Article by: April Eldemire, LMFT
67% of couples report a decline in relationship happiness for up to three years after the birth of their first child
It’s no secret that life dramatically changes after the birth of a baby. Gone are the days of leisurely strolls and weekend naps, and impromptu plans are replaced by sleepless nights and financial responsibilities. But if you ask most parents about their take on parenthood, they’ll tell you it was all worth it.
At The Gottman Institute, where Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying relationship health for over 40 years, the research shows that 67% of couples report a decline in relationship happiness for up to three years after the birth of the first child. As the focus shifts towards the baby and couples spend less time focused on one another, romance and intimacy decline while depression and hostility rise. New parents need help finding better ways to cope and manage the transition more effectively. They yearn to enjoy their new baby and be happy as a couple.
New parents, here are three essential tips from Gottman’s Bringing Baby Home (BBH) workshop that you can implement right now to maintain relationship satisfaction after the birth of your baby:
Maintain friendship by updating your love maps
One of the major discoveries from the BBH research was that if a couple remained good friends during their transition to parenthood, they reported less anger and hostility and felt better equipped to handle the challenges ahead. Keeping up to date with your partner’s love maps, or the little details and events of your spouse’s life, is critical for connection and intimacy.
If you’re feeling a bit outdated with one another’s love maps, use these questions to get re-acquainted.
The greatest gift you can give your child is a strong relationship between you and your partner
Have a daily stress-reducing conversation
Stress from our job, work commute, or an extra fussy baby leaves us feeling overwhelmed and emotional. Couples who can discuss the frustrations of their day, as separate from the relationship, have an opportunity to vent, gain support, and show empathy for one another. Feeling heard and understood helps alleviate any unwanted tension that can otherwise filter into the relationship. Gaining comfort and encouragement at the end of the day makes you feel like you’re both “in it together”.
Approach conflict gently
It’s easy to blow up at each other when you’re exhausted and at your wits end. If you’re quick to throw out accusations and be harsh with your words, placing blame and insults on your partner, they’re likely to attack back or shut down. Steer clear of the Four Horsemen (defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling). Use “I” statements and speak to the situation at hand, not one that happened several months ago. Talk about how the circumstance made you feel and request what you need from your partner in the future to avoid unhealthy repeats. Raising disagreements in a calm, rational manner will allow you to problem solve and find some common ground productively.
Dr. John Gottman’s research on life after baby provides couples with hope and new possibilities to be able to get through those first few months with ease. With your partner by your side, you’ll find new ways to appreciate and love one another – the greatest gift you can give your child is a strong relationship between you and your partner.