6 Steps to Surviving Parenthood with Your Marriage Intact

In other societies and in ours “Once Upon a Time” becoming a parent was a rite of passage and a communal event. After a woman gave birth, the family and community would rally around her and give her a much needed break as she healed from labor and found her way as a new mother and wife. In many societies, this closeness and support still happens – family and community members provide new parents with guidance, love, support, and care during a very physically and emotionally challenging time. The marriage survives and often thrives because of this kind of support because parents can find their way back to each other again while having access to emotional support and guidance from the people around them.

In our modern western culture…not so much.

We don’t approach parenthood in a communal or holistic way. We shower an expectant mother with gifts and it’s “fend for yourselves” after the baby is born. Everyone’s too busy with their own lives to be able to provide support, and families are often small or dispersed across the country. Becoming parents is such a major life shift, and having a lack of support wears on a marriage and can be a recipe for disaster. Some parents have the benefit of tight knit families and communities that will help, but most of us have to depend on ourselves – parent 1, parent 2, with new and very challenging baby. It’s quite an overwhelming endeavor. If you have children already, all of this isn’t news.

So how do you keep your marriage strong within a society void of communal support when baby comes?

You have two options – sink or swim.

I imagine you want to swim. So you have to create your own little supportive community within your partnership. Prepare with a realistic picture in mind, and learn how to thrive in your marriage within the challenges of becoming parents – sleep deprived, hormonal, frustrated, and all the rest….oh, but the good really does outweigh the challenges…if you do it right.

Here’s how…

1. Prepare – if baby hasn’t already come yet, prepare as much as you can mentally. Know the concept of the “fourth trimester” and expect that the first 3 months will be challenging. My husband and I called it “war time!” Prepare meals ahead of time knowing you’re going to be house bound and baby-bound for the first 3 months. Yep, expect to carry nursing baby everywhere…including your bathroom breaks.

2. Don’t Expect Mindreading – If you expect too much or expect your partner to meet certain expectations, resentments will only build. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. It won’t happen. Also, know that you’ll never get “back to normal” because you’ll be creating a new life together as parents and partners. Move forward together and talk about what you need and want with one another throughout this process. This way you can work on trying to meet each other’s’ needs and support one another throughout this time.

3. Be a Team – you’re in this together so set your mind that way. Avoid blaming and support one another through new parenthood. You’ll both have individual emotional challenges so be sensitive to those. Create an environment of safety and security.

4. Be Self-Aware – lets’ face it, as much as you prepare, you still won’t be prepared for what’s to come. You’ll both have emotional ups and downs and many aspects of your relationship will be challenged – libidos come to mind as the most obvious but there will be many more. Finding your roles as parents will be exponentially different for each of you. Mama may feel overwhelmed and resentful while Papa feels lonely and alienated – very common stuff. Be aware of how you feel and talk about where you are in these emotional and unsure times. Being able to come to your partner about your feelings and to feel validated will bring you closer together. It’s an intensely bonding experience, and your marriage will only become stronger for it. I sent “The Reluctant Father” to my husband when we had our first child because he was really struggling with bonding with our daughter during the first few months. It helped him tremendously and validated his feelings, but I only knew to do this because we were so open with each other about our emotional states – and it was tough but so rewarding.

5. Expect Change and Conflict – things will never “get back to normal” so embrace the new you and the new partner you have. Talk about these changes because if you don’t, resentments will build and you’ll just grow farther apart. Let the changes bring you together rather than pull you apart. When you are both informed about where you are emotionally and can support each other through these adjustments, you will build this new life together and be closer for it. Conflict during this period is normal and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with your relationship. It just means you both need to adjust, work together, and learn yet another life lesson.

6. Be Intimate – being affectionate is so important during every period of your marriage and especially during such a huge adjustment period. Let each other know that you are loved and that you appreciate each other. Be affectionate emotionally, physically, and mentally. Give hugs and kisses, shoulder rubs and squeezes regularly. Set sex aside when it’s not realistic during physical healing, but don’t throw it out altogether when you are physically ready to resume. Remember that sex is a joint decision just like everything else in your marriage.

So that’s it. Tackle these six steps, and you’ll be on your way to strengthening your marriage. And if you’re expecting a new little one but are already parents, you’re not off the hook. You’ll need to readjust all over again so keep these steps handy.

I would love to know your thoughts and how you and your partner adjusted to new family life. Leave some comments below and share your story…