I feel like I'm drowning in checklists. I mean, we have checklists for everything--what to pack in your hospital bag and what to put on your shower registry--but where is the checklist for how to prepare your relationship for having a baby? If research shows that 1 in 4 couples divorce within the first 5 years after the birth of their first child (Gottman Insititute) then strengthening our marriages should be at the top of our to-do list when we're expecting a child.
Based on my work with expectant and new first-time parents here in New York City, here are the top emotional and psychological to-dos I recommend couples focus on before baby arrives:
1. Acknowledge the changes that are coming. Babies are a blessing but with heart-bursting cuddles and tiny toes and snuggles come a few inevitable shifts in your life rhythm. Carve out some time as a couple to talk through a minimum of 5 ways you each anticipate the new baby will change your lives.
2. Become experts at managing conflict. Conflict in and of itself is not a red flag for me as a therapist. In fact, couples who handle conflict well often have the best intimacy and stability in their relationship. It’s all about how you manage these stressful moments. During pregnancy, work on enhancing your ability to wade through conflict so when moments of disconnect inevitably happen post-delivery, you’ll be easily able to lean on your skills to bounce back stronger than ever.
3. Communicate your hopes and expectations. Becoming a parent can awaken in us latent dreams and desires for the future we may never have realized existed or never acknowledged. Take some time individually to identify a couple of hopes you have for your individual relationship with your child (e.g. do you want to be the first to push baby on the swings or do you care who does bath time?). Then share your hopes with your partner so you can be a support and advocate for one another’s dreams.
4. Ritualize your romance. It’s no surprise that new parents are totally preoccupied with caring for their little one who demands so much care. Don’t lose your romantic relationship with your spouse just because junior has popped onto the scene. Find small ways now before the baby arrives to establish regular points of connection. Try date nights or committing to a no-screen policy during dinnertime. These small relational habits developed now will make it easy to have quick ways to reconnect once you become parents and have limited time alone.
Let’s make it personal and start making a plan to enhance your post-birth relationship today. What are the most significant ways you expect having this child will impact your marriage? Download this “Expect the Change Couple Activity” quick sheet to capture the transition and commit to a plan to strategically work to overcome that season of change.
Then leave a comment below sharing your wisdom. How might your marriage relationship change after the baby is born? Jot down the transition you expect your relationship will make or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can share any personal resources I may have to help you better manage this next season.