How New Parents Can Improve Their Relationship
by David Gibson
What could be a happier moment for first-time parents than bringing their newborn baby home from the hospital? Quite possibly, the parents’ sense of being and having a family never has been higher.
Quite possibly, too, the new parents do not yet realize the challenge it may become for them to make the transition into parenthood together. The new mother and father will need to keep their own connection strong, though doing so will not happen automatically for many.
It is fairly well known that marital satisfaction declines, at least for awhile, among many new parents. The reasons for this decline were discussed in a June 4 posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog.
The blog is based on the lifetime work of John Gottman and his wife Julie Gottman, widely recognized for their contributions to the fields of marriage and parenting.
The blog entry drew upon John Gottman’s acclaimed 1999 book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” He is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington.
It is no secret that babies require attention. They may consume a parent’s time and energy at almost any hour of the day or night. “Such a vulnerable little creature is an enormous responsibility,” the Relationship Blog observes.
As a result, new parents may experience fatigue. At the same time, they may encounter stresses of an economic kind. (I still recall my sense of astonishment as a new father nearly 40 years ago over the actual cost of diapers and baby wipes!)
In the midst of it all, a couple may sense it is almost impossible for them to expend time and energy on their own relationship. Yet, the blog proposes, there are steps a wife and husband can take to expand their sense of “we-ness.”
Occupying Different Realms
A problem that can develop for a new mother and father is that they find themselves occupying two different realms, the blog suggests. It indicates that one realm is formed by the “incredible bond” that can develop between a mother and child.
Though the father loves his child too, he may sense an expanding gap between himself, on the one hand, and his wife and child.
To resolve this situation, the father needs to follow his wife into “the new realm she has entered,” the blog asserts. Because of her “endlessly protective love” for the baby, she likely has undergone “profound changes.”
If her husband “does not accompany her through this transformation,” he could begin to feel left out.
Something Gottman’s research revealed seems noteworthy here, notably that what accounts for the contentment of happier new mothers is not what people often think. It is not, for example, that these mothers have perfect babies who sleep and nurse with relative perfection.
Rather, the key factor appears to be that these mothers are accompanied by their husbands “on this deeply emotional and demanding journey.”
What the Couple Can Do
What, then, are new parents to do? What steps will serve them well in this “crucial time”?
First, they should focus on their “marital friendship,” the Relationship Blog advises. This is a time for the spouses to continue to expand their awareness and understanding of each other.
Doing that will help them “feel like a team.”
Second, it is important that the father not be excluded from baby care. Unfortunately, the blog says, some fathers step back from this role when a mother overcontrols baby care or is “overprotective.”
The solution is found in giving “Dad a little credit.” The Gottman blog says that unless the father’s approach “is really unsafe,” there is no reason to exclude him from helping out with baby care.
A father might be given “official roles” like “official burper, official lullaby singer.” Then, “as Mom begins to feel more comfortable,” the Dad can assume baby-care responsibilities and, in doing so, allow his wife a little free time.
In addition, the blog lends support to a father’s role as his “baby’s playmate.” Countless studies confirm that men and women connect with a baby in different ways, it notes.
Finally, couples need to locate some time for themselves as a couple. The blog urges them to find a trusted person to take care of their baby while they take short breaks. Thankfully, it also urges them not to worry if they end up talking about their baby during this time together.
Taking a little time for themselves should help to keep the new parents’ connection with each other strong, the Gottman blog concludes. It regards “a healthy partnership” as a great gift for parents to give their baby.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.