they are loved no matter what their post-pregnancy body looks like.
If romance time has been put on hold, remember that it’s not permanent. Children will begin sleeping through the night, you will feel more comfortable leaving a child with a babysitter, and both parents will get into the “groove” of parenthood, and the days will no longer feel so stressful.
Your New Marriage
Your marriage has entered a new phase as you and your spouse share love for your child, as well. The beginning days of parenthood are scary, but they are awe-inspiring as well. The stress will always be there, but you can learn to minimize stress from children much better over the years. Communicate with your partner and work to solve any problems so that your memories of your life in the months afterward can be filled with love for each other and your child.