Those first few hours, days, and weeks with a newborn can be precious, magical, overwhelming, and challenging. As new moms find their footing (while in a constant fog of exhaustion), they rely on their partners in ways they may have never experienced before. Simultaneously, the husband is expected to support his wife and new baby while feeling vulnerable, unsure, and exhausted. As a result, this is a sensitive and trying time for both partners, which is why it’s of the utmost importance that they navigate it as a team.
Simply hoping that issues will be resolved once the baby arrives rarely works.
Many expectant parents plan for the birth. They think long and hard about how they would like to deliver the baby and what pain relief — if any — they might want to use. But they often don’t consider planning beyond the birth, which in my experience can impact relationships in a number of ways. If you’re able to think ahead with your partner about the potential challenges you may encounter, it will be easier to navigate them if they do, in fact, occur.
A Strong Foundation
If there are any issues within your relationship, I recommend working on them prior to having the baby, if possible. I often see couples in my practice to help them resolve relationship issues and prepare for how their relationship is likely going to change once the baby comes. Simply hoping that issues will be resolved once the baby arrives rarely works. The stronger your foundation is before the birth, the easier it will be to navigate any challenges you may encounter along the way.
Based on my experience and the issues I see arise between couples once they become parents, I recommend tackling the following topics with your partner ahead of time.
How will your finances be managed? Will there be a change in income if one parent is not working? If so, how will you ensure both of you have access to money? How will you manage the increased outings, and how will you save for your child’s future?
How much time will you each take off?
It’s really important to be open with your spouse about your concerns so that you can support one another. Perhaps one of you is feeling vulnerable about being dependent on the other for the first time. Or maybe one of you is anxious about the increased responsibility. You could even be nervous about repeating negative childhood experiences. Whatever fears you have, sharing your vulnerabilities and supporting each other helps bring you closer together.
How do you anticipate your lives changing as a result of having a child? How will you embrace — and manage — these changes?
Who will do what, especially if one of you is expecting to become a stay-at-home parent? When the working parent is home, will they be given free rein to parent their way, or will there be an expectation to follow the routine established by the stay-at-home parent? What broad approach will you take to parenting — baby-led, attachment-based, routine-driven, etc.?
If you’re from different countries, you may have a number of languages to impart upon your child. How will this be done? Will you agree on a shared language and speak to your child in your mother tongue? Will there be rules about not speaking in a language the other parent doesn’t know?
Will you hire a maid or a nanny? If so, how will you arrange this — prior to the delivery or afterward? Will they be full-time or hired on an as-needed basis?
The desire for sex is likely going to change. How will you manage each other’s expectations so neither spouse feels unloved or unimportant?
How will you arrange things so that both parents each have some downtime?
Who will come to the birth, when will they arrive, how long will they stay, and what would you like them to do? Perhaps you decide you don’t want any visitors for the first two weeks, or maybe you welcome the support of a few key people. Make sure you and your partner are aligned on the number of visitors allowed and the duration of each person’s stay before the delivery day.
Communicating as Parents
When it comes to parenting, communication is key. It’s okay to feel what you feel, but aim to communicate your emotions in a way that ensures the other person will hear you. This means letting your partner know that you’re unsure of what to do or that you’re frustrated about not seeing much of them lately, and telling them how they can support you. Most importantly, communicate these things in a way that takes into account how they are feeling. Acknowledge that you’re both unsure, tired, and vulnerable. Talk in a tone and volume that is non-confrontational while using neutral words. Above all else, don’t blame them.
Paying attention to how you deliver your message helps it to be heard and acted upon by your spouse. Being aggressive with your words and tone — or even going silent — makes the other person defensive and reluctant to hear you and help you. Communication is a two-way street; it’s not something for you to solve all on your own. Share ideas about how you can each communicate your needs so that you can both make sure they are fulfilled.
The more you plan ahead, the easier your path will be as a new family. It won’t all go smoothly, and that’s okay. Try to move on from conflict quickly; there’s no time to hold onto grudges when you’re raising a child. Remember: your partner is vulnerable too, and uniting in the shared challenges of this special — and sometimes tricky — time will help ease the transition.
Dr. Marie Thompson is the CEO and clinical director of Vivamus, a Dubai-based company offering psychological and counseling services, seminars, workshops, and more. Follow Vivamus on Instagram to stay up-to-date on the latest news.
If you and/or your partner would like to discuss potential relationship issues and anticipated parenting challenges with a professional, consider setting up an appointment at Vivamus. With a special interest in maternal and paternal mental health and relationship issues during the antenatal and postnatal period, the team is eager to help new parents navigate a variety of issues so they can be the best possible parents to their child.