Forewarned is forearmed, I say. Here’s what you should know and do starting now, while you’re still pregnant, to head off the top five conflicts that can derail even the strongest relationship.
Your partner wants your breasts; your baby needs them. “For most women, having a groper and a feeder is too much,” says Cathy O’Neill, an Austin, Texas, mother of three and a co-author of the 2008 book Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows.
Plus, with your belly still jiggly and perhaps lingering soreness from the delivery, you may not feel like a sex pot, a fact many guys misinterpret. “Men say, ‘I feel like my wife doesn’t care about me anymore, like I’d need to set the bed on fire to get her attention,’ ” O’Neill says.
Don’t Wait for Sex to Happen
Plan sex rather than expecting it to happen spontaneously. “Mark in red pen the date three months after the baby is born—that’s when the two of you are going to a hotel,” advises O’Neill. “Set his expectations accurately. The six-week thing is rubbish.” If you’re not in the mood that day, make an effort anyway.
Take it Slow
Practice Random Acts of Sexiness
Make a habit of leaving sweet, naughty notes on the mirror, squeezing each other’s tush as you pass each other and French kissing instead of grunting goodbye. “When all of your energy is focused on your newborn, you’ll need to be deliberate about flirty behavior,” Paz says.
Do it Yourself—Guilt-Free
That goes for now and after the baby comes. “Masturbation keeps women in a sexual state of mind,” Paz says. “Plus, sexual release is energizing—it can help relieve headaches, pain and fatigue.” Encourage your husband to fly solo, too. That can take some of the pressure off you.
CONFLICT: DIVISION OF LABOR
You feel like you’re doing everything; your partner feels like no matter what he does, it’s never enough.
“You think, ‘Nobody can do it like me,’ so, unintentionally, you sideline the dad,” says O’Neill. “Most dads are happy to take on the co-pilot role, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble.”
The upshot: Dad doesn’t learn how to bathe the baby or perfect a swaddle, which makes him feel incompetent and makes you resent that he’s not pulling his weight.
Make Two Lists of Chores
Plan a Job Switch
Most men have no clue what it’s like to spend an entire day with a newborn; so early on, put him in charge for a full day. (If you’ll be nursing exclusively, pop in to feed the baby, then leave the house.) Just make sure you don’t criticize his choice of baby clothes or his diaper-changing technique; he’ll (rightfully) feel you’re too controlling and lose incentive to help.
Ramp up the Sweetness
“Develop a habit of dropping thank-yous and praise,” says Deborah Roth Ledley, Ph.D., author of the 2008 book Becoming a Calm Mom: How to Manage Stress and Enjoy the First Year of Motherhood and a psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Appreciation feeds motivation. If you say, “You did a great job feeding the baby breakfast” or “You handled that diaper blowout really well,” he’ll want to help more.
Your parents want to give you a gift? Suggest a cleaning service for two weeks. Before the baby arrives, schedule family and friends to babysit so that you both get a break and have less to fight over.
Once a month, over a glass of wine when the baby is asleep, ask each other: “How are we doing? What’s working; what’s not?”
CONFLICT: PARENTING STYLE
You want to pick up the baby when she cries; your husband says, “Let her cry it out.” You want the baby to sleep in your room or your bed; your partner wants her in the nursery. “Expectant parents get caught up in what color to paint the baby’s room, but these are the topics you really need to be talking about,” Ledley notes.
Discuss Your Options Together
“Women tend to shut the dad out of these decisions,” says Tessina. Talk to friends whose parenting style you admire and ask what methods they used. Read a variety of books and decide which ones speak to you. Settle on a first-choice approach and a Plan B. Establish a date about one month after delivery to see if you’re still on the same page.
Take a Philosophy Class
Those two-hour classes given at the hospital that teach you how to diaper, feed and burp a baby are useful, but what you may really need is a parenting philosophy course. A few good examples: parentingtots.org; chidseyseminars.com
Create a Cheat Sheet
Write down a summary of the parenting methods you’ve agreed upon. This way, your partner won’t have to read the books if he doesn’t want to. Keep the sheet handy and take turns reading it out loud.
The portion of your paychecks that used to fund concerts and funky new earrings will now be going to diapers, day care and the college fund.
When money is tight, the smallest purchasing decision can become a battle, especially if only one of you is working.
“When you go from being equals to one of you staying home, there’s an unspoken dynamic that money is power,” O’Neill says. “It’s very subtle and hits couples hard. It takes work to find a new rhythm in your marriage.”
CONFLICT: LACK OF “ME” TIME
Caring for an infant is such an all-consuming task that in your “free time,” you’re lucky to make it to the supermarket. Doing something purely for yourself can feel like an outrageous indulgence. But when you deny yourself or your partner R & R, you’re likely to start resenting each other.