One little secret that no one tells you is that your marriage will suffer after having a baby. A lot.
Or maybe they do try to tell you, but it doesn’t register until it’s too late.
About two thirds of couples will see a drop in marital satisfaction after the birth of a baby. Your routines go out the window, days and nights blur together, eating is erratic, and don’t even think about having sex. Conflict and emotional distance are routine.
My husband and I definitely did not think this would happen to us. We were so happy, so nauseatingly PDA with each other, our relationship was immune, right?
In his book You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married), Dana Shapiro interviews divorcees to figure out what makes marriages end and how to make them last. In one interview, a divorced mother explains:
That first year after you have a kid is all about survival. And I don’t know a lot of couples who are having much sex. The underlying thing you have to know is that, as the husband, you are totally displaced. And that’s a bummer…The baby gets so much love and attention and the mother gets so much satisfaction from the child – there’s just not a lot left for somebody else.
Nail -> head.
Mr. Mom Habits was left out of the mommy-baby diad in so many ways. Couple that with Mrs. Mom Habits’ perfectionistic tendencies and baby’s preference for mom, our relationship suffered enormously. So much for being immune.
Stress, disrupted routines, new roles, and a change in the focus of the marriage can lead to a relationship that is, shall we say, less than satisfying.
What can you do?
Here are a few tips that helped us get through it:
- Take care of logistics
We have a weekly ‘meeting’ where we hash out the logistics for the week. Who’s doing pick ups, drop offs, and otherwise playing with the little one throughout the week. Dinners, work schedules and social engagements all go on a google calendar. Life with three is way more complicated–you’ve got to use every tool at your disposal.
- Talk about something other than the baby
For a while, we played a game each night when we got home: we had to tell each other three new things we were grateful for that happened that day. We also played a variant where we thought of three things we planned to tell the other about the day. It kept us connected and thinking about each other throughout the day, looking for interesting things to tell the other when we got home.
Many people recommend a weekly “date night”, which is great in theory, but that requires a babysitter, and a lot of planning, and we found we missed more weeks than we made. This method might sound cheesy, but it’s free and you really have no excuse for skipping it.
- Label your feelings as they come up
One major way we’ve learned to avoid unnecessary conflict is to label feelings as they come up. This is important for Mrs. Mom Habits in particular. For example, telling my husband ”I’m starting to feel frustrated” saved us from more than a few fights. It was a signal to pause and investigate before a heated conversation turned into a major blowup. Bonus: Recognizing and labeling a feeling lessens its intensity and makes you feel more in control.
- Change your goal when you fight
You will feel very passionate that you are right about a lot of things in parenting, and your partner will feel just as passionately that you are wrong. You will fight, and your goal will be to convince the other person to adopt your viewpoint.
We finally figured out that there are just some topics we’ll never agree on. We now try to fight with the goal of being heard and understood, rather than to agree. This has been huge for us.
- Listen, listen again and then shut up and LISTEN
It’s important to signal to the other person that you’ve heard what they’re trying to say. “Reflective listening,” or reflecting back to the other person what you heard them say, is another cheesy-but-powerful practice that has helped us avoid or resolve a conflict. Here is a brief primer.
- Create a true partnership
One study found that both parents were more likely to be satisfied with the marriage when household chores were equally divided. Women were also more likely to report sexual satisfaction when they reported that they shared household duties with their husband…So apparently, the way to a woman’s heart is through the dishwasher???
Finally, just remember that it will get better. Most of us need to work at it, but your marriage will get better even if it sucks for a while after baby. You won’t have time to read any self-help books, since you’ll barely have time to pee when you become a parent. But don’t be afraid to ask for advice or hire a therapist before things get bad. Invest in each other, it’s time well spent.