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From Contented Baby to Contented Marriage by Sali Hughes

Becoming a parent is a truly life changing moment for both you and your partner, with plenty of potential problems along the way. But how can you face the challenges and ride the conflict to emerge a stronger couple than ever?

Your precious children may be all you ever wished for, but let’s face it, the sleepless nights, endless workload and lacklustre libido that can test the strongest of unions following the birth of a much-wanted baby. Parenting can and will pose a series of challenges to any couple, but by following the experts’ nine golden rules, you and your partner can ensure your baby is the greatest thing ever to happen to your relationship.

1. Don't take over

A mother’s daily life can be a never-ending military operation of feeding, changing, bathing, burping and cuddling. But with baby demanding so much of your time and emotional energy, your partner can quickly feel left out. “The bond between mother and baby is undeniable, and can understandably make a man feel excluded and even jealous,’ says psychologist Linda Harris. “It’s important for your marriage and for your family that you involve him in the child-rearing”. In other words, don’t take everything on yourself – even if your partner doesn't do things exactly how you’d do them. Your husband may not be able to choose a matching baby outfit, or know exactly which spoon junior prefers to use, but as long as baby’s safe, let him get on with it and grab the valuable me-time while you can.

2. Share the load

Letting your partner take the reins more often and sharing the workload will also free up some time for you as a couple. Let him do the Saturday supermarket shop while you bath and feed the baby – that’s a valuable hour you can spend together, enjoying a takeaway or watching a DVD. Even breast-feeding mums can share their duties. Let Dad give baby a bottle of expressed milk for the 10pm feed, while you get a soak or an early night. This could improve more than just your milk supply – it’s likely to make Dad feel involved and let baby enjoy some closeness with her father. But it’s also a good idea to give each other a little space too. Denise Knowles, Senior Relate Counsellor and mother of three warns, “Try not to thrust baby into dad’s arms as soon as he walks through the door from work, even if you’ve been counting the minutes until he gets home. Give him 15 minutes to wind down, change and get into ‘baby mode’. Then he can take over and you can get a little time for yourself to wind down and recharge your batteries. You’ll see a big difference in the mood for the rest of the evening”.

3. Stay intimate

While some couples are lucky enough to sail through the post-natal period with a wonderful sex life intact, even the happiest marriages can take a knock in the bedroom. Many new mums simply feel too tired to kiss and cuddle, let alone have someone touching her sore breasts and stretchmarks. “Following the birth of a child, it’s very normal for one of you to temporarily lose your sex drive – in fact, it would be unusual not to,” says leading sex psychologist Dr Petra Boynton, who cites sleepless nights, a fear of waking the baby, sore breasts and bed-sharing as some common passion-killers. Dr Boynton says that here, as with everywhere, communication is paramount, “Avoiding the subject of sex is the worst thing you can do, however tempting it may be. Instead, share your worries with your partner. This will help manage both your expectations and relieve any pressure to get back in the saddle before you’re both ready’. Dr Boyton recommends arming yourself with post-birth essentials such as lubricant and massage oil and taking things slowly. “Keep talking, flirting and cuddling as much as you want and give yourself a break - sex can take up to a year after the birth of a baby to get back on track. The most important thing is that you remain intimate and close until it does’.

4. Compromise

With both of you wanting to do the best for your child, different views on parenting are bound to crop up. You may not be able to agree on a feeding method, or have conflicting approaches to education or discipline. Before an issue escalates into WWIII, take a step back and ask yourself: how big an issue is it really? Pick your battles and try to be open-minded about other solutions. If a row does escalate, play fair. Stay focused on the issue in hand and save any other niggles for a different day. And never argue in front of your baby, as this is bound to confuse and frighten her. If you feel yourself on the brink of a temper, leave the room or walk around the block and get some air until you feel calm again.

5. Sort your finances

Cold, hard cash is a hot topic for new parents – as well as being the number one cause of arguments in marriages. With most families switching to single income living for at least a short time, finances can become tight. Men may feel pressurised at becoming the sole breadwinner, while women can feel disempowered not to be earning their own money. Proper communication is key. Denise Knowles warns, “Don’t put it off, thinking ‘we’ll manage’. Sit down and look at the figures. What are the spending priorities? Are you both able to make cutbacks? Who should pay for what? How could your finances be better organised – in a joint bank account? Or a monthly allowance?” These may not be as exciting as discussing your baby’s exciting new milestone, but the rewards will be great.

6. Make time as a couple

Baby’s arrival may have signalled the beginning of your family, but it shouldn’t mean the end of your life as a couple. Getting quality time alone with your partner can be tricky, especially in the early months when your baby is so dependent on you both. But it’s important you make time to be together as a twosome. Consider swapping babysitting duties with couples from your antenatal or baby groups, or draft in grandparents while you see a film or grab a bite to eat. Even if you’re home with baby, you can still snatch some alone-time, according to Denise Knowles, “If it’s a Saturday afternoon and baby’s napping, for heaven’s sake don’t get out the ironing board! Go back to bed for a cuddle, or get out in the garden and have a glass of wine and a chat. Your relationship is far more important than housework”.

7. Speak up

Despite what you might think, the deliriously happy couples around you aren’t any more perfect than you. There can be huge pressure on mothers to be seen to have everything under control – including a blissful marriage, making many women feel that they can’t speak up if things aren’t completely rosy. But just sharing your human, every day problems with other mums will dispel the myth and make you realise you’re not alone. Getting to know other mums in your position can really ease tensions in your relationship. Use the message boards on CLB – you may be surprised by the huge number of replies you get from women directly relating to your problems and relationship concerns.

8. Show your appreciation

Caring for a baby bears an enormous workload and there will be times when both of you may feel you’re efforts are going unnoticed. Denise Knowles, who regularly counsels parents, says “Time and time again I find that the problem is not so much that mums and dads feel they’re doing too much - whether at work or at home, but that they feel they’re not being recognised for it’. Denise feels that a little show of appreciation here can go a very long way. “Just reminding your partner that you know he or she is working very hard usually stops any negative feelings in their tracks”.

9. Give yourselves a break!

However tough those early days are, remind yourselves that the first three or four months are the hardest it’s ever going to be. As your baby gets bigger and your routine becomes second nature, life will get much easier. You and your partner will never feel this tired again! Until then, try to put your inevitable tensions aside and enjoy these precious weeks, with their host of magical milestones, together as a family.

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