As you might have heard, parenthood changes almost every component of life, especially your relationship with your partner. Fatigue, diaper changes, fussiness (for everyone involved!), differing parenting views, and a slew of other circumstances can turn your relationship on its head, causing you and your partner to have to put in ample work to maintain a healthy connection. Luckily, there are things that can be done before baby arrives to fortify your bond and create a map for how the two of you will navigate this epic adventure.
- Make a plan for parenting responsibilities. One of the most practical things you can do to prepare your relationship for parenthood is to break down the impending responsibilities, and decide who will tackle what. Because a hunk of the stress you and your partner are feeling probably stems from all the unknowns of parenthood, this planning session can be a surprisingly effective salve, helping you get clear on what to expect from parent-life.
To start, make a list of everything that will need to be done when you have a baby (e.g., diaper changes, feeding, cooking meals, taking out the trash, washing dishes, doing laundry, setting up health insurance for baby, paying the bills, researching childcare, etc.) Then, go through each item and discuss who will take responsibility for it. If you decide to share responsibility for a certain task, break down what that will look like. Make sure to write down your decisions so there’s no confusion when your brains are eventually possessed by parenthood and no sleep.
- Have a weekly check-in. For many couples, communication is the first thing that goes out when a new baby comes in. As communication is key to the healthy evolution of a relationship, finding time to check-in with each other can ensure you’re able to understand what you’re both going through, and how you can support one another. Prevent this check-in from being a fractured conversation by asking a friend or family member to come over every Sunday afternoon, for example, and watch baby while you and your partner chat for an hour.
To make this time as productive as possible, keep a running list of topics you want to discuss. This list also helps you not lash out in the moment, because you know you’ll be able to bring up your grievance during the check-in. And often, allowing that time to pass between the infraction and discussion helps you bring up said grievances with more objectivity, and less triggering language.
Start engaging in these check-ins before baby arrives, so they become a natural part of your week.
- Develop ground rules for communication. Before you begin your weekly check-ins, lay communication ground rules - for example, no name calling, don’t cut off the other mid-sentence, and be dedicated to finding solutions and common ground, instead of proving that you’re right. Airing your feelings on a regular basis can keep you from feeling like a powder keg, and will help you feel more heard and connected to your partner.
- Loosen expectations. Many couples have visions of how they’ll handle parenthood together, and when the visions don’t manifest, they can be disappointed. For example, I expected my husband and I to not engage in tense arguments after a long night being up with the baby. I was sure we would always be understanding of one another’s feelings, and have the willpower to not argue while exhausted. Ha. That did not happen. I had to loosen my expectations.
All you can do is the aforementioned planning and committing to regular communication, and then realize that it’s impossible to predict how the two of you will navigate parenthood. It’s also important to let go of expectations for how your partner will care for baby. They likely won’t diaper change, clothe, bathe, or soothe baby just like you do, and that’s okay. They’ll be developing a unique relationship with your child, and a big part of that is you accepting their distinctive ways of parenting.
While it might be tricky at first, loosening these expectations is well worth it, as it helps minimize your disillusionment and allows you to see each new day of parenthood, and your partner, with a fresh and open-minded perspective.
- Set up outside support. The “it takes a village” philosophy is frequently talked about for good reason – it does take a village to raise a child, at least one that has for-the-most-part sane parents. The combination of almost-constant baby care, cleaning a house, laundry, cooking and eating, working, trying to find slivers of me-time and couple-time, and a host of other needs is more than most couples can juggle. Because of this, it’s wise to organize a system of support with friends or family members, a mother’s helper (a babysitter who cares for the baby when you’re home), or a postpartum doula, for (at least) the first three months of baby’s life. Setting up a schedule for this support before baby arrives can significantly minimize overwhelm in the early days of parenting, which often results in a healthier connection between you and your significant other.
- See a couple’s counselor. I’m a big believer that every couple, regardless of how healthy their relationship is, can benefit from couple’s counseling. Visiting a counselor before baby arrives can be especially helpful as it provides an objective outlet to work through any discord that comes up when you discuss topics like parenting philosophies, responsibilities, and other potentially triggering subjects. Working out many of these disagreements while you’re still pregnant allows you both to enter parenthood with more clarity about one another, and how you’ll navigate your new roles. To find a counselor that accepts your insurance, use a resource like Psychology Today.
- Hug it out. It’s really hard to hold on to stress, and be mad at someone you love, when you’re engaging in a long, warm hug. This easy act can be really effective when you want to connect with your partner, or show appreciation, but are just too exhausted to find the words. Hugging can also be a great way to diffuse an argument. If you feel yourself spinning out, or notice how unproductive an argument is becoming, step forward, ask your partner if you can hug them, and then do it. Make it a long one. Hold the embrace until you feel them soften. This can be one of the simplest methods for hitting the reset button.
- Promise to acknowledge one another’s contributions to the family. Parenting can be a thankless experience. You put your all into caring for your baby, and all they do in response is cry and knock the baby food on the floor. But the baby isn’t the only person in the house. If you and your partner promise to make an effort to simply say “thank you” when one of you cooks dinner, changes a diaper, or does one of the hundreds of other small, yet crucial, tasks required to nurture a family, you’ll both feel seen and appreciated. While this may seem like a small act, it can do wonders for motivating parents to keep on keeping on.
While there will be highs and lows as you and your partner navigate your dual roles of parent and romantic partner, these tips can help you build a relationship that becomes stronger with the challenges, and support you in deeply appreciating the bond you have with your significant other. In addition, your baby will benefit from this strengthened bond, as they sense tension or harmony in the family unit, and respond accordingly, even when they’re in the womb. So know that even the smallest acts of cooperation, service, and compassion towards your partner will have a significant impact on the health of your blossoming family.