Parenthood: How to Protect & Strengthen Your Marriage

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My father’s first piece of advice when I told him I was pregnant was, “You and Joe are going to have to be team players. Some days are going to be rough. The most important thing is for you to support each other even when you are exhausted and just want to snap at each other.”

My father couldn’t have been more right. One of the most challenging things about having a baby in your life is that you need to put your marriage aside temporarily to focus on him. Between baby’s occasional fussiness, the lack of sleep at night, and sharing a bedroom… at times, you can get so caught up in parenthood that you lose touch with each other.

Here are 5 things you can do to make sure you don’t neglect your marriage during this adjustment period:

Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is my number one piece of advice because if you don’t talk to each other, you can’t understand each other. Neither of you is a mind reader. If you’re stressed but don’t open up to your husband, he can’t know how to comfort you. If he’s feeling helpless and doesn’t share this with you, you can’t help him with it. Learn to not bottle up your emotions. You are both learning to be parents and experiencing everything that goes along with it: helplessness, fear, frustration, exhaustion, concern, confusion… Lean on each other when it gets tough and it’ll get easier, especially as baby cooperates and learns some new skills to become more independent.

Make time for each other when baby is busy/sleeping. This is impossible with a newborn — he or she will be inconsistent with feedings, sleep, and mood. However, as your baby grows, he will be able to sleep 4, 5, 6 hours without your constant attention. He will be more easily distracted by mobiles, activity gyms, bouncers, and other activities. During that time, it is essential for the two of you to find time for intimacy — and that can be as simple as cuddling in front of a tv show. Don’t forget that in addition to being new parents, you both have needs too.

Split up the responsibilities. The key to not being overwhelmed or frustrated is to not feel as if you are a single parent. As a breastfeeding mother, you might feel like you have a lot on your plate all the time: feeding baby every 2-3 hours, waking up to soothe him in the middle of the night… Find ways to involve your partner as often as possible, whether it’s to feed baby the occasional bottle, rock him to sleep, or change his diaper. This goes with chores too — have him walk the dog, do the dishes this time, or fold the laundry that’s been sitting in the dryer for two days. It’s a win-win situation: your husband will feel needed and useful (don’t all men want to feel that way?) and you will get your much needed help too.

Respect each other’s alone time. When you’re home all the time with baby, it’s important to find time to take care of yourself. A good solution to this is a “man cave”, if you have the room. My husband loves to hang out in the basement to watch football alone on sundays. It’s temporarily his space with no distractions. Similarly, I find the time to get my nails done or go shopping alone, away from husband and baby. We are both independent people who need alone time once in a while. If you learn to respect each other’s space, it will only make you happier and less prone to arguing in the long run.

Have a sense of humor. Last, but certainly not least. With the amount of poop, spit up, ear splitting shrieks, and unexpected distractions as you, well… try to have some “alone” time… it’s best to learn to laugh about it. Joe and I have always laughed together. And by laugh, I mean lots and lots of belly laughs. Especially with a baby in the equation, we try to have a sense of humor about every weird or uncomfortable situation we experience. Not only does it alleviate stress, but it also makes us closer in the long run.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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