One of the biggest decisions (and transitions) in a marriage is to become parents. When you decide to have children, you and your partner are taking a huge step, and you're probably aware that things may never look quite the same. But if you’re worried about how having a child will affect your marriage, you’re actually already doing something right. One of the biggest issues that couples face is not acknowledging that their marriage will have to change—and not putting a plan in place to make sure you both can stay strong in the early days of parenthood.
So starting to think about it is a crucial first step toward protecting yourself and your marriage; If you can keep communicating openly and reminding yourself that this is a difficult time that will pass, then you’re going to be in a good position to take on all of the problems that come your way, together.
So don’t beat yourself up about struggling with your marriage as new parents, because it’s totally normal. Just prepare yourself for issues that might come up and make sure you tackle them as a team. Here are four problems all new parents face—because you are not alone.
The Lack of Sleep
Everyone tells you about the sleep you'll lose when you’re a new parent—and they definitely aren’t kidding. But being aware that you won’t sleep much isn’t really the issue, you need to be prepared about the practical ways the lack of shut-eye will affect you. Being deprived of deep sleep can be the equivalent of being drunk in terms of how well you function, so everything from your cognitive skills, your clumsiness, and your emotions can be affected.
How can you deal with this issue? Besides sleep training or taking turns with night feedings, know and accept that you’re not going to be functioning on 100 percent. Leave extra time to get things done—like getting out of the house with the stroller and diapers in tow—and, crucially, don’t get angry with your partner if things take them a little longer. Try to catch yourself being irritable and irrational and, if they do the same, remind them that the lack of sleep is playing a part. Take a time out to have a quick hug or reconnect and try to remember that forgetting to pack an extra set of wipes is not worth a total meltdown; you can just go to the grocery store.
The Lack of Sex
It’s really common to have your sex life totally change after having a baby. There’s the 4-6 week period after childbirth where doctors recommend not having sex (and probably neither of you will want to), but the dry spell can last long after that. Sometimes neither partner is interested, sometimes one is but the other isn’t, but in either case, a dry spell can cause problems.
If neither of you are interested in sex it’s crucial that you find a way to maintain the intimacy between you. In some cases, that may mean having “maintenance sex” in order to keep some connection there, but if that isn’t your style, then focus on physical intimacy in other ways: hugging, kissing, and even cuddling on the couch. If one of you wants sex and the other doesn't, just make sure you don’t let it settle into a cold war, where you’re not talking about the issue and resentment slowly builds.
Check in often about how you're both feeling, and if there’s anything you can do to improve the situation. The lack of sex isn’t a problem, it’s letting it fall into an unspoken rut, so keep communicating.
The Lack of Quality Time
The lack of quality time you can face as new parents is different than the lack of quality time you might get when you're both just “busy.” Rather than just not having enough time on your hands, the fact that you now have another human totally dependent on you means that your time, energy, and all-consuming thoughts are now directed away from each other. It can create real distance.
If you feel like you're struggling from a total lack of quality time—or just like you’re living on totally different planets—the first thing to do is remember that you're both on the same team. You’re both focused on keeping this little bundle of joy alive and happy and healthy, so you’re working together. Then, be honest about the distance you're feeling between the two of you. Even though you may be tempted to catch up on sleep whenever you can, realize that sometimes it might be better to curl up on the couch and watch TV together, even if you’re in stained clothes and have a little baby puke in your hair.
If you need that time to reconnect, find it whenever or whenever you can.
The Lack of Consensus
One of the most common issues that new parents face is that suddenly they realize that they’re not on the same page as much as they thought they would be. While you may know what religion you want to raise your children or how you think you should discipline them as teenagers, there are a million little things you never thought of that suddenly come up as new parents; from what to do if you’re struggling to breastfeed to when you can start going on date nights to how to organize the sippy cups. Realizing you don’t agree on everything can come as a shock.
If you find that you're not on the same page, try to keep some perspective. How big is this issue? Does this issue represent something else in the relationship that you're not talking about? If you find that it’s a major disagreement, on something like breastfeeding or sleep training, rather than sniping at each other you should sit down and have a proper heart-to-heart about the issue. If it’s about sippy cups, try to take a deep breath and get some perspective—and encourage your partner to do the same.
Children change a marriage—that’s just a fact. But if you’re prepared for those changes, you’ll be in a stronger position to keep your marriage safe. Allow for the total meltdown that is the first few months of parenthood and know that it will pass. And above all, keep the communication alive, because that will get you through everything else.