Author Karen Klieman shares her tips on helping your marriage survive the beautiful chaos that comes after baby. Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW has helped postpartum mothers for over 32 years and is the founder of The Postpartum Stress Center. Read along and learn how to safeguard your marriage.
Just Had a Baby?
If you’ve had a baby, you already know what such a blessed event can do to a relationship. The beautiful chaos. The unpredictable challenges. The clash of expectations and beliefs. None of this is what you envisioned when you dreamed about welcoming this precious new human into your lives. For the most part, couples recall they felt ready for the baby and anticipated some degree of commotion, but found they were unprepared for the impact on their relationship.
Think about it. You are sleep-deprived with 24/7 care of a helpless newborn. You are new at this and are shouldering shifting roles, identities, and responsibilities—often with insufficient preparation and support. It can feel as though there simply is no time left in the day to attend to your relationship.
But you should.
You’re Not Alone
Landmark research from John Gottman informed us that 67 percent of couples with new babies experience a sharp decrease in marital satisfaction! That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your relationship, even when it feels like just one more thing on your growing list of things to take care of. We have also learned that in healthy, strong relationships, partners support each other even when they are upset or in conflict. That’s not always easy to do when you are exhausted and irritable, but it’s important to keep in mind if you want to protect your relationship during this exciting life transition.
So what can you do?
4 Key Communication Tips
You’re probably asking yourself: How can I possibly prioritize our relationship when everything around me is literally screaming for attention?
Yes, your to-do list is expanding by the minute and no one has time to breathe, let alone sit still for a minute and have a conversation. Still, leaving your relationship on the back-burner compromises your relationship satisfaction in subtle ways that can creep up as problems down the line.
Keep these communication tips in mind:
Before you know it, the day is done. You are exhausted and have no idea what you accomplished. It all feels like a blur. It feels unrealistic (and unreasonable!) to expect you to nurture your relationship in the midst of so many distractions. But you can express the desire to do so; carve out some time together to look forward to, even if only for a few minutes; and convey to your partner that this is important to you, even with so much going on.
2. Talk it out
Say what needs to be said. Try not to take each other for granted. Do not wait until emotions escalate. Address issues, concerns, or areas of conflict as soon as they arise or as soon after as is feasible. Remember that conflict is not detrimental to a good relationship. Holding in resentments or deferring the hard conversations can inflame the situation and make it more difficult to resolve. Good problem-solving skills involve staying connected and compassionate while you are sorting things out. Start the dialogue with common ground, dial down the emotion, speak clearly—with conviction and genuine affection—for your relationship.
3. Be kind
Always. Your relationship will thrive in direct proportion to the degree and manner in which you pay attention to it. Remember: It’s not always what you say that matters, it is also how you say it and how this makes your partner feel. Resist attacking each other’s character, which is a hallmark of dirty fighting and won’t lead you to the desired outcome. Focus on the behavior or choices, not who they are.
4. Try a little of this:
- Ask “How are you?”
- Say “I miss you.”
- Say “I’m sorry.”
- Say “Thank you.”
- Say “I appreciate you.”
- Accept an apology.
- Look into your partners eyes.
- Stay present.
- Play, smile, and laugh together whenever possible.
Don’t forget to keep your relationship strong
Did you know one of the best ways to enable your partner to be better at meeting your emotional needs is to meet theirs? It’s true. Paradoxically, you will feel better if you better understand what your partner needs. If you address what your partner needs emotionally, that will fortify their personal resources and put them in a better position to take care of what you need. It actually works!
Leaning into your relationship when you are bone-tired, constantly interrupted, and busy with unrewarding chores may seem preposterous. There will be times when you feel like two strangers passing in the night. That is precisely why it’s up to you to keep the blood flowing in the heart of your partnership. Good relationships can sustain high levels of distress, but they do so based on a foundation of mutual respect and intention.
Keep it simple
You might be surprised how far one smile or a gentle touch can take you both. This is especially important when sex is often set aside while Mom recovers and the family reorients itself to the demands of the new baby. Staying emotionally intimate when physical intimacy is deferred is possible and associated with feeling heard, validated, and appreciated.
Talking, sharing glances, giggling, touching, listening, and smiling. These gestures between two people seem simple at first glance, but they are often cast aside after having a baby. Staying focused on the relationship when there are many opposing temptations can require energy that some new parents may have trouble accessing. It’s there, though, so dig deep and take care of your relationship. Letting your partner know how much you care, how much you miss them, and how good it feels to stay connected is essential to the well-being of your family.