THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THEPARENTOLOGIST.COM
Couples go through all sorts of transitions when they become first-time parents, and most of these transitions aren’t easy. In fact, many studies have shown that the first year of transitioning into parenthood can be the hardest on a couple. So as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have prepared some helpful tips and steps for you to take to help with the transition as well as share what’s typical during this time so you are prepared for this time in your life.
The Must-Have Guide for Couples Transitioning to Parenthood
MOURNING YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Some couples go through a transitional phase right before or right after having a baby that I compare to grief symptoms you may experience after a loss. This is a time when couples may mourn the relationship the way it was before the baby.
They may work through steps like denial or even anger before working toward acceptance of their new life stage. Some couples feel like they are giving up independence, freedom, and the relationship the way it was before having a baby and need time to adjust to their “new life.”
I recommend being honest and open with your partner about this struggle. If it’s not discussed, it may often look like the partner resents their partner instead of the relationship. This perceived resentment can lead to anger and arguments, among other adverse outcomes.
In this case, I would validate your partner and give them space. The more pressure you put on, the worse it will be for your relationship. Let them know you are there for them and that you know how they are feeling. Let them know they aren’t a bad person for having these feelings (even if they are different than yours) and make sure they know they aren’t alone.
I typically notice fathers in particular having a sense of loss when a baby is born, especially when the mother may start paying more attention to the baby’s needs than their partner’s needs. Fathers also may feel more unattached physically and emotionally when mom is feeding the baby and the dad is left to feel like he doesn’t have a place or role in the baby’s or mom’s life, especially during the newborn stage.
ADDING AN IDENTITY
Couples essentially add an identity when having a baby and are not just a couple anymore, but a family. They are not just a spouse or a partner, but a mom or dad. There is an emotional and mental shift that takes place when adding these new identities and roles. And it takes a while to get used to.
Some couples may embrace these new identities and some may not. And in some cases, one partner embraces it and the other does not. It takes time. So ask your partner how you can help. Let them know they can have two or more identities and don’t have to be defined to one.
BEING COMFORTABLE WITH THE UNKNOWN
Becoming a new parent can be scary! It’s so new and there are a lot of unexpected elements no matter how many parenting books you read prior to birth! I believe couples can be anxious about the ambiguity and unknown about what life may look like or what they perceive their relationship may look like or be like once they have a baby. Having a baby may make them feel like their life as they knew it is out of control, which can also increase their anxiety.
So focus on what you can control, knowing a lot of parenting may make you feel out of control. Take it one day at a time and know that bad days will come; tomorrow is a new day. You are strong enough to get through this as long as you can do it together and don’t forget to ask for help!
FOCUS ON EXPECTATIONS
When it comes to expectations, I suggest the couple focus on what is in their control and also have open communication with each other about each other’s expectations and even new roles they will have when the baby comes (who is going to clean the house, cook meals, and do food and diaper duty, etc). Couples have a preconceived idea of their partner and expectations they have for their partner, make sure those are discussed and agreed upon.
The most important thing to remember is to not assume your partner knows what you need or want from them. Be clear and concise and also offer to help as much as you can!
FOCUS ON COMMUNICATION
Couples can also proactively discuss what they love most about their current relationship and how the baby will fit into their lifestyle as an addition, not focusing on what is going to be potentially lost or forgotten once the baby is born. When a couple feels emotionally secure with each other, they view each other as a team, and gives them the sense that they can handle anything together.
Couples can intentionally and mindfully focus on each other. They can talk about their fears, their emotions, and their hopes for each other, their family, and their future. Communication alone helps strengthen a bond between a couple, and when each partner can allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other, this also helps their connection as a couple.
If a couple has trouble communicating and connecting verbally, they can consider writing in a shared journal together instead.
FOCUS ON TOUCH
I suggest that couples focus on physical touch, tactile stimulation, and sensory integration to ignite and or reignite their spark and intimacy as a couple before the baby is born or after birth. Sexual intimacy tends to change quite significantly for many couples after a baby is born, so focusing on physical and sexual intimacy before the birth, should be of top priority.
The pregnant parent may or may not feel like being sexually intimate with their partner during pregnancy, so finding other ways to “touch” each other without expectation or pressure, like playing with each other’s hair, holding hands during a walk, kissing, rubbing their back during dinner or massaging feet before bed gives the couple space for connection in a safe way.
FOCUS ON INTIMACY
In any relationship going through a life change transition, communication should be a top priority, and being on the same page as much as possible is crucial. Discussing expectations and keeping communication lines open will help tremendously. I also suggest couples proactively schedule dates or some time alone with each other without the baby on their calendar before the baby is born.
Couples need to mindfully create time for their relationship and even schedule sex if possible. Many couples think that once a baby is born, they are giving up their relationship, but instead are gaining more love in their family. Couples can have an intimate relationship AND have a baby.
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