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Hanging on to Your Marriage After Children Come


Family with Baby
Pando Hall / Getty Images
Phillip and Sandra seemed to be the perfect young married couple. Totally in love and always spending time together, they were thrilled when they learned that they were expecting a baby. They saw it as enhancing an already excellent marital relationship.

However, once the baby arrived, the earlier marital bliss was interrupted by lack of sleep, the baby's needs coming first, and what Phillip saw as Sandra's maternal instincts making her more of a "Mom" and less of a wife and playmate.

Phillip sought some counsel from friends and more experienced dads as he wondered if his marriage would ever be the same again.

The good news is that Phillip's thoughts and concerns are not only real, but they are also very normal. Certainly a marital relationship changes after a baby enters the picture, but it can still be a great relationship and partnership if both partners look for the opportunity to make it so. Any new dad who finds himself in a situation like this needs to maintain the right perspective and seek actively for ways to embrace the new and deeper personal relationship.

Becoming a parent is a big deal. Men should not delude themselves into thinking that that new baby will not make a big difference in their young family. Babies demand a lot and can't do anything for themselves. Their needs become paramount and the needs of the parents have to be less important while the family adjusts to this new addition. Dads who have realistic expectations will find themselves better able to adapt to the new reality.

Spending time with other new families can help. Before the baby arrives, consider spending time with friends who already have met the challenge of a new baby. Get a sense of what is involved and what to expect. Sometimes we have a tendency to romanticize the idea of a new baby and that can be really difficult when the baby arrives and just has needs that require some sacrifice on our part. Getting a realistic view of the role of a new father and a new mother can help set realistic expectations for all concerned.

Sacrificing together can strengthen marital bonds. Sometimes the biggest stress that a marriage faces as a new baby arrives involves one partner making an inordinate share of the sacrifices. For example, if Mom stays home all day with the baby and when Dad gets home after work, he just settles into video games or TV or sports, Mom can feel cheated and unappreciated. So if Dad puts his interests on hold for a while to take the lion's share of child care after work, at night and on weekends, and both feel like they are carrying their fair share of the burden, odds are better that the marriage will be strengthened.

Extra appreciation for Mom is in order. Often the demands of taking care of a new baby can cause a new mom to feel tired and maybe even unattractive. One thing a new dad can do is to make the extra effort to express appreciation and show affection. A long backrub after the baby is asleep might be really welcome. Or letting her have a hot bath while you get the baby off to sleep can help her feel pampered. Love notes are always a good idea. Helping her feel appreciated in her new role can go a long way to preserving the sense that the marriage is OK.

Be sensitive to her physical needs. While exhaustion is a predictable result for a new mom, she will still feel a need for a physical connection to her husband. So make sure you are still flirting, touching and holding her when she wants it. Don't be too quick to rush into full-on sexual activity after the baby is born, and plan to expect some discomfort on her part when it does happen. But it will happen and many dads report that sex after the baby comes is even more fulfilling than it was before.

Take time to be together. It can be tough to take a baby with you on a date to the latest action thriller at the movies, so you may have to change up a little how you spend time together. But make time to take her away from home for some needed respite from the world of motherhood. Heading to the mall to walk in cold weather or taking the baby in a stroller on a walk on a nearby paved trail can be fun and therapeutic. Consider inviting some friends with a baby over for a movie night at home. Making time to continue to be together, even if the baby is in tow, at least for the early months, is an important addition to the effort to strengthen the relationship.

Remember that it is and will be different from here on out. Becoming a parent changes everything and it is a permanent change. If you expect that once the child is a little older, things will be back to where they were before, you will be sorely disappointed. Understand that it is a change that will forever alter how you talk together, interact together and make decisions together. It is not a bad change; it is just different. Be adaptable and responsive and take the lead from your wife as to how best to maintain a strong relationship as you adjust to your new reality.

Having a new baby is an amazing experience, and as you work together, communicate a lot and find ways to adapt, you can find a marriage relationship become deeper and even more fulfilling.

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