Caring for a baby changes marriage life in many ways and it is easy for couples to drift apart as they try to navigate this “new” couple life. There are many different reasons why couples grow apart, many have to do with less time together, less effort put into supporting each other (as one or both put energy into caring for the baby) and more opportunities for conflict in personalities, parenting styles and over finances to emerge. It is important to work on the marriage, and it is often said that a strong marriage is the best gift for the child.
Let’s look at 12 tips on how to avoid drifting apart after having a baby!
#1 Decide Early to Put Your Spouse First
It is important to set that commitment to put each other first. It is easy to be consumed with all the things that you have to do to care for your baby, from bathing, changing diapers, feeding and helping the baby to sleep. As your baby grows older, you get occupied with a different set of concerns – coping with tantrums, deciding on education and helping your toddler with potty training and solid feeding. And you get the picture – before long, your marriage has turned into a work relationship with your spouse to care for your baby. As that relationship changes, you leave out things that you do for your spouse and each feels neglected despite being together with the baby. Therefore, decide early to put each other first as making the decision set the marriage on the right track.
#2 Recognize Your Spouse’s Strengths
When things get stressful (and they often do when you have a baby!), it is easy to focus on each other’s weakness rather than strengths. You start to wonder “why didn’t you do that?”, “why can’t you be like this?” or “stop telling me what to do” and soon your interaction and body language towards your spouse changes. It is no longer supportive bur instead critical, whether through your body language, actions, speech or tone. Overtime, you may not feel attracted or want to spend time with someone that you feel poorly about. As such, it is helpful to recognize your spouse strengths instead of focusing on his/ her weakness – see his/ her contribution to the marriage and parenting, and praise each other often.
#3 Carve Time for Yourself
It is difficult to care and love another if you feel constantly drained and stressed. Do not feel like you’re abandoning your child or your spouse if you take some time off. You can make arrangements to care for your baby beforehand or join a group of parents who you trust and take turns to give each other time off. If you still feel guilty about taking five hours off, think of it as you’re five times better than you were!
#4 Be Flexible with Your Couple Time
Spending time with your spouse without your baby is important and it helps if you revise your expectations on couple time. Instead of the usual couple dates before your baby, you may have to take shorter couple time, go to cafe instead of a movie or even date each other at home when your baby is asleep.
#5 Go to Bed Together
Try your best to go to bed with your spouse at the same time. Leave certain household chores for the next day and put your baby to bed early. Bedtime (before falling asleep!) is a good time to talk over the day and find out if your spouse has concerns or troubles at his/ her work place. Both men and women need nurturing by each other and you may be surprised that while men are the physically stronger gender, they need to be nurtured by their wives and to reinforce on the work that they are doing.
#6 Do Not Allow Resentment in Your Marriage
Resentment can build a lot more easily in a marriage after a baby – you may start to “calculate” the contribution of each in caring for the baby, or lack the time to work out differences that occur in the day. Overtime, resentment builds up especially as the less you communicate and get into the mode of listening and supporting each other, the more you focus on negative feelings. Again, it is hard to love someone you resent or have negative thoughts about and overtime, you build walls and withdraw.
#7 Respect Your Spouse in front of Everyone
We tend to remember that we should not fight or criticize our spouse in front of our child, but what about other parents? It is very subtle but you may be communicating to your friends (even in your spouse’s presence) about how much you have done for your baby and home (as opposed to how little your spouse does) or about how competent you have been in parenting (as opposed to how helpless your spouse is). You may be wishing out loud that your spouse would be different or wondering why your spouse behaves in a certain way, all in front of other friends and your spouse. While these are all non-confrontational, they are equally disrespectfully and may be more hurtful to your spouse than outrightly letting him/ her know in person.
#8 Want Your Spouse
You have to want your spouse and let your spouse feel wanted – he or she is not just your baby’s father or mother, but your spouse! Nobody feels loved when feeling unwanted. Take the initiative to hold your spouse’s hands, ask about his/ her day, give surprises and to do all these without “calculating” how much you have done. Even if your spouse says that he/ she doesn’t need to have sex, take the initiative to touch him/ her intimately and you may be surprised that sex is actually something that your spouse needs to feel loved and wanted by you!
#9 Have the End in Mind
It is helpful to think about how your life will be at the end – do you want to be alone (even when you have a spouse) and pine for your child’s occasional visit? Or do you want a loving relationship with your beloved who is supportive of your work (volunteer work, hobbies and passion). That heartwarming image of an elderly couple who is loving doesn’t happen on its own – you have to build the marriage and if you don’t, any challenge that comes along the way can easily break your marriage (for instance, a job termination or health issue).
#10 Have Finances Sorted
Finances often play a larger part in the marriage as caring for a baby can be expensive, and you may have different expectations on how money should be spent. You may feel differently about the preschool education that your child needs, about how much to set aside for tertiary education, how much to spend on yourself (for instance, your career pursuits, your clothing/ grooming) or what lifestyle your family leads (holidays, eating out or owning a car). Finances can easily cause a strain on your marriage but it can be easier to tackle once you have together prioritized your finances.
#11 Build a Home Together
It is quite often in a non-communicative marriage that each spouse does what he/ she thinks it is best to do for the home and baby. This can easily lead to frustrations as parenting styles differ and one can feel unsupported or even thwarted in his/ her efforts to do something for the home. Take the time to communicate with your spouse, see from each other’s views and work out the best way to build a home together.
#12 Exercise Your Emotional Intelligence
We know that emotional intelligence is necessary at the work place and in relationships, and marriage is no different. Invest the effort to think and act on how to improve your marriage and do not dismiss your spouse or speak/ act in a certain way that you wouldn’t if you’re emotionally intelligent!
It is common for couples to drift away after a baby but it is never too late to draw close together. It is sad if your marriage is lonely or resentful as it should be a gift and blessing in your life. Commit to work on your marriage today and treasure it dearly.