You found your life partner. You may have had issues, but you sorted them out. You had fun, too. You were in love. Then you had a baby.
Suddenly this person you wanted to spend your life with is so intolerable you’re not sure how you’ll get through the next ten minutes. What happened?
Babies are hard on relationships. The sleepless nights are the opposite of the sexy time you enjoyed as a childless couple. Suddenly your free time is taken over by dirty diapers, laundry, baby feedings, laundry, soothing a fussy little one, and more laundry. Did I mention the laundry?
Two thirds of couples see the quality of their marriages decline during the first three years of parenting. It’s so striking that my husband and I have joked for years that it ought to be against the law to get divorced when you have a child under three.
Maybe your marriage isn’t working out, but no one’s marriage is good when their kids are that young. Or so we believed.
Turns out there is hope for marital bliss in the baby years. The Wall Street Journal reports that some counseling programs have seen success in helping couples work out some of their parenting issues before the baby arrives. They write:
Now, a growing number of mental-health professionals are advising couples to undergo pre-baby counseling to hash out marital minefields such as divvying up baby-related responsibilities, money issues and expectations for sex and social lives. A growing number of hospitals, midwives and doulas (birth coaches who provide physical and emotional support) are teaching relationship skills alongside childbirth education classes.
The pre-baby counseling seems to make a real difference. More than one study has shown that couples who went through some relationship parenting skills counseling program before having a baby were as happy in their marriages a year later as they were before having a kid, while control groups reported the usual decline in marital satisfaction.
That’s good news for all of us! It suggests that the losses we suffer in our marriages after having kids aren’t inevitable. We can learn skills to mitigate them. The main things these programs focus on are:
- Division of labor: sorting out who will do what parenting tasks, and how you’ll communicate about dividing up the work as it comes up. They suggest making nitty gritty task list of what you’ll need to do once the baby comes, and sorting out who will be responsible for what. That way you’re better prepared for the work of parenting.
- Maintaining intimacy: this is about more than scheduling date nights or making time for nookie. Good relationships are nurtured by couples taking time to connect with each other as friends. Talk to each other for 20 minutes a day, they advise, about something other than kids and household logistics.
- Resolving conflict: No one pretends that new parents won’t come into conflict. All that sleeplessness and stress is real. No amount of relationship skills can cancel it all out. So parenting prep classes teach couples strategies for resolving conflicts with each other. These include things like going for a long walk together, as well as specific conversational techniques to smooth the rough edges in a tough talk.
What do you wish you’d known, as a couple, before having kids? What could have made the rocky parts of the baby years better?
Photo: Ed Yourdon
The other side of the story: 5 Things I Learned by Parenting Solo