Enjoy this guest post from Lisa Greaves Taylor, an award-winning childbirth educator based in Astoria, NY who offers in-person and online education courses for expecting parents.
Entering into parenthood in a committed relationship? A black box warning for you: Having a baby will put your relationship to the test like nobody’s business.(The divorce rate is through the roof within the first few years of having a baby.) As much as you can, plan in pregnancy to protect and nurture your relationship from now into parenthood.
Agree on a date night quota. What’s your monthly date goal going to be so you're prioritizing your relationship? Stick to it! During your dates, have a rule: “all baby talk is off limits” -- you can talk about anything else under the sun; just not baby. Do set aside other (non-date) time to discuss baby/parenting issues. It's indeed important to present a consistent, united front as a team as you raise your little one. (Yep, you got 3 tips wrapped into one there…BONUS!)
Look for opportunities to connect with & affirm your partner. For example: whenever you’ve been apart for any length of time, be proactive with approaching them. This should be a two-way street. If you don't stop what you’re doing to greet your partner eye-to-eye, at least sometimes, it can give your beloved the sense that they don’t matter to you. (Make this and the next tip priorities. These will reduce the risk of struggles with postpartum depression or other mood and anxiety disorders.)
Discuss how you can divide responsibilities & build in support in the first 6 weeks. Feeding needs to happen at least 8-12 times a day in the first few weeks in order to establish a healthy milk supply & meet baby’s needs.This is intense! So, feeding baby and resting should be the postpartum parent’s main priorities. Baby needs lots of other things that partner can help with (diapering, soothing/settling baby, etc.). Support your partner now, andyour love life will thank you down the road. It’s a great way to bond with your little one, too!
Post a “love board” on your fridge for leaving notes of appreciation. Leave love notes on bathroom mirrors with dry-erase markers or post-its. Each person in our family writes something we love about each other. We update the fridge dry-erase board whenever something new occurs to us.
Cool off when arguments flare up. When you have an argument and get worked up, that's the worst time to work through conflict. In the fight-or-flight state, we lose the ability to be rational. Take a breather and come back to it once you’ve had a cooling-off period. See this excellent Gottman Institute book, And Baby Makes Three, for more on this concept. You can also sign up for some great relationship tip regular emails from GI on their website.
Do some of the relationship exercises in the book above as well as The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson
Take a birth class together & hire a doula for your birth team. Look for a class with a focus on ways partners can be supportive in pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. A quality birth class will also foster discussions between the two of you that will lead to a stronger birth AND relationship. Hiring a doula--one who’s the right fit for you and your partner--will provide similar, symbiotic benefits
Keep in mind your “dates” will look different in the very beginning of parenthood. Start by lighting a candle at the table where you eat. Sit across the table from each other and see if you can look into each other's eyes without dozing off amidst your sleep deprivation. (At least you’re being intentional with this time, even if you do drift off!)
Perhaps a little farther down the road, consider organizing a monthly “relationship care” small group with other married friends (or friends in a long-term, committed relationship). This might be a bit out of people's comfort zones, but it has been a game changer for some couples. It’s a kind of support meeting that provides intentional, dedicated time to dialogue one-on-one in the presence of other couples. This type of group is intended for couples who are not in crisis, but committed to nurturing their relationships in a constructive, level-headed way by addressing some harder topics in a confidential setting. Each couple has an opportunity to discuss questions that they've received ahead of time while other couples listen and observe. Supportive feedback for the dialoguing couple is always optional and never judgmental.
If some of the tips above don’t resonate with where you find yourself at the moment in your relationship, working with a couples’ therapist during pregnancy or into parenthood can be a smart thing to seek out. Too many couples wait until they’re in deep relationship crisis to reach out for help, and at that point, it’s much harder to resolve issues. Seek out counseling early and find a good fit for both of you if you feel like your relationship could benefit.
Choose a few of the tips above to try, and your relationship will be on the road to being baby-proofed! For childbirth education classes with an intentional focus on nurturing your relationship and practical ways partners can support the laboring person, see www.birthmattersnyc.com