When starting a family, don't forget to nurture your marriage as much as your new baby.
Make room for daddy
Marital conflicts also can arise when the husband feels pushed aside. “Suddenly the affection that was once bestowed on him is now going to the baby,” says Marcia Bernstein, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in West Los Angeles.
This problem can be solved in part, Murkoff advises, by including your husband in getting ready for the baby during pregnancy: Shop for a crib with him rather than with your mother or girlfriends, and sign up for a baby-care class you can both attend. “A lot of women assume dads are no good at baby care,” Murkoff says. “But there’s virtually nothing except breastfeeding that a father can’t do as well as a mother.” Some women fall in love with their husbands all over again as they see what loving fathers they are.
Share duties with your husband, including night feedings and settling the baby down for a nap. “If you’re doing all the parenting,” warns Murkoff, “you’re going to be resentful and you’ll have no energy.”
Look out for yourself
It’s important to find time to be alone as a couple. Make an effort to find a sitter you feel comfortable with so you can go out on a date occasionally. Or sit down to late dinners after the baby is asleep. “Try to create a daily ritual, so every day there is time for both of you,” Murkoff says. “It forces you to have conversation. You can sneak in sex here and there, but communication you really have to plan for.”
It’s also vital that each of you go out alone or with friends so that you can relax, regain a sense of individual identity and not feel totally submerged in baby care. “Try to keep up some activity you enjoyed before the baby,” says Greenspan, “whether it’s playing soccer, walking in the woods or quietly meditating.”
Working parents tend to sacrifice these pleasures to be with their baby. However, she says, “You’re not going to do your baby any favors if you’re tense and frazzled. It’s like trying to run a car you never fill with gas.”
Find your way back to intimacy
Marriage counselors agree that sex is a minefield new parents must negotiate carefully because it encompasses a tangle of issues, including a woman’s often-fragile postpartum body image and a man’s desire to “have his wife back.”
Men need to understand that their wives may feel less sexy because of weight gain, says Greenspan. Breastfeeding women in particular may feel exhausted for months after delivery. Women must try to understand that their husbands need affection, too.
Stay in touch with your sexuality and try not think of yourself solely as a mother. That means maintaining a positive body image and not avoiding sex just because you haven’t returned to your prepregnancy weight. Experts agree that exercise is paramount for new mothers. It builds self-esteem, which then will spill over into other areas of life. Even if you don’t feel a strong desire for sex, try it (you just might remember how much you used to enjoy it). And even if your body isn’t yet exactly how you want it to be, don’t let embarrassment stop you. “So what if you have stretch marks?” Murkoff says. “Dim the lights.”
Making an effort to relate to each other as husband and wife can go a long way toward keeping a marriage strong. Remember to kiss each other goodnight and before setting off for work in the morning. “Reach out and touch each other even if you don’t have time to have sex,” says Harwood.
Despite the challenges, having a baby will most likely deepen the bond of your marriage. You’ll discover new dimensions to each other in this adventure of parenting. As Bernstein says, “It’s an opportunity to grow together.”
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