You've probably heard the phrase "a baby changes everything" more times than you can count. The unsolicited advice about what a baby does to your schedule, body or sleep cycle has become white noise at this point.
But, as you align all your birth-plan-ducks in a row and pack that perfect hospital bag as if Marie Kondo herself was your doula, it's normal to have some nagging curiosity about how this baby may impact your relationship, especially if it's your first child. With 67% of couples experiencing a decline in relational satisfaction after bringing their baby home, is there hope for a smooth transition into parenthood? Yes! But, unlike heartburn and waddling, it doesn't come naturally as the pregnancy progresses.
Here are 10 ways you can start now to prepare your relationship for a baby:
1. Share memories
Your baby will think your life began the day they were born. But, with each 3am feeding, you'll be reminded how differently your life looked prior to their arrival.
Take some time to grieve the loss of your freedoms along with your partner. Reminisce about crazy times you had together, and encourage one another that this is yet another fantastic stop on your lifelong adventure together.
2. Show gratitude
Thankfulness is never overrated. Gratitude redirects our mental energy towards recognizing the positive amidst any circumstance. It also helps prevent partner resentment, a common relationship monster that shows its ugly head as couples shift their roles and expectations. Getting into the habit of appreciating your partner will help you feel more grounded on the days you feel overwhelmed.
3. Prioritize self-care
It sounds counterintuitive to address your own needs in an effort to nurture your relationship, but it's incredibly effective. Knowing your needs and addressing them in healthy ways eliminates the "why can't you just read my mind" thought from taking over. When you care well for yourself, you have the wherewithal to give from a full cup—something you'll need loads of when it comes to the selflessness of parenting.
4. Make small connections
Feeling close to your partner can no longer be contingent upon how many romantic dinners, Netflix binges, or strolls on the beach you might take. When nap times and feedings take precedent, it can be difficult to know when to prioritize time together.
Instead of waiting for the next getaway, implement tiny moments of connection into your new normal. Take one minute to write a sweet text, five minutes to fix them a snack, 10 minutes to just cuddle on the couch—it all counts.
5. Have a sense of humor
They say timing is everything when it comes to humor, and relationships are no different. Finding some silliness in the journey to parenthood will help you fend off the anxieties that come with learning something new. The reality is that neither of you has ever met this new little creature before, so there should be plenty of material for fodder. There's nothing like some inside jokes to keep you on common ground.
6. Stay short-sighted
While every day can have moments that seem to last forever, this phase is temporary. Today's challenges will not be the same two weeks from now, so pace yourself knowing that it's okay to complete a day having the feeling that you survived, even if it feels like "nothing got done."
Reminding one another that you're on this rollercoaster together can help you remember how fleeting this season is.
7. State expectations
We already expect too much of ourselves. Social media bombards us with ideas of organic meal prep ideas, Pinterest-worthy housekeeping, and making sure your baby knows sign-language, violin, and funds a start-up before they even wean. When it feels like you must do it all and anything short is failing, remind each other that you are enough. State now what you expect your relationship to look like after baby, re-evaluating your expectations with each new learning curve parenthood brings as your little one develops.
8. Split responsibilities
There's no easy way to say this, but there's just going to be more to do. More laundry, more food, more management of all the things, and the mental energy that it takes to stay on top of it. You shouldn't have to do it alone, so stop trying. Allowing your partner to truly step into roles that may not be their strength is part of growing closer. It takes trust, empathy and patience to ask for help and appreciate the effort that's extended.
In other words, your partner may not load the dishwasher the way you want them to, but having them do it can save your time and mental energy.
9. Stay teachable
Humility is the precursor to progress. You can't grow if you don't learn, and becoming a parent is like taking the fast lane to maturity. Communicating "how-tos" can often become condescending, so it's important to dialogue about decision making openly. Remaining on the same side of an issue will help couples build teamwork instead of resentment.
In other words, try looking at each problem from a shared perspective. For example, "How will the baby bottles get washed each night?" versus "Here is the proper way to wash baby bottles," and work towards the same goal.
10. Slow down
Newborns slow life down in the best way possible. Time will warp between feedings and get lost among survival mode. The overwhelming responsibility of caring for a new human can become mundane if you aren't used to this new pace of life.
Do your best to not define your productivity by how much gets done in the day. Instead, encourage one another to rest, channel your energy into your self-care, your sleep and your new favorite pastime of staring at that sweet babyface. This a season to receive help, order in meals and delegate needs to your support system.
As you ease into your new normal, be gracious and patient with your partner. Soon enough, you'll be shifting out of survival mode and begin to adapt to life as a family. Nurturing your partnership will not only ensure an easier transition into parenthood, but it will also truly expand your ability to embrace all the sweet moments this milestone has to offer.
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