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We asked Allison Bates, a Vancouver-based registered clinical counsellor and the owner of West Coast Counselling Services, to share some helpful tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship as first-time parents.
1. Remember the things you did before the baby
Free time will be at a premium when you have a new baby, but you can still make time to connect with, take an interest in and appreciate each other.
Often when a baby enters the picture, couples forget to nurture their own relationship until it feels as though there is a great divide between them, explains Bates. Don't wait until it's too late.
"Treat your partner like your best friend. Keep talking to each other and making each other a priority -- talk about your lives, your interests, your dreams and your stresses. Communication is key," she says.
To make sure your relationship is given the attention it needs, Bates suggests planning a regular date night. And that time together doesn't have to mean an expensive night out. "The point is to spend quality time together when you have it. Date nights can come in the form of talking on the couch or snuggling and watching a movie together," she explains.
2. Work as a team
Teamwork is essential. "If you feel appreciated and supported by your partner you are more likely to appreciate and support him or her as well," says Bates. She explains that new moms often feel isolated and envious of their husbands, who get to go out, work, socialize and be with people. New fathers often feel envious of their wives for "getting to stay home all day with the baby."
Both situations have their own stresses and each individual needs to be acknowledged for the work they do. "Simply saying, 'It must have been rough today with the baby when she's been crying so much.' or 'It looks like you've been working really hard at work lately. Do you want to talk about it?' can mean the difference between staying connected and feeling resentful," Bates explains. "By being interested and supportive you can maintain that connection and friendship that brought you together in the first place."
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3. If sex isn't happening, be patient
Sleep may take precedent over sex and romance for new parents. "When you have a new baby, sex often gets put on the back burner; but it's important to realize that this is usually temporary," says Bates.
Having a baby is a huge change for a woman's body and can bring about body image issues, discomfort and exhaustion. "It's important to be patient and, in the meantime, focus on being intimate with your partner in other ways, such as holding each other," Bates advises. "Not having sex at this stage is not an indicator that your relationship is in trouble. It is a normal transition period."
4. Seek help and support
If a couple is experiencing a lot of difficulty in their relationship, Bates suggests seeking the help of a professional. She explains that there are many community groups that offer support and socialization for new moms and babies and that can definitely help with the transition. However, if postpartum depression (PPD) is an issue "consult your doctor and look at therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy can be very effective in treating PPD," she says.
During this time, keep the lines of communication open. "Keep talking to each other and seek couple counselling if necessary. It is easier to tackle the issues early on rather than when they have gone on so long you're contemplating divorce."
5. Be kind and patient with each other
There's no doubt that having a baby is very challenging. "Couples can get snappy with each other when they're sleep deprived. Try to be patient and know that your little one will soon be sleeping longer, and that you'll get into a new routine with each other and as a family," advises Bates.
Despite all the changes, it's important to have fun together and to also schedule some time alone. Trading off time with each other so you can each do personal things, such as getting your hair done or having coffee with a friend, is very beneficial.
When it comes to nurturing your relationship as new parents, the keys are working together and communicating. "Try to be kind to each other so you can weather the tough early days together and come out with your relationship still intact," says Bates.
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