How to Keep Your Relationship Strong After You Have a Baby
First and foremost, remember that you're on the same team. Parenthood is a steep learning curve. Despite the nine-plus months of preparation, all of a sudden you have this tiny, screaming creature in your house making constant demands.
If you're lucky enough to have figured out how to assemble the crib, where to put the batteries in the activity gym, and how to keep your baby from breaking free of his swaddle in less than five minutes, you're ahead of the game. So when Dad reminds Mom that baby cries and spits up when she doesn't burp him effectively or Mom corrects Dad's diapering technique, remember that he/she is probably feeling just as fragile as you are and that his/her "advice" is (probably) well intentioned. In short, when things get tense, give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Furthermore, make sure you're both pulling equal weight. There's nothing like nursing and putting the baby to bed, straightening the house, cooking dinner, and packing up the diaper bag for the morning daycare drop while your husband sits on the couch watching the game to kill any romantic notions you may have had.
Talk it Out
Countless marriage counselors agree that communication is the key to any successful relationship. This is no less true in the early (middle and late) days of parenthood. Make sure you're talking to one another and sharing both your joyful and not-so-joyful feelings about your new roles as Mom and Dad. Try to carve out at least a few baby-free minutes each night to have a check-in. Share your day and talk about how you supported each other, and how you could do better tomorrow.
Say Thank You (and try to mean it)
Most of the time parenthood is a pretty thankless job, but someone should say thank you and it might as well be you. Here's the thing: It is a fair argument to make that you shouldn't really have to thank your husband for rocking his daughter back to sleep at 3 a.m. or to thank your wife for nursing her son five times a day, but it's a lot nicer if you do. Regularly saying thank you makes your partner feel appreciated and helps to cushion those inevitable tense moments when "thank you" is the farthest thing from either of your minds.
Make Time for Yourselves as a Couple
Sure, it's hard. You're tired, your libido is scraping bottom, and while the thought of a romantic evening might be appealing, it pales in comparison to what you'd give for four uninterrupted hours of sleep. But try to remember why you wanted to make a baby with this person in the first place, and try your hand at some creative romance. Bring home flowers. Surprise your partner with a picnic on your living room floor after the baby has gone to bed. Daydream together about places you'll travel (with or without your bambino). Make-out. And, finally, leave your baby.
As much as it takes a village to raise a child, it comes in pretty handy for maintaining a marriage, too. Take your friends and family up on their offers to babysit -- even for an hour or two to sneak away for a quick drink or a walk. Better yet, drop off your bundle of joy at Grandma and Grandpa's and take a well-deserved break with friends. Having an hour or two to relax and unwind just might help to give your libido a kick in the pants.
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Support Each Other
Finally, as important as it is to take time out as a couple, it's equally important that each of you take time for yourself. What defined you before you were crowned with the titles of Mom and Dad? Whether it's time to write your novel, paint the next Mona Lisa or simply read a book at a coffee shop, take the time. Make sure you're also giving your partner his or her equal share.
Maintaining you as you (and not just you as Mom or Dad) is the key to both your personal happiness and to keeping the flame alive in your relationship. It will help to ground you and also serve as a constant reminder to your partner of the writer/painter/bookworm that he/she first fell in love with.
Katherine West Slevin is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.