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You're ready for that baby. You are LOVING the planning and talking and heartbeat listening and maternity clothes shopping (maybe being swollen and nauseous isn't your thing, but at least the clothes are cute.) You feel closer to that spouse of yours than ever, and he's taking such great care of you there's just NO WAY that a baby could mess up the awesome romance here.
Enter the child.
And exhaustion. And frustration. And the cliff that no one told you was coming. And three months later you look at each other and realize you haven't really seen each other since that day in the birth room.
You're not alone, good reader. It makes sense: when you have something so cute and amazing to look at (and also that person wants every single second of your attention), who has time? No one. There is actually no time to foster a good marraige.
Which is why connecting- not just handing him the baby or asking him to grab you a frozen pad- but actually connecting and debriefing the whole life-changing thing, is the most important thing you can do.
Forgetting to connect can be really costly to your marraige.
If this parenting teamwork thing isn't nearly the well-oiled machine you envisioned, taking a couple of hours to carry out this plan can seriously open stopped up lines of communication, avert frustration and difficulty, and solidify your team of two in your parenting roles.
Make sure you're both mentally prepared to tackle the state of your marriage (when in the exhausted wilderness of new parenting, mental preparation is everything. You can't surprise an exhausted, cranky spouse with deep conversations.
A few days before:
Write down an initial set of questions you'd like to ask your partner. Here's a handy list to get you started:
- How is fatherhood different than what you expected?
- What do you need right now?
- What is your most successful dad moment so far?
- How do you feel most loved in this season?
- What do you need more of on a daily basis?
- What is your most prominent memory from the birth?
- What has been the most difficult thing about being a father?
- How are you proud of me?
- What do you love most about me as a mother?
- What do you love most about me as a wife right now?
- What would be the most de-stressing thing I could do for you?
Ask anything you want, following these rules:
- No passive aggressive hidden requests, no jabs. Just questions that you'd like to be asked, and questions that you'd like to ask him.
- Keep it positive. It's ok to ask for affirmation- both of you will be asking and answering these questions.
- Get rid of hoped for answers. If you find yourself hoping for a particular answer, remove the question OR rephrase it to get the answer you want. (i.e. If you ask "What is your most vivid memory from the birth" hoping he'll say "How amazing you were", then go ahead and ALSO ask "what made you most proud of me in the birth?")
- Don't ask judgement questions. Asking "How do you think I could improve my parenting (or wife-ing) game?" just so he'll ask you the same question and you can break out the bulleted list is inviting a fight. Style questions as gently as possible, and steer clear of explosives.
Once your list is done, send it to your spouse. Have him read it, cross off and rephrase anything he feels might be instigating/fight material, and add his own questions. Read over it for a final review, because if anything on there offends you, it'll be a bad night.
Through this whole process: DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE QUESTIONS. Seriously, don't. Save the talking for the night of. Take the high road and choose to ignore every question that didn't make the cut.
The Big Night:
- A solid 2-3 hours of focused time together.
- 2 Jars
- A Buzzer (optional)
- Slips of paper (large enough to write answers on
- Have wine. (Keep things chill)
- Good food does no harm.
- Same for candlelight, calming music, dim lights and cozy blankets. Make it romantic, welcoming, peaceful.
Take turns reading questions to one another, talking it through, and writing down your answers.
Cry if you need to. Encourage honesty by being a safe, non-defensive place for one another.
There may be grief. Freely grieve what you lost as a couple when you became a family. Grieve what you lost as an individual when you became a parent. This is normal and healthy. Giving space to the grief allows for health moving forward, so don’t stifle it.
DON’T MAKE PROMISES. Don’t even make “I’ll do better” statements. The point is to listen, empathize, and take notes. Once you know what your spouse needs, you can choose- as you are able- to fulfill those needs. And same from him to you.
If anything becomes tense, immediately buzz out and take a quick bathroom break, drink break, or do an ice breaker (i.e. dance to a favorite love song, sing to one another, work on creating your own secret handshake, tell a joke). The point is to buzz out, take a minute, and come back kinder and other-focused.
WRITE DOWN YOUR ANSWERS on small slips of paper, and then share them. Put each of your husbands answer into your jar, and your answers go into his jar.
The purpose of this is twofold:
- Keep each others answers for when you need a reminder of how much your spouse loves and respects you.
- When our needs are being met, it's much easier to take care of the needs of the person meeting them. So when you’re getting frustrated with that fabulous man of yours for not responding the way you need him to, reread what he needs and pour it on (as much as possible.)
- IF you find that after this night, life continues as though your feelings were never shared, here’s an idea: rather than starting a fight, just ask him to reread the notes in his jar. And leave it at that.
OPTIONAL: You can decide together to add things to the jar for the next few weeks/months, both loving things and needs of yours, as they arise. Keep your jars in a prominent place, and have specific times when you review them.
TAKE ACTION. Commit to one another to pay attention to the needs shared, and to do your best.
Which is all you can do. The amount of emotional and mental energy you have for this most important relationship is minimal right now, in the romance-parched wasteland of newborn & toddlerhood. Whatever you do have to give, give intentionally and selectively to meet the expressed needs of your spouse.
You’ll make it through this, dear reader. You can do this parenting thing together and come out stronger and more in love on the other side. Fight for it by pouring love on, and you’ll get what you’re fighting for.