Transitioning to Parenthood: Maintaining Relationship Satisfaction
Published on: May 12, 2021
Successfully navigating your roles as partners while you become new parents can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Rasee Govindani shares some tips on what couples can do to continue to be happy in their relationship even after the addition of a new family member.
By Rasee Govindani
Type “what I need before my baby is born” into Google and there are extensive lists of things to buy, from clothes and diapers to breast pumps and carriers. There are also lists of things to do, from taking classes to packing your hospital bag. However, few lists include how to prepare your relationship for the transition into parenthood. According to research presented by Dr. John Gottman, a psychological researcher and clinician who founded the Gottman Institute in Seattle, published that 67% of couples experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after their baby is born.
All relationships have their ups and downs, and few things strain a relationship like hormonal changes, sleepless nights, a crying baby, and learning to keep said baby alive. And isn’t that the most important thing of all? Who has time for a relationship when there’s a demanding little human that requires all the time, energy, and affection a parent has? But research also shows that relationship conflict is bad for babies, increasing their chances of developing depression, poor social skills, and disorderly conduct later in life. So perhaps the greatest gift you can give your child is a strong relationship between you and your partner.
According to Dr. Gottman, for your relationship to be successful, there are three things you need to do: strengthen and maintain friendship, develop an effective way to handle conflict, and foster a sense of shared meaning. How? By doing small things often.
Building and Maintaining Friendship
When was the last time you asked your partner about a book he or she read or a show they binge-watched? Do you know your partner’s history? When we have been with someone for a long time, we often stop asking them these wonderful “getting to know you” questions which we did at the beginning of the relationship. We forget that we change over time, that our interests and personalities evolve, and so do those of our partners. To maintain friendship and connection, it is important that we keep learning about each other as we move through different stages in our lives.
Ask questions like how they feel about their job, and what dreams they have for your child. You might know the answers already, but it is still really nice to be asked and to be listened to. Appreciate their hopes and dreams. This time together is especially important when you have a baby and there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to even catch your breath. Prioritizing each other is an essential part of being good parents.
Another aspect of maintaining friendship is creating a culture of appreciation. Criticism comes more easily in times of stress but recognize that there really isn’t such a thing as constructive criticism (have you ever found criticism to be helpful?). Forget about the things that annoy you, and recognize the positive aspects of your partner’s personality. You chose them for a reason. Give compliments, say “please” and “thank you,” catch them doing something right and praise them, and—this one might be hard when everyone is venting about their partners—speak about your partner positively.
Handle Conflict Effectively
According to the Gottman Institute, when it comes to conflict in a relationship, these are the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, or simply, bad ways to handle conflict:
- Criticism: Suggesting the problem is a defect in their character, and blaming your partner rather than complaining about the situation
- Defensiveness: Denying responsibility for the problem when you probably play a role—even a teeny-tiny one— in why things are the way they are
- Contempt: Intentionally hurting your partner
- Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the interaction and your partner entirely
Even beyond maintaining a strong friendship, how you handle conflict in your relationship is probably the biggest factor in determining whether your relationship will last. Disagreements are unavoidable; we are all unique individuals navigating complicated situations, but the couples that maintain relationship satisfaction are the ones that have learned to fight constructively.
- Bring up problems in a gentle way, making “I” rather than “you” statements. Describe the situation and your feelings, and speak clearly about what you need. Be polite. Don’t assume you can read your partner’s mind. Give appreciation and avoid bottling things up.
- Accept your partner’s influence. Try to see how their point of view may be valid just as yours is. Remember that you are not trying to prove that you are right; there is no winning to be done here. Let your partner know that you understand what they are saying.
- If your interaction is becoming negative, repair it. Express how you feel, apologize, take a break, return to the conversation, and reach a compromise.
- If there is one thing you should write on a post-it note and put on your refrigerator, it is this: fight to fix, not to win. Support each other and develop a plan for compromise. What feelings do you have in common? There is a good chance you want the same things, so how do you get there?
Create Shared Meaning
You are a team heading towards the same destination, so be sure to share your hopes and dreams for yourself and your family, and fiercely support each other’s goals. Make time for activities that bring your family closer, like date nights or five minutes at the end of each day for a dance party. Create your own traditions and rituals, and build relationships with your child separately as well as together. And when it comes to intimacy and romance, recognize that the basis of intimacy is an emotional connection and friendship. The postpartum experience is biologically different for men than for women so look for opportunities for non-sexual affection. Communicate openly and honestly about sex without hurting each other’s feelings.
Adding a baby to your relationship is a beautiful, complicated, rewarding milestone. In growing your family you are also growing your ability to love—your baby and each other. Like most things worthwhile, a good relationship requires work, small gestures performed consistently over time to say, “I love you, I appreciate you, and we are in this together.”
Gottman John, Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 1)
Photo from Unsplash.
About the Author
Rasee Govindani is a full-spectrum doula, childbirth educator, and Gottman Institute Bringing Baby Home Educator. She helps run Breastfeeding Café, a weekly support group for families with young babies, and teaches postpartum classes at Bumrungrad International Hospital. She can be reached at www.doularasee.com.
The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.
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