Preparing Your Marriage
By Beth WilsonTo have a baby is often a celebratory experience for couples, but it can also be a strenuous time. A new child -- be it the first, second or third -- alters the dynamics of a couple's relationship, which can lead to stress, pressure and negative patterns if not handled properly.
"It's a tremendous change," says Gayle Peterson, family therapist, online family columnist and author of Making Healthy Families (Shadow and Light). Many couples, especially those expecting their first child, are nervous about a baby's impact on their marriage. Surprisingly, though, few partners discuss their feelings or new responsibilities before the child is born.
"The first thing to do is to discuss caretaking, which should be shared," advises Peterson. Even if one spouse stays home, he or she should not assume all baby-related responsibilities. "If he's not there to change seven diapers during the day, he should change one a night," Peterson recommends. Both partners should share in the pleasant and not-so-pleasant child-rearing tasks to adequately bond with the baby. If one partner changes the diaper better or quicker or feeds the baby more carefully, he or she must let the other develop similar skills.
In addition to discussing and implementing shared caretaking, couples must master shared decision-making. For example, both parties should mutually decide on a pediatrician. Likewise, business trips and major professional decisions should be discussed. "To come home and say you're taking another job or a two-week business trip doesn't work," warns Peterson. Your partner should be consulted, not informed. To initiate a discussion, Peterson recommends to ask simple questions like, "What do you think?" and "What questions do you have?"
Lastly, couples must allot time to nurture their relationship. "It doesn't have to be a vacation," says Peterson, "but something you can count on -- an evening walk with the baby, a regular date night. Peterson also recommends that some couples consider a family development loan to allow one partner to reduce or eliminate hours at work. "It's just so important to build a foundation for the family."