Having a baby is one of the biggest transitions that a relationship ever experiences. Couples will often identify the birth of a child as the time period when their relationship changed, and usually not for the better. Couples spend less time together, they are exhausted (and maybe a wee more irritable than usual), their focus is on the baby rather than each other, and it feels like everything has changed. Research has shown that overall relationship satisfaction significantly drops following the birth of a child. Most couples are not prepared for these significant changes (we really should start doing a better job at preparing couples!) and it can be very stressful when your relationship starts to feel different at such a critical time. Is it possible to “baby-proof” your relationship?
The short answer is a resounding NO. There is no way to avoid that your relationship will change after having a child. Your lives will have fundamentally changed; you are now responsible for the care and raising of another human being. Remember in your childfree days when a weekend stretched out in front of you, full of possibility, fun and free time? That doesn’t happen anymore. Your new bundle of joy does not care that it is Saturday; s/he will still be up at 5:00 a.m and need to be fed, changed, put down for a nap, repeat. Those long romantic dinners? Those are now replaced by scrambling last minute to figure out what to feed yourselves (the pizza delivery man is likely the only reason my husband and I didn’t starve to death during the newborn period). Things will change, they will be more difficult, and there is no way around it; a baby will change your relationship.
However, despite these changes, you can prepare yourselves and your relationship to better cope with these changes. Firstly, you need to dramatically adjust your expectations about how the new addition will affect your relationship. Of course, there is no way to fully understand the changes that are heading your way unless you’ve experienced it before, but having a general idea that things will change is a good idea. We tend to better cope with things when we have some expectations that things will happen. We don’t tend to do well with surprises. If you have a baby on the way, ask friends (the genuine, won’t sugar-coat things type of friends) how a baby affected their relationship. If you already have a child, adjust your expectations based on things that have already happened. If you and your partner tend to pass out in an exhausted heap everyday at 8:00 p.m., it is probably unrealistic to expect that a late night out is the answer to spending time together. Acceptance of our current set of circumstances can be hugely helpful in coping with transitions (it won’t be like this forever!).
In addition to setting realistic expectations, having a regular stream of communication between partners can greatly help in protecting your relationship. Talking about your own experiences, sharing your feelings (even if they aren't pretty), and trying to understand your partner’s experience can help you cope with the changes and actually deepen the connection with your partner. Talking doesn't have to be focused on resolving an issue, it can just be a way to connect and feel like you’re both on the same team (a very tired, overwhelmed and not at its best team, but a team nonetheless!). While there is no doubt that the addition of a child will change your relationship, it is possible that this change can be a positive one.