Yes they are cute. And lovely. And you will love them so much that you fear you might burst with the intensity (or at the bare minimum leak a little oxytocin). But if you are a parenting and partnered sometimes it can feel like your newborn is trying to destroy your relationship. Your first baby is one of the biggest challenges your relationship will ever face, but sometimes the common recommended advice for baby proofing your relationship, like “have more sex” or “make a regular date night”, can feel like it was written by someone who has never been alone with a baby, let alone tried to go on a date when going to the bathroom alone feels like a miracle.
Ideally you would talk about how to protect your relationship before the baby comes, but in the off chance you spent your pregnancy staring lovingly into your partner’s eyes and knowing that you could never stay mad at them instead, it’s not too late! Over the next week I’ll be sharing my favorite no cost and minimal time-investment relationship survival strategies to help get you through tough days.
Watch for the Negativity Danger Zone #1
First I want to introduce two concepts, which I’ve adapted from John & Julie Gottman’s work. The first is what I call the Positive Interaction Safety Zone. You know you are here if you generally think fondly of your partner and have more overall positive interactions than negative ones. There is comfort, enjoyment and an overall lightness in your relationship in this zone. Every relationship has times when one of you gets moody/hangry/grumpy with each other, but if you are in the Positive Interaction Safety Zone you are unlikely to internalize the moments when your partner says something rude or insensitive. Instead, you tell yourself that they are feeling a little stressed or overwhelmed and trust that you’ll work it out later.
The second concept is what I call the Negativity Danger Zone. You will know you are here if your relationship has reached the point where you are having more negative interactions than positive ones. There is a discontentment, distrust and an overall heaviness to your relationship in this zone. When you think of your partner you have a general feeling of irritation and you interpret any moody/hangry/grumpy behavior as evidence of what a jerk they are. This can lead you to lash out in return, stop speaking to them, or trash talk them any chance you get.
Babies bring increased psychical/emotional/financial stress, reduced sleep and can leave you with a generalized feeling of chaos. This means it can be really easy to slip from the safety zone to the danger zone. If you find yourself slipping – or already find yourself there –there are several things you can do to try and shift towards the positive.
- Focus on the things you like about your partner. Make a mental or written list of all the things that are awesome about them.
- Reflect on some of your favorite memories together. Go through old photos or social media posts to remember all the best times in your relationship.
- Retell the story of how you fell in love to each other. Reminisce about your first date and all the feelings of crazy stupid love you felt in those passionate early days.
- Look for the things that they are doing well. They may not be great at staying on top of the laundry, but you may really enjoy the time alone you get when they take the baby out for an evening walk.
Can’t remember anything you like about your partner? This happens sometimes, and you may feel too distracted with parenting to be able to do anything about that right now. Simply acknowledge that you are in the danger zone, and remember that you haven’t always been there and you won’t be stuck here forever.
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP