By Barbara A. Eastom Bates
Love, love, love. It makes the world go round. It makes a family. So why does it seem the moment you have a baby, love, or at least your love life as you know it, goes right up in a cloud of baby powder? Let's face it, you're tired, you're overwhelmed, and there's a good chance you're wearing baby spit-up on the shoulder of your blouse.
Obstetrician and gynecologist, Laura Filojek McKain explains another reason why many new moms have lost that loving feeling. "New babies are demanding. They require round-the-clock attention and a great deal of physical contact. This can be both physically and emotionally draining. When you finally have a moment to yourself, you may need a break from intense physical attachment..."
New moms have the added challenge of contending with very powerful physical changes and hormonal shifts as their bodies' transition back to a non-pregnant state.
Having a baby changes everything, including your relationship with your partner. While ideally the ultimate in bonding, having a baby is also a major life altering experience and can cause strain in even the best of relationships. In the early, often overwhelming days of new parenthood, it's easy to get so wrapped up in your fascinating newborn that other parts of your life are neglected. When it's hard enough trying to work a shower into your daily routine, it seems nearly impossible to worry about anything of less urgency than a hungry baby.
The good news is the hormonal shifts, physical fatigue, and blinding obsession with your newborn (well, at least the hormonal shifts and physical fatigue) are temporary. But in the meanwhile, how do you retain a close connection with your partner? And why is it so important?
Making Marriage a Priority
Statistics show that better than half of all new parents experience a decline in marital satisfaction following the birth of a child, with nearly 1/3 of all divorces occurring within the first five years of a child's life. Similar decline is reported following the birth of each subsequent child. Does that mean having children will be detrimental to your marriage? No. It does mean, however, many new parents develop unhealthy ways of relating, or not relating, after children come along.
The downside of blinding obsession with your children is the tendency to neglect other facets of your life, which might include your partner. Without communication and team work, mom may feel overwhelmed and unappreciated, while dad is left feeling the odd man out unnecessary except to give a break to mom's tired arms. Neither of these are a prescription for closeness. The lack of relating that starts as a simple survival instinct can easily become habit as babies become toddlers and preschoolers making new demands on your time. In the absence of regular, conscious maintenance, parents may drift apart without even realizing what's happened until they see the gulf between them.
University of Washington doctoral student Alyson Shapiro, and renowned marital researcher, John Gottman, PhD., found three core concepts that successfully help couples make the transition from partners to parents in their study, "The baby and the marriage: identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives" in the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 1):
- Building fondness and affection for your partner.
- Being aware of what is going on in your spouse's life and being responsive to it.
- Approaching problems as something you and your partner have control of and something you can solve together as a couple.
- Take Time to Date and Relate
Combat new parent stress by using the postpartum period to foster intimacy with your partner. Think a baby-sitter is a luxury? Think again. A happy marriage equals happy parents. By nurturing your connection with each other, you directly impact the future happiness and emotional well-being of your child.
Schedule a date with your partner to help rekindle those feelings that made you a couple before it made you mom and dad. Not ready to leave baby yet? You don't have to. Hire a sitter to entertain your wee one, and stay home and spend an uninterrupted evening together with your partner. The object isn't to get away from baby; it's to spend quality time together as a couple.
Remember the things you liked to do together before you became parents. Laugh together. Have a conversation about something other than the color of the contents of your baby's last dirty diaper.
Most importantly, throw out any preconceived notions you might have about life with your new baby. The realities of every day parenting often fall short of the blissful images cultivated by the media and our own minds. Both parenting and partnering are hard work. Unrealistic expectations of a utopian Gerber baby existence will prevent you from seeing the true joy of new parenthood, which, like childbirth itself, it as messy as it is beautiful.
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