Start now to strengthen your relationship skills so your partnership can withstand some very tough weeks ahead with a newborn

We all do it – you’re expecting your first baby (or babies), you’re blissful and clueless. You take prenatal yoga twice a week, he rubs your feet every night and the two of you get your Zen on together with a walk around the park after work, all hands on your belly. Smile. If anyone suggested that soon you’d be arguing over…nothing? Taking out the trash, socks on the bathroom floor, whose turn it is to do the dishes, you’d think: Crazy. Never. Not us.

Then, the baby comes. And you realize that your partner has no idea how to hold an infant and heat a bottle at the same time. And that you keep this running scorecard in your head about how much time you’ve spent each day alone with the baby. How many times you woke up to feed her, versus how many times he did. It puts the most rock-solid relationship to the ultimate test. And it has many experts suggesting that as you hone your breastfeeding and diaper-changing skills, you also take a look at your attitude toward parenting and your relationship skills.  Including how to argue productively.

Some marriages don’t survive. They look like they do — while the kids are little, while they get through elementary, middle, high school — but some of those early resentments just dig in deep and never leave. Then, when the babies turn 11, 13, Kabaam!  Somebody is out of there.

Can this marriage* be saved? 

*Please note that I’m using marriage in the multi-purpose, all relationship sense.

We definitely romanticize parenthood in our culture, imagining blissful days and love-filled nights. But the minute you step inside the door with your new baby, and reality sets in, it’s a shock. Taking care of a newborn is work, it’s draining and you feel like no one told you how hard it can be.

About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship go down within three years of the birth of a child, according to research from the Relationship Research Institute (RRI) in Seattle, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening families. And it’s no surprise. Almost overnight, your whole life changes. Once a competent person, you feel bumbling. You have no time to work out, have sex, relax and watch a movie, see friends. The love you have for your new baby and for each other may, in the short term, be no match for the grueling toll of all-night cry-a-thons and the exhaustion that makes you start to blame each other for, well, everything.

That’s why programs like the Bringing Baby Home workshops run by RRI can be so valuable. Because knowledge is power, and preparation can trump almost anything. You might not want to hear it now, but listen: You need to start working on this stuff while you’re still expecting, because once the baby comes, it starts. Here’s how to babyproof your marriage

1. Address the division of labor

As the mother, you feel like you’re doing all the work; and your partner feels like nothing he does is right. By thinking that only you can take care of the baby properly, you push him out, no matter how willing he is to take over.  As a result, many dads don’t feel comfortable diapering, bathing, feeding the baby solo, and you feel like the lone caretaker.

Here’s how to work it out:

Make lists. Consult a friend or family member for help, and list the day-to-day baby-care tasks and household chores. And be specific; e.g.,write “Take out the trash after dinner,” and “Give the dog a bath on Saturdays,” as well as “Get up and feed the baby on Monday nights.” Divide the tasks evenly and calmly. You can even start this now; have your partner research breastpumps and local childcare.

Put him in charge for a day. As soon as you have feeding established, leave for at least 4 hours. (You might have to pop in to nurse if you’re not yet storing breastmilk, and if you’re using formula, make sure he knows how to prepare it).This will give him a chance to get comfortable handling the baby, and learning how to do things his way. And avoid the temptation to chime in and criticize his choices.

Find help Your friends and family want to help; let them come over and babysit so you two can take a break, maybe see a movie. You will resist this one at first, I know I did. But now I wish I hadn’t pooh-poohed it.And if they can afford it, have your friends or parents spring for a cleaning service once a week as a gift.

Talk about it Once a month, over a glass of wine when the baby is asleep, ask each other: “How are we doing? What’s working; what’s not?”

Bonus relationship tip: Look at each other in the eyes as often as you think about it.  Kiss, say nice things, compliment each other on the job you’re doing.

2. Manage expectations about sex

Your partner probably wants to have sex as soon as possible; but even after the six-week period that’s recommended for your genitals and incisions to heal, you might not feel like it at all.  Some experts think it’s Mother Nature built-in birth control.  Not only does your body still feel jiggly and soft, you also probably are exhausted. And, many breastfeeding women feel a creepiness about having their breasts fondled by their partners and sucked on by their babies.  The problem is, some men take this as a rejection. So, talk about it and take some extra steps.

Here’s how:

Plan sex Instead of expecting to be able to jump each other’s bones spontaneously, mark it on the calendar. (The baby can’t read!) Go into the bathroom, if that’s the only truly private space you have. And even if you’re not in the mood, try anyway.

Mess around Explain that you will need a lot of foreplay … and lube. Take your time and maybe just practice some oral on him. Get into the habit of kissing, grabbing and flirting. The more you have sex, the more you will want it.

Take it into your own hands Masturbation can keep you thinking about and enjoying sex, and it can be a total reboot of your mood and energy. So DIY often.

Bonus relationship tip: Set a date, about 12 weeks after the baby’s born, and go to a hotel. Make sure you have plenty for the baby to eat (stored breastmilk or formula) and get your mom or best friend to stay over. She’ll love it, and your baby will start building his own relationships with people other than you.


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