You hear a lot of warnings when you’re pregnant. How little sleep you will get, how difficult breastfeeding can be, how you might be depressed after baby is born, how it will take time to lose the weight. Something people rarely discuss, however, is how having a baby affects your marriage.
According to Dr. John Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, having a baby is one of the major causes of marital dissatisfaction and divorce. Having gone through it, I can attest to the validity of this statement. Things that prior to baby weren’t a big deal, like who is taking out the garbage, your husband forgetting to tell you he will be working late, who forgot to buy the milk, those things become a huge deal—probably because you are both sleep deprived, overwhelmed and cranky, and use those triggers (he forgot to get milk) to indirectly say how unhappy you are with the fact that you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in weeks, haven’t seen your friends in longer than you care to remember, and that your once routine weekly mani-pedi is now just a distant memory.
Related: Making Your Marriage Work
WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING ABOUT?
Dirty dishes, socks on the floor, piles of laundry…division of labor…who does what and who is doing more. Adrianna Dominguez-Lupher, creator of Military Money Chica, says “household work became a battleground” and many moms say that after baby is born, it becomes a contest of “who does more.” If you are doing more, and are tired, you are going to be angry. And you usually take it out on the person closest to you—your husband—who forgets to put his dirty boxers in the hamper. Add these feelings to the possibility that you are too tired (or too pissed off) or not ready (or simply uninterested!) to have sex and chances are that your significant other will think you don’t love him, don’t desire him, and don’t want him anymore. All these things can lead to two unhappy, frustrated, stressed out parents waiting for any opportunity to say hurtful things to each other to let their frustrations out, many times in an explosive way.
YOUR BUNDLE OF JOY IS A BUNDLE OF STRESS, TOO!
I will make a confession: My warm fuzzy feelings towards my son didn’t kick in for a while. I do not remember the first two months of my son’s life—I remember being in a haze of breastfeeding, pumping, uncombed hair and sleep deprivation. My whole life revolved around baby. After my maternity leave was over, and I returned to work, I remember being somewhat angry that I always had to run home and didn’t really have a social life. I resented when I got texts from my husband saying “Having a drink after work, will be home early.” I remember being mad that I had to get up in the middle of the night, get up early with the baby, and he slept in…how unfair!
I asked other moms if they too felt the urge to punch their darling partner in the face, or scream obscenities at him, or if they had thoughts about what life would be without him, or if they ever wanted to just pack up and leave. It turns out, I wasn’t alone! Moms who have gotten through this difficult time say it was because they realized at some point (perhaps between the arguing and crying!) that their spouses were overwhelmed and frustrated, just as they were. But what made them stay and want to work through it was realizing that the love was still there.
TIPS FOR SURVIVING AS A COUPLE AFTER BABY
- Talk about it. Talk to each other about how you are feeling, before it festers and you explode (or act on the thought of punching him in the face!). Deborah, aka Truthful Mommy, says “The key to surviving parenthood is to be open and honest with your partner about it.”
- Talk to other moms. I thought I was all alone having these feelings and it turns out, I was not! Join support groups, online chat forums, call a friend. Because even though you think you might be the only one feeling what you’re feeling, you are definitely not. I was blown away by the feedback and kind words from my fellow mom bloggers and friends I interviewed.
- Remember the good times. Take a look at what life was like before baby—look at your wedding pics, video, read cards or love letters. Remember how great it felt to be with your love before baby came into the picture. Chances are, you will remember why you fell in love and want to make it work, rather than be quick to throw in the towel.
- Get help. If you can afford it, hire a cleaning service or a babysitter. If you can’t afford it, don’t be afraid to ask friends or family members if they would be willing to help out—sometimes you will be surprised, even having an extra set of hands to hang with baby while you sleep or while you do laundry is better than you having to do it all yourself.
- Get organized. If chores are a sore point and you cannot hire someone, make a list and a schedule, and divvy up responsibilities. Schedule date nights (I know, not romantic, but hey, work with what you have!). Again, these are easier to stick to when they’re written on a calendar somewhere, and you’ll have time to line up a babysitter.
- Get out as a couple. Again, call on family and friends to babysit, and get out and do something together! It doesn’t have to be fancy—brunch, coffee, a walk in the park… just make it a time when you can talk and be together, without baby.
- Get out by yourself. Pregnancy and the first year are especially hard for moms. Difficult pregnancies and deliveries, body changes, mommy guilt, nonexistent sex life or intimacy…sometimes mom just needs a break! In other words, don’t feel guilty! Take some time to go to Starbucks by yourself, go for a jog, call a friend, go to the movies, or go get that long-lost mani-pedi.
- Get professional help. If all else fails, and you feel that the bickering, fighting and harsh sentiments are getting out of hand, don’t be afraid to talk to a professional. Couples therapy can sometimes reveal issues that are affecting the way you deal with stress, and some health insurances do pay for therapy.