Not so long ago, my husband and I became first time parents. Parenting, for me, has really been one of those things where I couldn’t grasp what it would be like and how much it would change my life until it actually happened. There is so much “preparation” you can try to do as a parent or as a couple, yet nothing will prepare you.
Now that I’ve got some experience under my belt, I find myself thinking of those things that truly are helpful when it comes to that first year. One of the most common mistakes I see couples make (don’t worry- I accidentally joined this club, too) is forget to prioritize their couple relationship when baby arrives.
Now, let’s be real. The first year, in many ways, is purely survival mode. Learning to transition your daily rituals to revolve around the needs of another helpless person, not your relationship. I mean, come on, your partner is an adult for pete’s sake. They can handle life without you, right?
On the contrary. Remembering to prioritize your relationship, especially during one of the biggest transitions in your life, is worth so much more than you think (sometimes worth the relationship itself). So here are five ways to not only thrive, but IMPROVE your relationship as a couple the first year with a baby:
Define your couple roles.
Remember earlier when I said that the first year of parenting is basically living in survival mode? Research shows that when our brain is functioning in survival mode (and add being sleep deprived, hormonal, or just stressed to the equation), our rational thought processes aren’t always at the forefront. “Organization” may feel like a thing of the past. Relaxation may feel like an unattainable dream. This is why it’s critical to create some structure for yourselves as a couple…so that you remember to BE a couple.
Pick one of you to be in charge of planning dates and coordinating with the babysitter. This may also look like having a family member come over so you can take naps or sneak out for a sandwich for an hour. But it is important to try and do things alone when you can. If there is one of you who is breastfeeding or tending to more of the daily needs of the baby, I’d recommend for the other partner to be in the planning role for the relationship. These roles do not need to be rigid; you can trade off if you’d like. Just make it structured and clear so you both know who will be making sure you find time for each other.
I find myself saying this to myself a lot: “being a parent is NO JOKE.” It’s true! There is so much a parent has to do, and if one or both of you work a part or full time job on top of that, there is even more of a reason for you to want to postpone date nights for more sleep or to just veg on the couch once baby goes to sleep. But this can be a trap if it leads you to a stagnant and disconnected couple life.
Get together and make a list of possible things you can outsource. Is it possible to ask a friend or family member to set up a meal train for you so you don’t have to worry about cooking for a while? Could you do grocery store pickup or delivery instead of working yourself up for a trip you’re not ready for? Can you hire a house cleaner once a month? Some outsourcing tasks may cost money, but result in priceless time for you to spend together as a couple and family.
Go on silent mode.
The reality is that most couples and most parents today are overbusy. We are more social than ever before. We are typically always connected to our phones and are always “turned on”. This can quickly become a barrier to our partner if we let it. I remember some early weeks there where I was so exhausted; I got into an unhealthy habit of ending my day in bed scrolling on Facebook. Sometimes I would fall asleep with my hand still in the air holding my phone (I’m pretty sure my husband has a picture to prove it!).
Want to improve your relationship instead of create a wall between you and your partner? Go on silent mode. Let your families and friends know that after X hour in the evening, you won’t respond to calls or texts. Set a boundary for your relationship with technology. Plug your phones in on the other side of the room if you have to. You will be surprised at how easy the new default may become talking to each other or falling asleep in each other’s arms instead of forgetting to acknowledge each other before you pass out. Small yet intentional changes are what will make a meaningful impact on your couple bond.
Support your partner having a life outside of your family.
Yep, you read that right. Even though it may be so fresh and new being a family beyond two, the best time to create healthy balance and habits is right now. I’m not saying start going out to the club the second week your baby is here, but I am saying that moments may arise those first few weeks and months where your partner (and of course, you) just need a break.
Be in support of your partner taking breaks. Healthy families are made by a healthy couple. Healthy couples are made by two healthy individuals who are nurturing their relationship and taking care of themselves. So support your partner in doing what they need to do to be their best self. Even if that means a Starbucks run alone or a night out with friends. This leads me to…
ENCOURAGE your partner to have a life outside of your family.
I almost didn’t realize when I needed breaks. I was often consumed by my new role as a mom; focusing on my baby’s every beck, call, and need. I remember how meaningful (and helpful!) it was when my husband would stop and say “hey, why don’t you go get dinner with the girls this week?”
Me? Social life? Friends? What? Oh yeah, I still had those! It goes BEYOND just supporting your partner having a life when you actively encourage them to do so. When you encourage this in your partner, it shows them that it’s not a burden to you, that you can handle parenting for a few hours without them, and that their self-care is important. Now, they may not want to do it, but don’t stop encouraging. The right time will come when they will be ready.
Nothing can really prepare you for what being a parent will entail. But the truth is that there are processes you can put into place ahead of time, or even after your baby is here, to prioritize your relationship. See if you can work on a few of the things on this list and notice what differences it make in your couple bond!