How to damage control your relationship before you have kids

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Call it creating a more solid foundation… or call it damage control.

Whether you’re expecting your first baby or planning to get pregnant soon, preparing your relationship for the inevitable twists, turns, and stresses it’ll face is one of the smartest ways to be proactive for this new (and often stressful) time of life. Some call it creating a more solid foundation. We’ll even call it damage control. 

Sure, that might sound dramatic—or even negative to some—but in the perinatal therapy world, we know that more than two thirds of relationships take a serious hit in satisfaction after a baby is born. 

When we talk about relationship stress after a baby, it’s because we know it’s incredibly common. It’s also because we know how much of an emotional toll it can take on couples because we deal with this issue all the time. For that reason, communicating, adjusting expectations, and putting stronger systems in place is a rather smart thing to do when you know a new family member is on the way. 

If this is the life stage that you’re in right now, it’s crucial to ensure that your relationship is equipped to navigate the changes that come with parenthood. This below guide offers practical strategies for a positive transition into parenthood with your partner, especially during the first few years of your child’s life which most couples find to be the most trying. 

The most prepared parents do not go in blind. Instead, they recognize that monumental milestones bring about shifts in priorities, responsibilities, and dynamics. While the anticipation of holding your newborn is incredibly exciting, it’s essential to recognize that the journey into parenthood also comes with its share of challenges. So let’s dig into what this can look like for you. 

Adjusting Expectations: Bridging Fantasy and Reality

One of the first steps in all of this is to check your expectations. Expectations play a significant role in how couples experience parenthood. A lot of people who suffer from anxiety, depression, or mental health issues also tend to have high expectations for how every part of their life is going to unfold. These super high expectations can set you up to feel disappointed.  

We’re not saying to drop your standards or go in with low expectations, but it’s always worth keeping yourself in check to make sure that you’re being realistic. It’s common to have idealized visions of family life. It’s also common to assume that nothing will change between you or your partner. The problem is that these expectations can sometimes lead to disappointment when they don’t align with reality. 

Speaking just in terms of relationship stress after a baby, it’s pretty normal for couples to have arguments, have less time for or interest in sex and intimacy, and for conversations to be logistical rather than romantic/connected. Having open conversations about your expectations and being willing to adjust them as needed can help set a more realistic foundation.

Don’t Catastrophize Common Challenges 

As mentioned earlier in this article, it’s so common for relationships to go through a period of dissatisfaction after having a new baby. Perinatal therapists and couples counsellors are extremely familiar with this issue. 

In fact, The Gottman Institute has found that 67% of couples report a drop in happiness in the first three years of their child’s life. That can feel like a pretty harsh reality but you can take comfort knowing that it’s normal and you’re part of a large group. 

For both of those reasons, we’re here to reassure you that even though this issue may not feel comfortable or like what you want to be experiencing, plenty have been here before and with the right support in place, come out the other end. 

In other words; you’re not doomed, headed for divorce, or in the middle of a big catastrophe. Take action, yes, but don’t work yourself up too much. 

Discuss Shared Responsibilities Early On

Proactive communication is key to navigating relationship stress after having a baby. Start having conversations about childcare responsibilities, support systems, and parenting styles well before your child arrives. 

Who will be the primary caregiver? What kinds of roles is each partner good at and interested in? Will one parent work more than the other? How will household chores be split? How will you make tough decisions together? Will there be hired or family help available and how often? 

Clarify who will take on specific tasks and how you can support each other effectively to reduce stress, maintain your mental health, and build a stronger partnership. 

Be as specific as possible to make sure you’re both on the same page and that you have a plan, not merely ideas. We love the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky to help with this conversation. 

Discuss Parenting Styles and Family Background

Part of what causes stress in a relationship after having a baby is not having discussed family backgrounds, styles of parenting, intergenerational trauma, or cycles you’re both trying to break. It’s something that can feel so obvious in hindsight but it’s also one of those things that sooo many new parents unconsciously make assumptions about. 

Remember, you’re not actually on the same page unless you’ve sat down and had these kinds of important discussions. When you don’t, that can lead to tension, stress, confusion, and fighting. 

Reflecting on your own upbringing and parenting styles you’ve been exposed to. Discuss your values, beliefs, and expectations regarding discipline, communication, and family dynamics. Finding common ground and respecting each other’s perspectives can strengthen your relationship.

Maintain Intimacy and Connection

The changes that come with parenthood can (and often do!) impact intimacy and connection in a relationship. (Hence why it’s pretty common for parents to come to couples counselling.) It’s important to prioritize maintaining a strong emotional and physical connection with your partner even when it’s just in small ways. 

Sure, maybe in the past you had time for regular date nights, social outings with friends, frequent trips, or Sunday mornings cuddling in bed. Even though many of those things might just not be realistic anymore, find out what is. 

A conversation over dinner with the family, saying yes to help that has been offered so that you can connect without the baby for an hour or two, or having coffee together in the kitchen once a week might not seem like much but it adds up. Sometimes, you have to be in maintenance mode and protect your relationship as its own entity that exists outside of the family. 

Rituals and Routines for Connection

Establishing rituals and routines that prioritize connection can help keep your relationship strong as you navigate parenthood. Plus, it adds stability and structure to a time that may feel otherwise chaotic. This is about knowing what to expect and creating dependability. 

That can look like a morning cup of coffee together, a check-in before bed, packing lunch for your partner, or a Saturday morning walk with the family. 

When dealing with relationship stress after having a baby, it can feel like you need a huge overhaul. That’s not necessarily the case. 

Communication Guidelines and Conflict Resolution

Developing communication guidelines and conflict resolution strategies is essential for minimizing relationship stress after having a baby. We’ve all heard about learning how to “fight fair.” This is what we’re getting at here.  

Establish “rules” for disagreements, such as active listening, not interrupting, not being defensive, and taking breaks when emotions escalate. Prioritize understanding, kindness, respect and empathy to resolve conflicts constructively.

Ongoing Check-Ins and Self-Care

Self-care isn’t only for mothers and it isn’t only for moments when mental health is suffering. Let us scream this loud from the rooftops: self-care is for both parents because there are so many factors that come together in the perfect storm during early parenthood to cause problems with mood. 

Think of self-care as proactive, preventive, and like an investment in not just your wellness, but your family’s. Because that’s what it is. 

Make a commitment to regular check-ins with your partner to discuss your relationship, parenting experiences, and individual needs. Create space for open dialogue, honest talks about mood struggles, and adjustments as needed. Additionally, prioritize self-care to recharge and maintain your well-being, allowing you to show up as your best selves. 

Self-care looks different for each person. For you, it might be cleaning, reading alone in a quiet space, stealing away a moment for a hot cup of tea… it’s whatever you want.  

Embracing Parenthood Together

Preparing for parenthood is a journey of growth, challenges, and transitions. Many notice a sizable shift in relationship satisfaction and feel surprised by new tensions or disconnection that arises between them and their partner. 

By proactively addressing relationship dynamics, communication patterns, and shared responsibilities, you can navigate this transition with resilience and mutual support. Embrace the adventure ahead, knowing that your partnership is strong enough to face challenges together as a team.If navigating parenthood and relationship stress feel like challenges you’re facing, or you aim to enhance your readiness for unexpected hurdles, The Perinatal Collective offers a dedicated team of therapists (including couples counsellors) ready to assist couples throughout Canada. Our support encompasses challenges such as relationship problems, communication, anxiety, identity shifts, and evolving roles. Every concern matters to us. Connect with us today to start your journey.

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About The perinatal collective

Welcome! So glad you're here. 

We're a team of mental health therapists across Canada with advanced education and experience in perinatal mental health, meaning you don't have to cross your fingers and hope that we understand how hard this stage can be.

We understand the nuances of the early stages of parenthood: how typical counselling strategies may not be relevant to parents with young kids, and how mental health challenges look different during this time.  

From deciding to have children, to navigating your journey through fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, relationship changes, parenting, career demands and beyond, parenthood can be full with challenges.

Our goal is to help you manage the peaks and valleys of the entire journey, while staying connected to yourself, and feeling whole, along the way.