Stay Connected After Baby

Nothing rocks a relationship quite like having a child. Last week, we asked readers on Facebook to send us their toughest questions. Joyce Marter, owner of Urban Balance LLC, a multi-site psychotherapy practice in Chicago, answers—just in time for Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I seem to fight all the time about who does more around the house. We’ve even tried tracking chores on a spreadsheet, but nothing seems to help. Any advice for how to alleviate this point of contention?

I agree that this is the biggest relationship challenge for parents of young children, myself included!

I recommend that you and your husband revisit the chores spreadsheet together, making sure you include all household, financial, social, and familial responsibilities. Also, map out your daily or weekly schedule and identify who is responsible for what on which days. The more specific and clear the delineation of responsibilities, the easier it is to make sure both partners are contributing equally.

When you’re finished with the spreadsheet of responsibilities and the weekly routine, discuss them. Does the plan feel fair? Is it realistic? Communicate assertively and respectfully, make any necessary changes, sign off on it, and post it in your kitchen. Agree to revisit it every Sunday, even if just for a 10-minute check-in.

It’s these follow-ups that are most important. Otherwise even the best laid plan won’t work. Make a point to acknowledge and express appreciation to one another for what you’ve both contributed.

Division of labor is something that will constantly need to be revisited and renegotiated as your children grow and your family’s needs and responsibilities change. Consistent and pro-active communication is the key to preventing arguments about who does more.

In my practice, I see many couples where the woman over-functions in the areas of caring for the kids and home, which leads to exhaustion and resentment. They are often seen by their male partners as negative and critical. It’s also common to see men under-functioning at home, but believing they do their fair share or at least more than most dads.

It’s important to seek a mutually supportive, loving partnership. Women need to stop enabling men to slack off on baby care, by instead setting clear expectations and boundaries, and allowing them to contribute without micromanaging or criticizing. Men need to step it up, realizing that the time and energy spent managing more responsibilities at home will be far less than that spent arguing. As they say, happy wife, happy life!

I’ve become a really light sleeper since having my daughter, and my husband’s snoring is just too loud. It’s causing resentment on my end because I’m the only one who gets up during the night with her, and I’m already exhausted. I’m considering separate bedrooms. Will this hurt our relationship even more?

Everything is harder when you are sleep-deprived, and snoring is the worst!

First, you need to insist that your husband try to resolve the snoring problem. There are many remedies (such as nose strips) that are easily available and perhaps worth a try. He may need to consult a doctor to rule out chronic sinus infection or even participate in a sleep study to make sure he doesn’t have sleep apnea or another condition. Alcohol use and being overweight can exacerbate snoring, so a healthy lifestyle can lessen the problem.

Second, you need to prioritize rest. That means getting to bed as early as you can and napping whenever possible (it’s more important to catch some Z’s than to empty the dishwasher). But it also means putting your foot down and asking your husband to help with your daughter during the night. I recommend that you agree on a routine so the expectations are clear. Additionally, perhaps he could tend to her first thing in the morning and allow you to snooze a bit later—at least on the days that both of you are off work. Even if you’re awake and he’s dead asleep, you need to insist that he get up. Otherwise your resentment will continue to damage your relationship. Ironically, it’s because you love him that you are making him help.

Finally, I do not recommend separate bedrooms. Sleeping separately can lead to serious disconnection that can be difficult to regain down the road, after it becomes clear how damaging it has been to the marriage. Physical and sexual intimacy is important in a relationship.

In fact, you might remind him that women who are well rested are more likely to want to have sex!

Sometimes I feel like my son has replaced my husband. We’ve lost the closeness we once had, and it’s been difficult to recover. What should we do?

Many couples experience a disconnect when Baby makes three—after all, three is a crowd! So much changes with having a child, as there is less time and energy to devote to the marriage.

It sounds like even though you love your new little man, you’re really missing your husband—and you should let him know that ASAP, if you haven’t already.

Fathers often feel like the third wheel after a baby arrives because of the intense bond between a mother and her child. So be sensitive to the fact and that your husband may also feel that he has been replaced by your bundle of joy. Demonstrate empathy: “I know it’s hard that we can’t even finish a conversation before I have to stop and breastfeed the baby—I miss you too and I do want to hear the rest of your story.”

Be sure to resist the maternal urge to do everything yourself. Include your husband in taking care of the baby, and even let the two of them have some time alone for male bonding. This will reassure your husband that he’s important to both you and your son.

But also spend at least 20 minutes a day alone as a couple talking about something other than the baby or your household. Discuss how to make this part of your daily routine and prioritize it, even if that means letting some other things go (like that growing mountain of laundry). Nurture the playful aspects of your relationship—being parents doesn’t mean we have to be serious all of the time, and laughter is incredibly bonding.

Prioritizing sex is also imperative in maintaining closeness. When it’s time for the baby to sleep, make sure he’s not in your bed so that you and your husband can remember what brought him into this world!

How can my guy and I find time to make baby #2? At night I’m so exhausted, and in the morning it’s hard to know when the baby will wake up and interrupt us! We take advantage of nap time on the few days we’re both home, but any advice for the rest of the week?

Most couples find that a baby cramps their sex life, which can be especially challenging when you’re trying to get pregnant again!

Sex won’t happen if you’re tired, so make getting enough rest a top priority. Everything else can wait. Perhaps this approach will help you be in the mood more often at night.

Also tap into your support network. Perhaps there is a friend, family member, or neighborhood babysitter that would be happy to take your baby out for a stroll or over to their house for an hour or two a couple nights a week. Consider setting up a regular one-hour baby swap with another mom who might also like some alone time for intimacy, rest, or simply to shave her legs.

If mornings sit better with you, try getting to bed 30 minutes earlier and setting the alarm 30 minutes before the baby usually wakes. This may increase your love-making window. Make sure your little one’s environment is baby proofed so that you can rest assured he or she is safe if you “aren’t available” for a few minutes after wake-up.

Your baby’s safety is most important, but as long as that is ensured, you can get creative. I have clients who have enjoyed time together in the shower, with their infant in a bouncy chair or swing on the other side of the curtain—happy, oblivious, and within eyesight and earshot.

Finally, don’t put pressure on yourselves. Enjoy the baby-making process!

Photo: Alexandra Grablewski

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