Three Ways to Maintain Marital Satisfaction
Bringing baby home is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It is a huge adjustment to parenthood, with sleepless nights and endless diaper changes. In the process, is is not uncommon for the parents' romantic relationship to suffer. In an eight year longitudinal study by Doss and Stanley in 2009, a whopping 90% of couples were less satisfied with their marital relationship than before they had children. In 2011, there was research done by the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle which showed that about two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child. The evidence is clear that maintaining relationship satisfaction is a struggle for new parents. So how can you avoid this pitfall and keep that closeness with your partner?
1. Make a point of carving out time together- daily, weekly and yearly.
Spend some time together to talk and connect with minimal distractions. At least 20 minutes of focussed active listening and open communication with each other every day. This could be as soon as your partner comes home from work, or during dinner, or after baby is asleep, or as part of your bedtime routine. Take this opportunity to recognize something that you appreciate about your partner. For example, "Thank-you honey for picking up groceries on your way home from work, I really appreciate it." This is important to hear.
Have a date night at least once a week. In the beginning, this may be as simple as cuddling on the couch while watching a funny movie after baby is asleep. Once baby is a little older, it could then be going out for dessert together or doing a yoga class together while grandma is at home with baby. Take advantage of offers from friends of family to watch your little one. Whatever you do together, the whole point is to spend quality time together. You can get as creative as you like with that time. Take precautions not to lose the romance in your relationship- bring home flowers for no reason and tell her she's beautiful (even with baby vomit on her shirt!). The important thing is to spend quality time together as often as you can.
Once a year, have a vacation with just the two of you. Yes, you heard me, just the two of you. I have met many couples who finally had their first vacation minus children after over 15 years, and they could not figure out why they didn't do it sooner. Even if it is one long weekend away together, make a point of having that annual time away together. This is an investment in your relationship, and it is extremely valuable for your child to see that you both care about each other and see you as a model for a healthy relationship. If you work on maintaining closeness in your relationship, this will help you to manage the inevitable stressors and conflict that comes with raising your child.
2. Set short-term and long-term financial goals.
Sit down together on a regular basis (at least once a year) to go over all of your goals and figure out a plan to achieve those goals. Discuss your monthly budget, RRSP's, RESP's, mortgage, insurance, your wills, and other investment and savings goals. Financial advisors are a wealth of knowledge; reach out and use their expertise if you haven't already. It's not just the two of you anymore, you now have a family with responsibilities. It is important to get your financial matters organized, if you haven't already done so. A baby is expensive, no doubt about it. Money issues are often a source of conflict for couples, so try to avoid this by taking the appropriate precautions.
3. Discuss expectations and follow-through with them.
Decide together who is responsible for what and how time will be spent. Who is going to do what household chores? Who will do most of the cooking? Who is going to get up in the middle of the night while working on sleep training? Who is going to run what errands? Who does the bedtime routine on which nights? What time during the week can mom have some "me-time"? When can dad have a boys night out? When can you have a family outing with the three of you? How often will the in-laws be coming over? Who will discipline the child and how? How much screen time (tv/ tablets/ phones) will the child be allowed to be exposed to when growing up? What kinds of activity groups will the child attend? What kinds of parent support groups/ social parents groups will you attend?
Regardless of what you decide, make a point of following through on what has been decided. This helps to maintain trust and confidence in each other. It is important to support each other and back each other up. You together are a united front for your child, friends and family.
Remember that marriage is a partnership that takes effort. If one of you is struggling, the other should be there to support them. Be honest with each other about what is going on and never assume the other person just knows. It's not an easy journey for a relationship to adjust to a new addition, but it is so worth the effort! Your child will know that they were brought up in a loving, healthy, happy environment when you have taken the appropriate measures to treasure your romantic relationship with each other. Remember the big picture and appreciate the little things in the moment; enjoy this time in your life because your baby is going to grow up fast!