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A baby changes everything, including your marriage. But this is one change you can anticipate, and for which you can prepare — and our experts are here to tell you how.
1. Work out a parenting partnership.
Jane Greer, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, warns that with a baby comes a 180-degree-change in your unconscious hours. "Inevitably, you'll be woken up at all hours of the night, and your total sleep will be diminished," she describes. Not only that, but your life will soon revolve around that bundle of joy, says John Duffy, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent. "A baby is a well of needs that need to be fulfilled on an unpredictable timetable," he says.
So before you break open your baby books and start shopping for strollers, talk about how you will work as a team once your baby arrives. "You need to be able to improvise and operate on very little — or unpredictable — sleep," Duffy says. "It is important to share duties here, to enhance fairness, prevent burnout, and actually enhance the marriage." One way to do that, Greer suggests, is to "work out a parenting partnership as to who's up in the middle of the night on what days. For example, if one partner has an early meeting the next morning, perhaps the other partner takes that night's shift."
See More: Saying Yes ... to Having a Baby
3. Protect your time together.
For every moment you spend with your new baby, our experts say, you risk losing quality time with your spouse. "A couple finds that their priorities shift in the wake of the birth of a baby, especially a first baby," describes Duffy. "Typically, the couple has spent their relationship and marriage to date focused on each other. Protecting time for one another is simple and organic, and they are each others' priorities." But a baby demands 24/7 time and focus, Greer says, "so the time you used to hang out with each other talking, watching TV, and more may not be there because the baby will need you."
The best way to prepare for this particular change, our experts agree, is to schedule date nights before you bring home your bundle of joy — even if they're slotted for just a few minutes long. "Make sure to plan time — e.g. when the baby is asleep — to spend a few minutes where you can be together to catch up, enjoy a cup of coffee, give each other a quick back rub or foot massage," suggests Greer. "It's crucial to have this time with mutual, supportive listening and loving actions."
3. Discuss how the baby will change your life together.
It's not enough to know how a baby will change your lives, our experts say. You must talk about how you anticipate the changes will affect every aspect of your lives — including how you feel emotionally. "This part of the process is so important because having the baby takes attention, focus, and energy away from your partner," explains Duffy. Very often people wind up feeling neglected, ignored, abandoned, not considered, and not important even though they know these feelings can't be healthy for the baby to be around. Being aware that you may feel resentful or jealous is helpful because then you can talk about it and figure out how to balance those emotions."
Greer recommends initiating an open and honest conversation about how you think you'll be most affected, and continuing that conversation — revising your plan as often as needed — until the baby comes and even after. "Be open to making changes and modifying the plan you have for how you're going to care for your infant," she says. "For example, you may decide to bring on a nanny, based on what each of you is comfortable and able to handle."