When partners become parents, trouble can surface. Here are some real-world solutions.
The usual advice people hear for keeping their marriage healthy hardly applies to couples who have a newborn in the house: You don't need someone telling you to spend a "date night" with your husband when you barely have the energy to change your bra, let alone sit through dinner and a movie.
But even if you're low on sleep, sex, money and patience, you and your partner have to keep going. Here are five situations that commonly test new parents—and advice from the experts on how to minimize conflict.
You're always bickering about who'll do the chores.
What's behind it: You feel as if your workload has ballooned while his has stayed the same.
Marriage saver: Each person should assume certain jobs so arguments are avoided, says Terri L. Orbuch, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Divide tasks according to what each of you likes to do best. Maybe you enjoy cooking and your husband finds wielding the vacuum cleaner relaxing. Or take turns so neither of you feels stuck always doing the same thing.
"We alternate jobs, so if one of us is caring for the baby, the other does the cooking and cleaning up," says Beth Meeks, a mother of two in Charleston, S.C. Another way to keep housework—as well as arguments—from assuming monstrous proportions is by doing chores in spurts. Put your baby in an infant carrier and spend a few minutes vacuuming a room, doing a load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Do this a few times a day and you'll be amazed at what gets accomplished.
You're constantly criticizing the way he takes care of the baby.
What's behind it: Nervousness about being responsible for a newborn; the need to control what's largely uncontrollable (an infant).
Marriage saver: If you snap at your partner every time you think that he's holding the bottle at an incorrect angle or is failing to swaddle the baby exactly right, take a deep breath and remind yourself that there is no one right way of doing things. As long as your baby is safe, don't create conflict by criticizing your partner's approach. Be glad he's a hands-on dad, even if you think he's handling the baby like a football; babies do benefit from dad-style care.
You're becoming two ships that pass in the night.
What's behind it: Each of you craves a little bit of time to yourself, so on weekends one of you cares for the baby in the morning and the other takes the afternoon shift. Result: You rarely see each other.
Marriage saver: Change your expectations about time spent together; instead of dates, think errands, Orbuch says. Get haircuts or go grocery shopping together. No need for a sitter.
Neither of you wants the night shift.
What's behind it: Your husband says he needs his sleep so he can be well rested for work. You argue that you can't take care of the baby all day if you've been up half the night.
Marriage saver: Ask your husband to get up with the baby when he's not facing a stressful day at work, or sleep in shifts. And while it might seem extreme, consider sleeping in separate beds until the baby starts sleeping through the night. That's what Michelle Cantor, a mother of two in Huntington Woods, Mich., and her husband did. "Why should both parents get up?" she says. Because she was breastfeeding, she would pump before going to bed so that her husband could give the baby a bottle of breast milk during his shift.
He wants sex, you want sleep.
What's behind it: You are so distracted and fatigued that rest becomes more appealing than romance. Plus, the near-constant skin-on-skin contact that goes with caring for a newborn can leave you wanting space from your household—not sex.
Marriage saver: Scheduling sex might not sound romantic, but it helps to keep a connection and spark alive. "We've set ourselves an informal schedule whereby we try to make love or at least have some sort of intimate contact once a weekend," says Christine Burgi, a mother of two in Aberdeen, N.J. "I know that once I'm no longer bone-weary, our love life will return to normal."
Beth Meeks says her husband is learning that the more work he does around the house, the better their relationship is. "If I do all the chores in the evening, I'm too tired to fool around," she says. "But if he helps me, we go to bed together and usually have great sex."