If there's one thing that seems to be a universally shared experience among expectant parents, it's that people — from strangers to well-meaning relatives — will tell you their horror stories under the guise of helpful advice. By the time you're ready to welcome your child into the world, you've heard about everything from episiotomies gone wrong to having bowel movements in the delivery room. You've likely also been told how life will never be the same post-baby. But what are the things couples therapists want you to know about your relationship postpartum? Input and suggestions from friends and family are all well and good, but learning about what the experts — the ones whose sole job it is to give counsel — have to say about your postpartum relationship can be quite insightful.
Pretty much everyone knows that once you have a baby certain aspects of your life are bound to change. You'll get used to functioning on a ridiculously low amount of sleep, you'll surprise yourself with how well you can multi-task, and you'll understand the paradoxical feeling of loving someone so intensely while simultaneously begging them to just go to sleep. Parenthood definitely has its ups and downs. But if you're wondering how things will be for you and your partner once the baby arrives, you're not alone. So check out these things couples therapists want you to know about your relationship, postpartum.
1. Pay Attention To Communication
No matter how great you think you are at speaking or listening, plenty can change with the way you and your partner communicate once baby arrives. Blame it on a fried brain from sleep deprivation, but language skills usually seem to take a hit. "Women tend to think if they say what needs to be taken care of, the other person will volunteer to do it," Dr. Carol Ummel Lindquist, an author and clinical psychologist, told Parents. "But men often respond better to direct requests." Personally, I don't think gender makes a difference, but the point that both sides need to make sure their needs are properly understood is imperative.
2. Explore Beliefs
Even if you read every parenting book and made charts and graphs with your partner pre-baby, you could still be left scratching your head when it comes to parenting styles, postpartum. According to the United Kingdom's National Health Service, "You may find you don't agree on basic matters like discipline and attitudes" post-baby. It's inevitable that, as a couple, you will eventually disagree over something. The key, it seems, is to work through these differences in beliefs without taking each other's opinions personally.
3. Sex Changes
Where many parenthood warnings fall under the umbrella of myth or hyperbole, this one is somewhat true. Licensed professional counselor, Erika Labuzan-Lopez, wrote on her personal website that a couple's sex life does take a hit once baby enters the picture. Labuzan-Lopez does note, however, that this isn't a death sentence for intimacy. You and your partner will have to find a new normal, though. Keep in mind that you can still achieve feeling close without intercourse simply by cuddling or holding hands.
4. Feelings Can Get Hurt
I can vouch for this from personal experience and it goes both ways, too. Solely because you have this new human that relies on you for literally everything to live, it's natural for you or your partner to feel neglected. The experts at What To Expect When You're Expecting noted, "juggling baby care and household chores may mean that your partner comes last on your to-do list." As unintentional and unavoidable as this may be, it helps to be aware of this shift in priorities. For my relationship, just acknowledging our feelings were hurt made a huge improvement in how we related to each other postpartum.
5. Realize Nothing Is Off-Limits
If you're anything like me, you might have thought that the only areas of your life a new baby would affect were things like sex, sleep, and free time. If there's one major realization therapist Joyce Marter wanted couples to know, it would be that, "a baby will change virtually every component of your life: physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, relational, social, financial, logistical and spiritual," as she told Psych Central. Understanding that you and your partner's life together will experience widespread change can at least give you the advantage of being prepared for the growing pains.
6. All Your Relationships Are Affected
Being in a relationship with your partner doesn't take place in a vacuum; you still have other relationships which, in part, can inform how you operate as a couple. According to the United Kingdom's National Childbirth Trust, "the birth of a baby may bring some relationships with friends and family closer than you expect, and others may become more distant or challenging." For instance, if your partner's best friend ghosts out on them once baby arrives, they may need to lean on you more as you fill the gap left by that person. Conversely, if your bond grows deeper with a relative, your partner might feel left out. In the end, it's always a good rule of thumb to keep things as balanced as possible.
7. Remember Your Roles
She My mother told me the key to transitioning from partners to parents is to remember you are partners first, and parents second. And it turns out, her advice is actually backed up by experts. As Dr. John Jacobs, a couples therapist, told Parenting, "we’ve become a society that is hyper-focused on the emotional well-being of our children; sometimes too focused." So what wisdom did he have to impart to couples about their relationship postpartum? "The paradox is that the number one thing you can do for your children is to have a good marriage," Jacobs explained. So take a page out of my mom's book and nurture your relationship so you don't forget that being lovers is how you became parents.