Having a baby is typically an eagerly anticipated and joyous event for both husbands and wives. Raising children, however, especially during the first year, can be an entirely different matter.
Beginning with E. E. LeMasters, researchers have consistently found that over 80 percent of parents experienced moderate to severe crisis in their relationship after the birth of their first child. Experts John and Julie Gottman also report 67 percent of new parents “become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby's life.”
This isn't good for either the marriage or the baby. Couples who become unhappy with each other during this time are twice as likely to eventually divorce as those who remain satisfied with their relationship.
Their babies fare even worse. The Gottmans report children raised by unhappy parents lagged behind other children both intellectually and emotionally and that “speech occurred later, potty training was delayed, and the ability to self-soothe was slow in coming.”
The Gottmans explain: “The greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of you.”
The starting point for keeping your marriage strong while raising children is realizing that you're in this together as a team.
With parenthood comes sleep deprivation, endless lists of chores and a sense of being overwhelmed. So try to split the workload in ways that maximizes each of your abilities. If possible, do some tasks together. (Washing dishes together may provide time to connect, especially if you share a long hug when you're done.)
Effective teamwork requires respect. Men and women don't hold, feed or play with babies the same. Encourage your spouse to nurture in his or her own way.
The Gottmans report that, although both parents typically work harder than before the birth, both often feel unappreciated. Saying, “Thank you,” and asking, “How was your day?,” can go a long way toward expressing appreciation.
Sexual intimacy often suffers during this period largely because of the physical exhaustion and hormonal changes women experience after childbirth. The Gottmans said a key to keeping sexual intimacy alive is building emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is nurtured by couples “making the effort to find each other through the maze of duties to perform.” By working as a team and feeling cherished and appreciated, affection comes naturally, reducing the chances that sexual intimacy will be seen as “the last chore of the day.”
Beyond supplying food, clothing and shelter, the Gottmans explain that keeping your marriage healthy and happy is of “momentous” importance for your newborn. During the first three years of life, neural processes are developed related to a child's “ability to self-sooth, focus attention, trust in the love and nurturance of his parents and emotionally attach to his mother and father.”
These same neural networks are needed to succeed in school and develop healthy peer relationships.
Nurturing your marriage is one of the best ways of loving your children. Psychologist and News-Sentinel parenting columnist John Rosemond sums it up nicely: “There is nothing that more effectively secures a child's sense of well-being than knowing his parents are taking care of their relationship.”
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.