By Rachel Amondson, MSW, ACSW
A.K.A How to not kill your partner
When I found out I was pregnant, I was instantly thrown into a tornado of questions. “Which baby books are you reading? “What’s your birth plan?” “Will you breastfeed?” “How will you sleep train?” People fed me endless unsolicited advice. “What? You don’t have the Bitty Baby Boppy Bot? You must have the Bitty Baby Boppy Bot or else your baby will never learn to attach emotionally and then they’ll die!” (Okay, I stretched that last part, but not by much.)
The question that never came my way, and nobody seems to spend much time thinking about, is perhaps more important than everything above: “How will you and your partner handle dramatic changes in your relationship after your baby arrives?”
There’s a reason research shows 69% of couples experience difficulties after having a baby. You're sleep deprived, sex deprived, and you’re forced to juggle a whole new set of emotional and financial responsibilities. Your free time disappears, both of you desperately need to shower, and each one thinks they’re carrying more weight than the other. Those 31% of couples who say they don’t experience difficulties? Personally, I think they’re lying.
Here are some tips for navigating the emotional minefield of parenting with a partner.
Trust - Relax -- your partner isn't going to accidentally kill the baby. Within reason, give them some space to figure it out on their own (which helps them build confidence, self-efficacy, and bonding with their child). Maybe you think they are burping the baby all wrong. Unless they are hanging her upside down off the balcony, just think how you would want someone to give YOU advice on YOUR child. Ask if they want your advice first so that you don't turn into a micromanager.
Prioritize the Parental Relationship - Your relationship with your partner comes first. When children feel like they’re the center of your universe, they feel overwhelmed and unsafe. One of my favorite couples often tells their kids, "This is mommy and daddy's world, and you get to live in it." Prioritize weekly date night as soon as possible and remember to talk about things other than the child. Work, politics, the weather -- anything but poopy diapers, schedules, etc. If going out is too expensive or difficult, do a date night in. Every Friday night, my husband and I turn off our phones, cook dinner, open a bottle of wine, listen to records, and force ourselves to reconnect as a couple. Sometimes we even make it past 9 pm.
Take Care of Yourself - Unless you married a unicorn, your partner isn't going to regularly say, "Sweetheart, you’re doing too much. I'll watch the baby while you go get that massage I booked for you." We often do too much and then resent our partner for not telling us to slow down. It’s not their job. You are responsible for you, so figure out what you need to feel like yourself again.
(For me, I rejuvenate through yoga, hiking, and sneaking out to watch The Bachelor with my girlfriends). Ask your partner to help you make that happen, and give them the same freedom to do the things they need to do for themselves.
Compassion - Practice compassion for yourself and your partner. You’re going to mess up, and that’s okay. Try to treat yourselves the way you would treat your good friends. Be gentle and be supportive. Remember that relationships are full of ups and downs and no phase -- good or bad -- will last forever.
Community - It really does take a village. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. Whether it's your family, your friends, your church/temple/mosque/synagogue, a “parent and me” class or even a neighborhood Facebook group, make sure you have emotional support. Also, don’t hesitate to consider therapy. Therapy doesn't mean you’re broken as an individual or a couple. Your relationship is like a car, and you need to do the maintenance required to keep it in good shape.
Last but not least, remember that nobody is nailing this whole relationship/parenting thing. I know that Sally and Tom seem like they have it all together but they don’t (trust me, I’m their therapist). Heck, I wrote this article and it’s still a daily struggle to practice what I preach. So breathe, take the pressure off for a moment, laugh at yourselves, and try to enjoy riding the waves of your incredible journey together.
Rachel Amondson is a Los Angeles based therapist and life coach.