Once the fairy dust of a having a brand new baby has settled, the new reality can be a rude awakening for parents.
As someone who works with couples from the optimistic glow of pregnancy into the poop-stained chaos of the postpartum, I’ve seen it happen: You are both tired, you’re no longer in charge of your time, and you haven’t showered in days. The closest you get to being intimate is walking around with your nursing bra open for air.
This challenging transition period can take a toll on your relationship, but there are things you can do to keep it strong, even when the laundry is piling up around you. We turned to Olivia Scobie, an expert in all things postpartum, for a few tips on keeping your relationship solid.
Q: What happens to a couple after a new baby arrives?
A: When a new baby arrives, a couple can initially feel really connected. But then the grind of parenting a newborn sets in along with the fatigue, stress, and irritation. It is okay to feel that way. It makes sense that you’re exhausted. But, call it what it is – this isn’t about your partner or your relationship. Turn to each other and say, ‘We are so tired right now, and it’s causing us to snap at each other and nitpick a lot. Let’s try to face this situation as a team, not as individuals.’
Q: What can couples do during this transition?
A: There are several things you can do.
1. Schedule time for shared activities.
This doesn’t need to be a ‘date night’ out – play a game of Scrabble or tackle a jumbo puzzle.
2. Share moments of connection.
Take time to look at your partner. For real. Look at him/her when they are talking. It shows you see them, hear them, and makes them feel valued.
3. Be responsible for your own family.
This goes for both of you. No one should be responsible for defending himself or herself against a mother-in-law – take on your own mother and stand by your partner. Be united as a couple.
If you’re struggling, give yourself space to do so. Acknowledge that you are facing current difficulties and need to focus on just coping for the moment. However, don’t let this state of struggle become your new normal. Make a plan to come back to the issue and address it.
4. Know your hot triggers.
Hot triggers are those things that are capital ‘I’ important to you, the things you will not stand down on. Maybe it’s cloth diapering or the cry-it-out method, for example. Talk about these things with your partner before you’re in the thick of it and agree on terms. Then, agree to be a little more flexible on some of the other things. Maybe it doesn’t matter if your baby’s clothes are perfectly color-coordinated, for example, or if bath time is off by 30 minutes. Let your partner parent in his/her way.
5. Foster understanding of what it’s like for the other person.
People want to feel understood and validated, whether they’ve been home all day alone with a crying baby or at a stressful job outside the home. How do you foster understanding? Walk their walk. Share the parental leave if you can. Or, if one parent is working outside of the home five days a week, get him or her to spend one-on-one time with the baby for a good portion of the weekend. Then, tough as it may be, get out of the way, trust their relationship, and let it grow.
6. Take turns being the hero.
Agree that each of you will take turns being the hero. This means stepping up even when you’re tired and saying, “Hey, you’ve had a long day. Go rest. I’ve got this.” Do more than just your fair share because you love your partner and you want them to know you have their back when the going gets tough. You both need to do this. And, in hero work, there is no scorekeeping.
7. Have the big conversations.
Don’t wait for things to come up. Talk to each other about where you stand on managing money, family relationships, parenting styles and tactics such as co-sleeping, sleep training, vaccinations, feeding, and discipline. Talk about priority self-care that is important to each of you (going to the gym, or a movie night with friends) and commit to making it happen for each other.
The Expert: Olivia Scobie, MA, ACC, MSP, MSW (Candidate) Perinatal Counselor
Olivia is a counselor specializing in the postpartum period, relationships, birth trauma, LGBTQ+ family support, and parenting shame. Her own experiences (yes, plural!) with postpartum depression and anxiety were the catalyst for her current passion: helping new parents adjust to life with a baby in ways that feel safe and protect their mental health. In addition to her counseling work, Olivia also founded the not-for-profit organization Postpartum Support Toronto to support parents with the transition into parenthood.
Read more about Olivia at livwithchange.com and postpartumsupporttoronto.com.