When couples transition to parenthood, there is an understandable expectation that life will be different. We will be more tired. We will have less time for each other. Our priorities need to change. All of these are natural thoughts partners might experience, but no expectation can perfectly match the reality of this significant transition. Being flexible and open to each other is paramount to managing the relationship safely into parenthood.
Ideally, both partners will agree when they want to have children and have up to nine months to mentally prepare. This is not always the case with unplanned pregnancies or when fostering and adopting, and even when a child arrives on his or her exact due date, you are not realistically expected to have it all figured out by the time the new family member enters your home.
To foster strength and durability in your relationship, try the following two exercises.
1) Assess your strengths, and keep them handy.
Try to understand the strengths of your relationship, and keep in mind that this can be different for each partner. Maybe it is the quality time you spend together, your sex life, or how you feel supported when your partner does a certain something for you. What comprises the most positive memories of your relationship? What are the things you most look forward to doing together?
It is true that having children dramatically changes the time and financial flexibility you will have to maintain some of the strengths you identify, but the purpose of this exercise is not to make sure you recreate all of the highlights of your current relationship. The goal is that you will be able to continue enacting some of them in a similar way. For example, you cannot go out to try new restaurants as much anymore, but maybe you can try a new place once a month. Or you find a way to recreate this experience at home by cooking a new meal together one night a week after the kids are in bed.
Having children does not mean you lose all of your strengths, but it does often require that you modify how you showcase them. Creating a family will offer opportunity for new strengths to develop, too.
2) Check in early and often.
In the day-to-day of early parenthood, you will develop individual habits and routines to help life run more smoothly. This is understandable and necessary. However, you can easily slide into a routine out of necessity early on that can be draining and unsustainable in the long run. For example a partner might find him- or herself saying, I agreed to take care of the baby whenever she starts crying in the night while you worked towards your big project, but now you act like she will only go back to sleep when I am there. That is not okay.
Make it a routine from the very beginning, even before a child enters your home, to check in with each other. You can use this time to go over changes in schedule but also need to prioritize checking in with each other emotionally. Take a step back and allow each other to properly express how you are feeling, positively and negatively. Ask for help from each other, and let this be an opportunity to connect.
Talking about the day’s schedule is something you may need to do every day for 5-10 minutes. Checking in emotionally can take closer to 30 minutes and needs to be done at least once a week.
Be careful not to let this time turn into a complaining or blaming session. You are in this together. If you do not feel this way, then own your concern and ask for help from your partner. It may not always be appealing to focus on the emotional aspect of your lives and the relationship, but you threaten resentment and growing emotional distance if you deprive your relationship of this small segment of time devoted to increasing your awareness and fostering genuine connection.
Even if you read this after having children, it is never too late to start forming healthier habits for your relationship. Start small and work together to build a stronger partnership. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to receive relationship counseling from a qualified couple therapist who can help you transition to parenthood and maintain your strengths.