Parenting young children — 11 December 2008
How to prevent your sweet baby from souring your relationship

Everyone loves a new baby. The nine-month’s parental anticipatory excitement culminates with the birth of your mutual creation- the highly welcomed sweet baby. For many unprepared parents the less than sweet side effects of the new baby sour their relationship. This unhappiness is preventable.

Every baby is a miracle. Naturally, parents are fascinated by this wondrous outcome of their mutual love. Our culture also supports the magical quality that a new life adds to the family and highly promotes families. Though some parents may be light heartedly advised that their lives will never be the same after their baby’s arrival, they dismiss it as a limiting factor and trust that caring for their beautiful baby will only enhance their intimacy.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman in “And Baby Makes Three”, found that 67% of the couples studied experienced a lowering of their happiness during the baby’s first three years of life and were also twice as likely to divorce. “When a baby arrives, a couple’s intimacy deteriorates. Sex, romance, and passion often decline. The relationship shifts its center to the baby. Husbands and wives who were once friends and lovers no longer have time for each other. Dating stops entirely, and long conversations disappear. Both parents get lonely, and can be drawn to others outside the marriage. Most affairs occur after children come. Family time is now battle time.”

One often-overlooked cause of reduced marital happiness for new parents is the physical hardship of pregnancy and delivery. Pregnancy and childbirth are very taxing processes for a woman’s body and psyche, even if her nine months were normal and uneventful.

After birth, the mother’s attention is solely focused on her infant, often to the exclusion of her own and her partner’s needs. The sensual and tender intimacy between mother and baby often replaces for her the previously desired intimacy with her husband. It is not to say that fathers do not develop intimacy with their babies as well, but it usually does not replace their ongoing desire for intimacy with their wives.

When the woman is less interested in physical intimacy, her partner often experiences a sense of exclusion and rejection. That may lead to hurt, frustration and anger. These emotions, at times, are at the core of the fights couples engage in that did not exist in their pre-baby era.

The couple’s previous sole attention to each other’s needs through conversations, emotional and physical attention, curiosity, activities and frequent appreciations, is decreased and may create feelings of abandonment, loss and loneliness.

Caring for an infant also brings to focus the couple’s parenting styles and ideas that may not match. Thus conflicts may occur for the first time.

• Make time for each other every day for a short “check in”: a hug, kiss, touch and warm exchange, and reiterate your love and desire for each other.
• Share your parenting idea of the day, compromise and agree on a plan.
• You can date, a very young baby is easily transportable and is usually content in your happy presence.
• Remember that babies may not understand your words, but can very easily absorb your energy. Be loving and positive with each other also for your infant’s sake.
• Stay connected and become a good team. It reassures your child and he/she feels safe, secure and happy when you are cooperative and loving of each other.
• Discuss your parenting differences. Remember that just because you were raised this way and it turned out well for you, does not mean that it is the ONLY way.
• Above all- be kind to each other. You are still the two wonderful people who fell in love, adored each other and were blessed to unite. For your sake and your baby’s remember this and exhibit the love that can enrich all of you.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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