Balancing the parent role with relationship needs
Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, human development specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension
It is challenging for new parents to manage their new parenting role and their couple relationship. The joy of having a baby leads to a transition for couples that can strain even the best relationships. A study conducted by John Gottman and associates from the University of Washington reveals that more than two-thirds of mothers experience a decrease in relationship satisfaction six months after the birth of the baby. Men experience the same decrease in relationship satisfaction during the first year as fathers. Couples who had strong and healthy marriages before having a baby are likely to make an easier adjustment to parenthood and experience less stress on their marriages. On the other hand, couples who struggled with significant problems before having the first baby are likely to have a difficult time making adjustments.
Feeling overwhelmed is a common emotion for new mothers and fathers. Distress in couple relationships not only affects marital satisfaction and emotional intimacy, but also the quality of care for the infants. New parents need to rethink their priorities, make adjustments and be flexible to juggle their family roles. The following suggestions can help new parents maintain loving couple relationships while enjoying baby:
Spend time together to nurture your couple relationship. A healthy relationship can provide a secure foundation for raising a healthy baby and building a strong family. Establishing a routine relationship time is essential for couples to manage their roles as parents and partners.
Make a commitment to each other. Having a baby is a different life stage for new parents. It’s easy to ignore the couple relationship if extra effort is not put into maintaining intimacy and romance. A couple’s commitment can be a strong bond to make their parenting roles easier.
Maintain open communication. Couples need to talk openly and discuss ways to resolve their conflicts, recognize issues, set priorities and assign responsibilities. For instance, will there be a stay-at-home parent? If both parents work outside the home, how do you find quality childcare? How will both parents make these adjustments and commit to their relationship? Open discussion and two-way communication can help partners understand hidden issues and find solutions.
Show support and appreciation for each other. Becoming a new parent is a demanding job for couples. Showing support and appreciation to each other can help strengthen your relationship as parents and as a couple. A loving relationship is the best gift that a couple can give to their baby.
Gottman, J., & Schwartz-Gottman, J. (2007). And baby makes three: The six-step plan for preserving marital intimacy and rekindling romance after baby arrives. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
Shapiro, A.F., Gottman, J.M., & Carrere, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 59-70.
Last Updated 04/26/2010