Let Parenthood Strengthen Your Marriage

How to keep your marriage strong through the baby years.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

Parenting challenges your marriage no matter how old your kids are. These expert strategies can bolster your marriage and help you put it first, whether your children are preschoolers or high school seniors.

Turn down the criticism; turn up the admiration. New parents often feel they’re doing endless amounts of work that their partner’s not giving them credit for — creating tension and resentment. Even if you feel you’re the one doing the most, stop often to praise your spouse. Appreciation breeds appreciation. You’ll also probably start noticing all the ways your spouse is helping out.

Kimberly and Gary Jordan realized that their styles didn’t always mesh when it came to parenting their sons, Isaiah and Zachary. “I came from a single-parent family and was raised by my mother,” Kimberly says. “My own brother is so much older than me that I never really saw how my mother handled parenting a boy. I’m very protective with the children, and I’ve had to learn to release some of that. And at times I thought Gary was being too strict, but the boys would really respond to his tone of voice when they didn’t always respond to mine. I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches with boys, whether it was their interests in snakes and rocks and dirt or potty training.” Adds Gary, “Kimberly’s helped me to understand how to talk with the boys, to bring out what’s going on inside, emotionally. We’re close.”

Go team, go! Many couples lose their essential sense of “we” when a child enters the picture — that sense of unity and oneness that is the hallmark of a happy couple. In its place, “me versus you” conflicts can take root. You each think you’re right, the other’s wrong, and, what’s even more toxic, you’re tempted to simply solve the dilemma du jour on your own. The baby won’t sleep through the night? Your three-year-old shows no interest in graduating from pull-ups to underwear? Your toddler would rather guzzle milk than eat broccoli and peaches? You can’t possibly get to work on time if you attend the morning tea for parents at the child-care center? You could try to solve these problems alone, but it’s worth finding the time and energy to involve your spouse. Researchers say that couples who approach child-care issues with a positive attitude (less “Oh, no!”; more “We can solve this!”) and as a team are more satisfied with their marriages than those who tackle problems as individuals.

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