Expecting a baby brings a multitude of emotions for couples that range from excitement, joy, fear, stress, and worry. This significant life event will no doubt change couples’ lives in various ways and having an understanding about the potential impact a baby can have on a relationship is crucial for couples who want to prepare and promote a smooth transition.
The needs within a relationship begin to change the second a couple learns about a pregnancy because of the biological instincts that are triggered. When pregnancy enters the picture, women tend to highlight the need to nurture and protect the baby and thus the bonding process between mom and baby commences from the get-go. For men, pregnancy promotes a need to be able to provide for the baby, which influences men to focus on work or other means of providing. Because of this, men typically do not begin the bonding process until later into pregnancy or for some, after the birth of their baby.
Along with other competing needs that couples manage prior to childbearing, these innate pregnancy-related needs can accentuate areas of disparity between partners and have the potential to create tension, conflict, and disconnection if couples do not anticipate and manage them effectively. Here are a few suggestions couples can consider to help “babyproof” and preserve their relationship:
· Acknowledge and anticipate that your relationship is going to change. Engage in ongoing conversations together about the specific areas of your relationship that will likely be impacted once baby is here (quality time, intimacy, finances, etc.) Once the areas have been identified, begin to brainstorm and problem-solve how each partner wants to manage them.
· Develop regular self-care habits before baby comes. This includes eating healthy, engaging in some form of regular exercise even if it is taking a short walk, following healthy sleep hygiene, and staying connected to friends and family).
· Re-evaluate finances and create a baby-friendly budget. Often times income for couples changes as a result of taking time off of work or when one parent transitions to being at home full-time. Couples who can agree on and follow a budget that reflects the new needs of their family are less likely to experience stress and conflict.
· Develop a plan for managing sleep deprivation. The first few months of parenthood means sleep will be one of the first lifestyle changes to significantly decrease in quality. Sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness, a decrease in cognitive functioning, illness, and conflict between partners. Couples who are able to establish a plan for taking turns or accommodating one another during late night sleeplessness tend to tackle this transition more effectively.
· Address the elephant in the room: sex. Sex and intimacy are the most common aspects of a relationship that are hit hard once a baby enters the picture. For women, their bodies are healing and going through physical and emotional changes from pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding and their main priority is focused on taking care of the baby. Because men are not directly impacted by the biological changes that women are, they tend to focus on feeling needed as well as desired by their partner in the capacity of both partner and father. Thus, the needs of each partner conflicts and leads to feelings of rejection and disconnection. In order to prevent or resolve these relationship hazards, couples are encouraged to renegotiate what their intimacy needs are and how they can be met.
As I have addressed in a previous article about the benefits couples experience by engaging in premarital counseling to help them be successful, there are also many benefits couples can obtain by participating in pre-baby therapy. Incorporating some of these tips into an expecting relationship can create and promote opportunities for growth and connection instead of tension and distance.