And baby makes friction: when two become three, trouble can surface in a relationship. Here are some real-world solutions

And baby makes friction: when two become three, trouble can surface in a relationship. Here are some real-world solutions

Julie Weingarden Dubin

tHE USUAL ADVICE PEOPLE hear for keeping their marriage healthy hardly applies to couples who have a newborn in the house: You don’t need someone telling you to spend a “date night” with your husband when you barely have the energy to change your bra, let alone sit through dinner and a movie. But even if you’re low on sleep, sex, money and patience, you and your partner have to keep going. Here are five situations that commonly test new parents–and expert advice on minimizing conflict.

You’re always bickering about who’ll do the chores.

WHAT’S BEHIND IT You feel as if your workload has ballooned while his has stayed the same.

MARRIAGE SAVER Each person should assume certain jobs so there is never an argument, says Terri L. Orbuch, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Divide tasks according to what each of you likes to do best. Maybe you enjoy cooking and your husband finds wielding the vacuum cleaner relaxing. Or take turns so neither of you feels stuck always doing the same thing. “We alternate jobs nightly, so if one of us is caring for the baby, the other does the cooking and cleaning up,” says Beth Meeks, a mother of one in Charleston, S.C. Another way to keep housework–as well as arguments–from assuming monstrous proportions is to do chores in spurts. Put your baby in an infant carrier and spend five to 15 minutes vacuuming a room, doing a load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Do this a few times a day, and you’ll be amazed at what gets done.

You’re constantly criticizing the way he takes care of the baby.

WHAT’S BEHIND IT Nervousness about being responsible for a newborn; the need to control what’s largely uncontrollable (an infant).

MARRIAGE SAVER If you snap at him every time you think he’s not holding the bottle at the precise correct angle or not swaddling the baby exactly right, take a deep breath and realize that there is no one right way to do things. As long as your baby is safe, don’t create conflict by criticizing your partner’s approach. Be glad he’s a hands-on dad, even if you think he’s handling the baby like a football: Babies benefit from dad-style care.

You’re becoming two ships passing in the night.

WHAT’S BEHIND IT Each of you craves some time to yourself, so on weekends one of you cares for the baby in the morning and the other takes the afternoon shift. Result: You rarely see each other.

MARRIAGE SAVER Change your expectations, and instead of dates, think errands, Orbuch suggests. Get haircuts or go grocery shopping together. No need for a sitter.

Neither of you wants the night shift.

WHAT’S BEHIND IT Your husband says he needs his sleep so he can be well rested for work. You argue that you can’t take care of the baby all day if you’ve been up half the night.

MARRIAGE SAVER Ask your husband to get up with the baby when he’s not facing a stressful day at work. Or sleep in shifts. “I’d sleep from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., and my husband from midnight to 7 a.m.,” says Michelle Cantor, a mother of two in Huntington Woods, Mich. “That way we each got seven hours.” And while it might seem extreme, the couple also slept in separate beds until their kids were sleeping through the night. “Why should both parents get up?” Cantor says. Because she was nursing, she would pump before going to bed so that her husband could give the baby a bottle of breast milk during his shift. If you’re nursing, consider sleeping with the baby–you won’t have to get out of bed.

He wants sex, you want sleep.

WHAT’S BEHIND IT You’re so tired and distracted that rest becomes more appealing than romance.

MARRIAGE SAVER Scheduling sex might not sound romantic, but it works to keep a connection and spark alive. “We’ve set ourselves an informal schedule whereby we try to make love or at least have some sort of intimate contact once a weekend,” says Christine Burgi, a mother of two in Aberdeen, N.J. “I know that once I’m no longer bone-weary, our love life will return to normal.”

Beth Meeks says her husband is learning that the more work he does around the house, the better their relationship is. “If I do all the chores in the evening, I’m too tired to fool around,” she says. “But if he helps me, we go to bed together and usually have great sex.”

What readers say

On our Web site,, we asked readers whether they thought that having a baby strengthens a marriage. Here are their answers:

YES 69%

NO 31%

RELATED ARTICLE: Show me some money, honey

If you’re not returning to work after having a baby, you’re losing an income while gaining additional expenses. Fighting about money is the frequent result. The solution is to agree on a monthly budget; if you both honor it, you won’t have to argue about spending, says financial planner Carrie Coghill, co-author of The Newlyweds’ Guide to Investing & Personal Finance (Career Press, 2002). Coghill also recommends using a debit card for all your purchases; that way, if you can’t afford something, you can’t buy it.

Julie Weingarden Dubin has two children and is the author of How to Plan an Elegant Second Wedding (Prima Lifestyles, 2002).

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