There’s no doubt having a baby can take a toll on a relationship so how do you protect your marriage from the mayhem?
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
In every relationship, you have basic needs. You’re looking to feel loved, desired, valued, accepted and secured. You want to please your partner and be pleased by them. You want to see your best reflected in your loved one’s eyes. All couples go through several challenging transitions in a relationship. Having a baby is one such transition.
There’s no way for us to know how our lives will change after a baby arrives. Everyone says that there’s nothing more exciting than a new baby. Babies are the natural culmination of the love you share. Having a new baby means there’s new sweetness in life. Maybe the problem is that most of us have unrealistic expectations about what will happen after baby arrives.
Having a baby changes every aspect of a relationship. We know that day-to-day tasks increase, leading to changes in roles, values, and even identity. We don’t experience each other’s lives the same consistent, close way that we did before the baby was born. So how do you protect your marriage from the mayhem? These experts tell us how.
Focus on Marital Friendship
The vital key to protecting the couple’s marriage from the mayhem when the baby comes along is to mindfully continue to strengthen the marital friendship, advises Billy Chan, marriage counsellor at Eagles Mediation & Counselling Centre. This has to do with incorporating fondness and admiration into their relationship, by expressing affection and respect during very ordinary moments. Also, it involves recognising the positive aspects of each other’s personality and expressing their thoughts to one another.
The idea is to make appreciation a focus of the couple’s relationship. It’s less important that you admire your partner than it is that you appreciate the positive qualities he or she brings to the transition into being a new parent. When you see your partner doing something that is helpful, thoughtful, or that you appreciate, comment on it in a positive way.
For example says Chan, you could say,
“I watched you with the baby last night. It was really fun.”
“I think you are a great parent. You are so good with the baby.”
“Thanks for folding the laundry.”
“I really enjoyed talking to you at dinner.”
“You are beautiful.”
“Thanks for taking care of the baby last night. It gave me time to rest and to have a good sleep.”
These everyday appreciations lead to admiration. It’s not enough to just think thoughts of appreciation, gratitude, or pride in your partner or child. The feelings need to be expressed and shared for the appreciation to be received.
Preserving Intimacy and Romance
When a baby comes, it is normal for attention to shift from the relationship to the child. It is normal, also, to feel disconnected from one’s partner when this occurs. Couples must remember that these challenges are temporary and that a feeling of disconnect does not mean that the marriage is in jeopardy, explains Elaine Yeo, psychologist, from Centre for Effective Living. However, couples cannot simply sit back and ride out the waves either, says Yeo. The best way to better preserve the relationship during such a challenging transition is to create ‘couple time’, which will help redirect some focus back to the relationship.
Here are a few tips for ‘couple time’:
It is not necessary to take a weekend away or even a whole night out in order to reconnect with one’s partner. Oftentimes, doing something simple is the best. Couples can take out 20 minutes of their schedule to engage in a short activity together, for example, taking a short walk outside, or cuddling and conversing in bed.
Share the household chores
Engaging in household chores together gives couples time to reconnect with one other. As a bonus, it also prevents any possible resentment of who does more in the home.
Revive thrills and pleasures
Too much routine can put a damper on the relationship. Couples should recall activities they enjoyed doing together before the baby arrived, and find the time to engage in those activities. It can help to jolt memories of what the relationship was like before they became parents.
Give warm welcomes and goodbyes
After a baby is born, the tendency is to wave bye or say hello to the child with great enthusiasm, while reserving little or none for the partner. This can cause the partner to feel ignored or sidelined. It will be helpful for the relationship to greet one’s partner with a kiss and a warm hug every day.
Engage in co-parenting
Some partners might try to avoid the demands of parenting by fleeing to work or hiding in their rooms while others may be too controlling in their parenting methods with a propensity to criticise every detail. To maintain a relationship of equality, it always helps for a couple to share the parenting load, trust each other in parenting, as well as to discuss and come to an agreement on methods if necessary.
Schedule sex into the routine
Physical intimacy is an important aspect of the relationship. As unspontaneous as it sounds, says Yeo, scheduling sex into the routine is a perfectly practical method of ensuring that intimacy as a couple is not forgotten. It can be something positive to look forward to as well.
Returning Intimacy to Your Relationship
The first step is to realise how important sex is for maintaining the quality of the relationship. Next, make sex a priority, advises Chan. Consider scheduling sex. Don’t make sex the last “chore” of the day. Sex is still romantic in the morning, mid-day and on weekends.
Dates are still important. So you should try to get some time alone with your partner. Remember, you haven’t failed if you end up spending a lot of your “dates” discussing the baby. As the baby grows, you’ll find that your conversations when you’re alone together won’t always gravitate towards your child.
It seems that many a time dads are excluded from baby caring and being a playmate, but studies show that dads are just as competent as mums in knowing what to do when a baby cries, explains Chan. Dad can be involved in learning the baby’s Love Maps (knowing baby’s schedule, learning his likes and dislikes are and such). Dads are more successful in the area of physical or tactile play.
In the first three years of life, fundamental neural processes are being laid down that have to do with the baby’s ability to self-soothe, focus attention, trust in the love and nurturance of his parents, and emotionally attach to his mother and father. This means that a baby born in an unhappy relationship might not develop the neural networks needed for school achievement, healthy peer relationships and a future happy life.
These findings tell us that our babies need us to maintain healthy relationships with each other. So if you have yet to do so, it’s time to make a date with your partner.