I think it’s sweet when I see posts on social media about how women love their husbands even more after watching them become dads. I have definitely shared this experience — my love for Dan has grown much deeper as we learn to parent together, as I watch him fall more and more in love with our little girl, as he changes countless dirty diapers without complaint.
But I have to be honest and say that our relationship has been stretched and tested by the fires of new parenthood. In the midst of sleep deprivation, intense responsibility, and raging hormones (mostly mine), we’ve had to make some of the most important decisions of our lives. The experience of being a new parent is a crucible of change, and as we continue walking through it, I’m so grateful for the ways we developed healthy habits before we had a baby.
There’s nothing that can truly prepare you to have a baby, but I do think there are many things you can do to strengthen your marriage before welcoming a child into the world.
1. Make dating each other a habit.
This probably isn’t new information for any of us — there’s so much good dialogue happening about the importance of dating your spouse! I’d add to this, explore what makes time together feel like a “date” for you. Maybe a date means being out of the house, even if it’s just going to the grocery store together. Maybe a date means quality time and undivided attention for a conversation, even if it’s on your own couch. It’s not always possible to get out for traditional dates when you have a young baby, so knowing how to make your time together feel like dating is so important.
2. Become fluent in each other’s love languages.
Babies bring on a bit of tunnel vision, and if you’re not used to speaking your spouse’s love language, it can be hard to learn to do it once the baby is taking up so much of your brain space. If you’re not sure what your love language is, you can take the quiz here.
3. Get comfortable asking for what you need.
I had to ask for so much help when Selah was small (heck, I still do), and I had to learn to get over my guilt at doing so pretty quickly. It’s not that Dan didn’t want to help, he just wasn’t sure how, so I had to make it clear what I needed. It would be easy to try to do it all yourself until you get overwhelmed and snap, pleading for help, but if you learn to ask for help graciously now, it will really go a long way as your family grows.
4. Learn to handle conflict well and extend forgiveness quickly.
Having a baby results in . . . well, let’s just say some differences of opinion. There is so much to think about, research, decide, and do, and you’re trying to make decisions for the health and well-being of your child while also being sleep deprived. It breeds some conflict, folks. Learning to share your opinions graciously, listen well, and find unity in conflict is critical to staying on the same parenting team, even if you have different parenting styles or models from your childhood. There are a million little ways you can hold a grudge against your husband in the early days of parenting (and a million little ways he could do the same to you!), but choosing to let go of the little things and forgive quickly will serve your marriage and your children well.
5. Determine your financial goals and establish healthy habits.
Babies don’t come cheap, friends. It’s wise to plan for big expenses like doctor appointments, hospital bills, and baby needs, but it’s also wise to think beyond these immediate expenses. Do you want to be able to buy a house before you have a baby? Do you need a more family-friendly vehicle? Does one of you want to stay home when the baby arrives, or will you both continue working? Considering the bigger financial questions and making decisions together will help you know when the time might be right for a child and how you’ll make things work once he or she arrives.
6. Adopt a pet.
I’m well aware that taking care of a pet is not at all as difficult as raising a little human, but I do think caring for an animal can teach us many transferrable lessons. When we adopted Riley, it forced Dan and me to learn how to divide up care, work through our conflict about the best ways to train and raise Riley, and together put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. It was also such a cool new bonding experience as we worked together to take care of someone we deeply love together, and it made us even more excited to welcome Selah. (One caveat, because I just have to say it: don’t adopt a pet unless you’re 100% committed to loving this animal for its whole life. Obviously things happen that can change your ability to care for an animal in the way it needs, but don’t adopt a pet just to test things out.)
7. Travel together.
We all know it’s more difficult to travel once you have a baby. It’s completely possible, albeit a little stressful. My reasoning for this one is less about the post-baby difficulties of travel and more about how traveling together shapes a marriage. You learn so much about navigating new circumstances together, communicating well, and handling conflict and stress as a team when you travel. You also create memories and a shared history you can draw on when times get tough and the days become more mundane.
Dan and I definitely did not master these habits before having our first baby, nor do we do these things perfectly now, but we have been very intentional about developing these habits. They have served us well as we’ve learned to be true partners and preserve unity in these early days of parenting, and they are helping us model for Selah the type of marriage we want her to believe in.