The arrival of a baby marks the real end to the honeymoon for many couples. Instead of fighting about sex, money, "me time" and more, learn how to nip the damage in the bud, both now and after your little homewrecker arrives.
Two-thirds of couples become significantly less happy in their marriages after the first baby arrives, according to research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, and it's no wonder. In an instant, your entire life is upended. Romantic sex, leisurely workouts, a good night's sleep, spontaneous movie dates, relaxing weekends and long conversations with your friends—suddenly, that's all in your past. The love you have for your new baby and for each other may, in the short term, be no match for the grueling toll of all-night cry-a-thons. Conflict can take a toll on your baby, too.
Forewarned is forearmed. Here's what you should know and do starting now, while you're still pregnant, to head off the top five conflicts that can derail even the strongest relationship.
Conflict: Sex. Your partner wants your breasts; your baby needs them. Plus, with your belly still jiggly and perhaps lingering soreness from the delivery, you may not feel like a sexpot, a fact many guys misinterpret. Men say, 'I feel like my wife doesn’t care about me anymore, like I’d need to set the bed on fire to get her attention.'
Don't Wait for Sex to Happen
Plan sex rather than expecting it to happen spontaneously. Mark in red pen the date three months after the baby is born. Set his expectations accurately. If you're not in the mood that day, make an effort anyway.
Take it Slow
Foreplay will make you feel desired and closer to your partner. The more you're having sex, the more you feel like you want sex.
Conflict: Division of labor
You feel like you're doing everything; your partner feels like no matter what he does, it's never enough. You think, 'Nobody can do it like me,' so, unintentionally, you sideline the dad. Most dads are happy to take on the co-pilot role, but you're setting yourself up for trouble. The upshot: Dad doesn't learn how to bathe the baby or perfect a swaddle, which makes him feel incompetent and makes you resent that he's not pulling his weight.
Make Two Lists of Chores
One is the requirements to keep your household running, and the other is babyrelated tasks. Combine the lists, divide the labor and be specific. Instead of "I'm going to need a lot of help," tell your partner, "I'll need you to make some shopping and bathe the baby on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights." Men like to have targets to hit. Start sharing the workload now by having your partner research the best stroller or day-care options.
Plan a Job Switch
Most men have no clue what it's like to spend an entire day with a newborn; so early on, put him in charge for a full day. If you'll be nursing exclusively, pop in to feed the baby, then leave the house. Just make sure you don't criticize his choice of baby clothes or his diaper-changing technique; he'll (rightfully) feel you're too controlling and lose incentive to help.
Ramp Up The Sweetness
"Develop a habit of dropping thank-yous and praise," psychologists recommend. Appreciation feeds motivation. If you say, "You did a great job feeding the baby breakfast" or "You handled that diaper blowout really well," he'll want to help more.
Your parents want to give you a gift? Suggest a cleaning service for two weeks. Before the baby arrives, schedule family and friends to babysit so that you both get a break and have less to fight over.
Once a month, over a glass of wine when the baby is asleep, ask each other: "How are we doing? What's working; what's not?"
Conflict: Parenting style
You want to pick up the baby when she cries; your husband says, "Let her cry it out." You want the baby to sleep in your room or your bed; your partner wants her in the nursery...
Discuss Your Options Together
Women tend to shut the dad out of these decisions. Talk to friends whose parenting style you admire and ask what methods they used. Read a variety of books and decide which ones speak to you. Settle on a first-choice approach and a Plan B. Establish a date about one month after delivery to see if you're still on the same page.
The portion of your paychecks that used to fund concerts and funky new earrings will now be going to diapers, day care and the college fund. When money is tight, the smallest purchasing decision can become a battle, especially if only one of you is working. When you go from being equals to one of you staying home, there's an unspoken dynamic that money is power. It's very subtle and hits couples hard. It takes work to find a new rhythm in your marriage.
Have a Pre-Baby Budget Summit
Crunch numbers to figure out how your new expenses, everything from diapers to life insurance, will affect your budget, then negotiate what you're going to cut. Understand how your spending habits and attitudes differ, because these differences will be amplified big time.
Spend Less on Frills
For some women, planning the nursery is like planning the wedding all over again.Be practical. This approach should leave you with money for an occasional date night.
What if, despite your best intentions, your relationship becomes a never-ending snarkfest? Put the following tips into action.
1. Ask for specific changes in behavior rather than make sweeping character indictments. Instead of, "You never do anything around here," try saying, "Please buy more baby wipes when you notice we're getting low."
2. Apologize ASAP after a nasty zinger or false accusation.
3. Don't try to mind read. Instead, ask, "How do you feel?"
4. Paraphrase what your partner says. For instance: "You're angry because you think I don't watch the baby enough on weekends. Is that right?"
5. Limit your statements to two or three sentences, and give your partner a chance to respond.
6. Avoid going tit for tat. Instead of, "You think I left the kitchen a mess? You left it worse yesterday," focus on how you can solve the problem.
7. Hold hands and look at each other, hard as this may be in the middle of a fight.
8. Let go of the past, and solve one problem at a time.
9. Take a 20-minute break if a fight becomes too heated.
10. Finish with, "Is there anything else we need to discuss?"