Well hello and happy February! I hope this post finds you all well. John and I have successfully survived the dreaded relationship challenge of simultaneous stomach flu with a baby and let me tell you…it might have been the hardest one yet for us. You know, it’s interesting because children throw new challenges your way constantly and I can see now why 50% of relationships end in divorce. This stuff is NOT EASY. Which is why I thought today’s post might be helpful.
Now, John and I still have a lifetime to go, but so far we have almost made it 7 months with a baby and honestly, I feel like we are stronger than ever (13 years together, 5 years of marriage). Our relationship is the one thing I don’t have to stress about, and I attribute a large majority of it to the tips I am going to give you today.
While I am going to write this post from the perspective of expecting parents, I do think these tips can be universally applied to every relationship, whether you already have kids, or maybe you are just starting your relationship.
First and foremost is knowing each other’s love languages. If you haven’t heard of this or haven’t taken the quiz on this yet, click here and take it now. You can even expand this further by also reading the book, which will deep dive into the 5 types and how you can better understand your partner in an entire new way. The reason this is key is because it helps you to understand how you RECEIVE love and how you GIVE love which are actually two very different things. Just because you need to get love in one way, does not mean you will also simultaneously give love in the same manner. This tool is helpful in all relationships, but for expecting couples this will help in those break down moments. Giving love to your partner in the way that they need, otherwise SHOWING up for your partner in the way that they need, may just be the pivotal factor in avoiding a breaking point. It is what will help your love maintain when you are at your lowest points.
There will be times when you are both struggling through this new transition (sometimes independently and other times simultaneously), so understanding how to support your partner best, will really help carry you through those hard times. They will feel loved and that is everything when you are struggling.
Second, is remembering that your partner is never intentionally trying to be malicious. This is important. Your partner is never intentionally trying to hurt you. We make mistakes because of miscommunications, misunderstandings, our past experiences, and lastly the fact that we are human beings. Mistakes will be made. Feelings will get hurt, but the important thing to remember is that your partner is never doing it to outright hurt you. As a result, when you hurt each other, it is extremely important you a) voice your hurt and b) listen to their side of the story so that you can UNDERSTAND why they did what they did.
John and I’s biggest struggle in the early months was related to our lack of miscommunication and or understanding. As a result (and after three or four times of this), we realized that we had to increase our communication significantly more despite already feeling like we had done this. We had moments where I had to explain why I needed more information and vice versa. It was sometimes frustrating in the beginning, but we always reminded ourselves that they were just simple mistakes and not meant to be intentionally mean.
Over-communication brings me to number three which is simply to over-communicate. This may sound simple, but I can tell you that when you are sleep deprived and/or both adjusting to new normals, this doesn’t seem as obvious. You must be very intentional with your over-communicating because assumptions and unmet expectations are some of the biggest frustrations within a relationship and most of the time they can be solved by simply communicating. I think a key with this is finding ways and opportunities to communicate, as well, which leads me to number four.
In order to help our communication, John and I would carve out a time and day of the week where we could sit down and talk everything out. We would talk about our upcoming schedules, plan meals for the week, plan pick ups and drop offs, talk about events that are happening or appts, etc. This was super helpful because a lot of our miscommunication was about scheduling. Within this time we also did something that I highly recommend which was asking each other three simple questions: 1. What worked well for us the past week 2. What didn’t work for us the past week 3. What is working well/not working well for Arabella. These three simple questions allowed us to have open discussion about what we needed more of, how the other could support better, but also what we were doing well. We celebrated little wins, made adjustments, while also giving each other a safe space to talk. Sometimes these talks only lasted 10 minutes, other times we talked for a couple of hours because there were things we needed to work on. It all depended on the week. Regardless, if you take anything from this blog post, this is it.
Number five is something we did prior to Arabella being delivered. I saw this post on instagram that included a series of questions to talk to your partner about prior to having a baby. It started off by saying how we typically always talk about things like what stroller should we get or our birth plan, but there is a lot more to the postpartum process that are extremely important. Answering these questions helped us to get on the same page and know exactly where each other was coming from before the events ever started. Essentially, it helped to take away any unexpected opinions, and ultimately a lot of possible stress that may ensue if we hadn’t talked these things out prior. We addressed ours while we were on our baby moon which I think is a great time because it helps you to connect and you have a good amount of alone time to have some of the harder conversations. I will include photos of the instagram post here.
Number six is specific to child raising and is a hard one for control freaks like me, but that is to allow your partner to parent the way they need to parent, but maybe even more importantly allow your partner to do things their way. Your significant other doesn’t have to do everything exactly they way you do it. Let me say that again for the people in the back: YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER DOESN’T HAVEN TO DO EVERYTHING THE WAY YOU DO IT…even though we might want them to. Now, this is a veryyyyy hard skill for me to remember. I have control issues and maybe a little OCD so I like things to be done a certain way, but when I constantly criticize John about how he is doing something it hurts his feelings and/or makes him not want to do it because he knows I like it to be done a certain way. This is not good. We want to empower each other and encourage each other versus making someone feel like they shouldn’t be doing something. Otherwise, what ultimately happens is that then that person doesn’t want to do it and then we have to do that thing all on our own now. In addition, what’s wrong with doing something differently? They are helping and trying to do said task, so why do we feel it needs to be done a certain way? I still haven’t quite figured this one out for myself, but what I am aware of, is that I don’t want to discourage my husband from doing things. I want to empower him so that we have a more mutual relationship and the same goes for him towards me. Teach other when there is lack of knowledge, but allow each other space to do things in their own method. Now, if you disagree with something that’s different, and you may need to have a different discussion, but if it’s simple that he folds the linens a different way than you, let that one go honey. He’s folding the linens!
Number seven is to seek counseling when necessary. We all come to a relationship with baggage. We have experiences, traumas, personalities that bring new factors to the table and it is important to recognize when we need to do some inner work. Personally, I think that if you feel you need couples counseling, individual therapy is also important. The reason I say this is because I feel like you can’t work on a relationship where you are giving of yourself, if you don’t work on yourself first, but this is just my personal and non-professional opinion. I have grown significantly in counseling and feel it has changed my life in so many ways. I sought it due to postpartum depression and anxiety, but quickly realized I had more to unpack, and I think we all do. It has increased my self-awareness significantly and as a result I don’t take everything so personally as I did before. The important thing with therapy, however, is that you have to be ready to do the work outside the one hour you are there and that is where many fall short.
Number eight is sorting out your new roles with baby and adjusting as necessary. When you live together for the first time you find you each take certain roles, when you get married (despite living together) you find you each have new roles, so of course when a baby enters the picture, you are going to have new roles. Talk about who does what and what each other needs to sort these out. For example, one thing that John and I did was he took Arabella in the early morning hours from 4am on and I had her the rest of the night. He would take her until at least 8-8:30am and this allowed me to get four hours or so of uninterrupted sleep. This was huge for me. I lost my early mornings (which I love and still don’t have back), but I get sleep, which is far more important. There are going to be areas that you both pick up the slack in and the key is conquering and dividing knowing each others top priorities (this is something discussed within those questions above). There will also be times when one of you needs to do more and vice versa. Be aware of this. Talk it out. If you can’t have open conversations about your needs, then you don’t have a relationship in the first place. I think it is also important to add, mommas, you don’t have to do everything even though you are the one at home and “not working.” Your job is taking care of that baby all day while your spouse is away, so everything else deserves to be divided and conquered. If they don’t cut you any slack, take a weekend day and go and get “your nails done” (honestly do whatever you want) for FOUR HOURS, then come home and see what they have to say. They don’t need 8 because 4 seems to be just enough to brink realization. You’ll see. But, regardless, be aware these roles will change, as they always do in a relationship.
And lastly, own your shit. It’s simple, but sometimes it can be SO HARD for us to do. It is so hard to admit fault, but I think so often we center this around ourselves – we were wrong, we missed the mark, we failed, etc. But an apology is not just about us. It’s also about the other person. The other person needs you to admit fault because it shows that you are acknowledging their hurt. Read that line again. By apologizing you are recognizing you hurt someone you loved. It doesn’t matter if you think you are right or what you really feel at all. Someone else was hurt by your actions, justified or not, and if you really love that person and care about them, you need to acknowledge that pain. Then, in getting back to yourself, admit your mistakes. Own your shit. Own when you messed up, own when you hurt someone else’s feelings, own it and do better. So much of a relationship is giving and taking. If you can’t give in this way, then refer to number seven.
I hope these tips help you guys. This was another really fun blog post and I felt like I could have so much more to each point! Being in a relationship isn’t easy and then adding another human being to that mix can make it even more complicated. Hopefully these tips are helpful to you and can get you through one of the hardest transitions you will make in a relationship and if you don’t have a baby, hopefully you can apply these tips now to strengthen what you currently have.