Transitioning from eager couple to tired parents can be tough on even the strongest partnerships, so don’t be surprised if your relationship takes a turn for the tumultuous when baby makes three. Not only are you trying to figure out how to care for a tiny little person, but you’re also probably overwhelmed and exhausted—which is not a great combination, particularly when you throw in those postpartum hormones. Since happy people make happy parents, we’ve compiled a few tried and true tips for keeping the love alive in troubled times.
Ideally, you should begin thinking about how having a baby will affect your relationship while your bun is still baking. Just as you set aside time to get the nursery ready and prepare for childbirth, find an opportunity to discuss with your hubby what life will be like in the weeks and months following delivery. Figure out how you’ll divvy up housework, handle midnight feedings and manage meal planning. Having an idea of who will be responsible for what will keep surprises from popping up and stress levels from rising, resulting in fewer squabbles.
Of course, keep in mind that life with baby might not be as ideal as you imagine; even if you swore prior to D-Day that you would die before letting your baby drink from a bottle, you might find that plans change once reality sets in and you’ve been up nursing a colicky infant for 14 nights straight. You’ll have to go with the flow and adjust your expectations accordingly, so perhaps the most important planning talk you and your partner have should involve the words “flexibility,” “encouragement” and “support.”
There’s a good chance that your partner will parent a little differently than you, and it’s almost a guarantee that he won’t be able to diaper, feed or swaddle quite like mom. But here’s a piece of advice: Give him a break. If he’s trying, he deserves a little credit, so don’t assume that every time he’s in charge and you hear the baby crying you need to intervene. You carried that little bundle in your tummy for 40 weeks, giving you ample time to bond, while dad is just now having the opportunity to really get to know your new love. Allow him time to figure it out.
Tempers tend to flare when shuteye is sparse, so it’s important that everyone in the household maintain realistic expectations. Before you snap, take a second to evaluate the situation: Are you really upset that he forgot to run the dishwasher? Or are you more frustrated that you can’t figure out how to get the baby to sleep for more than an hour at a time? Spewing misplaced anger on your partner is never a good idea, so take a deep breath and count to 10 before blow-ing up over something small. You might find that what you need is a shoulder to cry on rather than an ear to shout in.
According to mom of two and sexologist Logan Levkoff, MS, PhD, author of How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex With You, one of the biggest challenges new parents face is time management: “Making time for your partner seems almost impossible. In the beginning, with hormones on overdrive, it feels like a mom’s sole responsibility is to take care of her baby, not her relationship.”
Date night is always good for a couple, but until you’re ready to leave baby with a sitter (our advice: Do it sooner rather than later—she really will be fine!), you can steal moments at home to build your bond. Sit down and have a cup of coffee together. Hang out on the couch and watch a movie (even if you know you’ll be asleep before the opening scene ever rolls). Take the time to have a conversation that doesn’t involve your baby or your responsibilities. Even a simple kiss and I love you while passing in the hall can mean a lot to the object of your affection. Talk, smile, laugh and enjoy each other. It may be a crazy time, but it’s also filled with joy and wonder, so take a break to bask in it with the person who helped make it possible.
Feel the love
You knew we’d get there eventually, right? Sex. Even if you swore you’d never copulate again while in the midst of that last belly-wrenching contraction, physical intimacy is an important part of any healthy relationship. Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe to begin having intercourse again—normally six weeks after delivery, although many OBs give the green light sooner for moms who had problem-free vaginal births. However, Levkoff points out that intimacy isn’t all about intercourse. “Hug, kiss, show affection to each other—regardless of whether or not it leads to sex,” she says.
And once you’re ready to get back in the saddle, so to speak, Levkoff offers the following recommendation: “It’s important to understand why your sex life might suffer —exhaustion, fear of pain, actual pain— and preempt some of this by focusing on foreplay and using lots of lube.” Things might be a bit different between the sheets for a while, but keep communication open and work through any challenges as they arise. “There are lots of ways to have sexual pleasure without engaging in intercourse,” notes Levkoff, so be patient with each other until you’re ready to get back at it full force.
Above all else, be sure that you and your man are communicating both before and after baby arrives. If you’re worried or upset, talk about it. If he’s stressed and feeling overwhelmed, talk about it. If you’re scared to have sex again, talk about it. A constant flow of communication and honesty will keep you both in the know about what the other is thinking and feeling. And even when the days seem long and the nights seem longer, you’ll be able to comfort and support each other until you make it through to the light on the other side.