Dorota Skorupska and her husband Norbert were thrilled when they found out they were expecting their first child. While they stocked up on diapers and onesies, moved into a new two-bedroom condo and set up baby Adam’s nursery, anticipating the needs of their new baby, they didn’t discuss the challenges their relationship would face once their bundle of joy arrived.
Their new baby-centered life took its toll on their marriage. “Everything was about (the baby). There was no us,” says Dorota. Arguments over household chores were more frequent and intimacy dwindled. “The amount of work that had to be done meant that I was tired and not very interested. I had gained weight and I didn’t lose it quickly so I felt unattractive,” says Dorota. Tight finances (Dorota was on maternity EI while her husband was struggling to find a job as a pilot) placed even more stress on the couple. When Norbert did find a job, he was away from home for long hours. “I was left all alone with Adam. I felt anger and resentment at times and that’s when we [started] to drift apart,” says Dorota. Norbert’s sister visited from Poland, creating another point of contention. “There was another mouth to feed and entertain and I felt exhausted. There was very little time that we had to ourselves,” she says.
Dr. Debbie Cherry, clinical psychologist and author of Childproofing Your Marriage says post-baby challenges like those faced by Dorota and Norbert are common in many marriages. With sleep deprivation and a change in roles, expectations and needs, it’s no wonder marriages suffer. But, Debbie says, creating time for key discussions before baby arrives is the key to keeping your relationship strong post-baby.
Opt For a Couple-Centered Marriage
Putting your spouse before your child may sound backwards, but Debbie says it’s exactly what’s required to keep a marriage strong through raising children. “Our society draws us toward a child-centered marriage. We put all of our time and energy into kids and we hold the belief system that our spouse is a grown up person and they can take care of themselves,” says Debbie. But putting marriage on the backburner creates room for resentment to grow, causing divisions among couples.
Having a couple-centered marriage doesn’t mean you let your baby cry while you enjoy couple-time. “It simply means that you’re going to carve out time with your spouse,” says Debbie. Dorota agrees with Debbie in theory but says a couple-centered marriage is difficult to put into practice, arguing kids suck up time to think about her own needs and wants, or those of her husband. “Do I put my marriage first? No. But I’m trying to keep it close to par or a little behind the kids,” she says.
Schedule Date Night
Although women often struggle with the idea of leaving baby at home while they spend time with their partner, Debbie says having a date night doesn’t mean you have to leave the house all night. Ordering in or curling up on the couch to watch a movie together also counts. Debbie’s one rule of thumb on date night, though, is not to discuss the baby. “You actually get back to learning about each other and connecting [when you limit baby talk],” says Debbie, who recommends couples spend two hours of alone time per week.
Women, in particular, often struggle with post-baby sex. “Men tend to always have energy for that,” laughs Debbie. She advises couples to redefine intimacy post-baby in order to stay connected. “Intimacy doesn’t just mean sex,” says Debbie. Cuddling, taking a nap together or simply reaching out and touching each other in non-sexual ways can help reinforce the bond between partners.
Discuss Your Post-Baby Life Balance
Debbie says the main challenge partners face post-baby is the disparity between expectation and reality, but the more planning that’s done pre-baby, the fewer surprises and the less conflict there will be once the baby arrives. Discuss how you each want your life to look once you’re a family of three. How will you divide up chores? What extracurricular activities do you plan on continuing? How will you negotiate your personal time? If your partner wants to spend every Friday night out with his buddies playing pool, perhaps he can look after the baby on Saturday mornings while you go to your Pilates class. Discussing these details may seem premature, but Debbie says “If you wait until after baby gets here, you’re too tired to have those conversations.”
Schedule “Me Time”
“Me time is as important as couple and baby time,” says Debbie. While your post-baby “me time” may look very different than it did pre-baby, doing anything that makes you feel important as a person will help you feel more connected to your partner as well.