Our friends were so excited to have a baby boy.  They brought him home from the hospital.  They fed their little bundle, bathed him, took him for walks in their stroller, changed his diapers, and loved him.  But less than a year after Junior was born, our friend’s marriage crumbled.  Tragically, they got divorced.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not unusual.  According to the Gottman Institute, 67% of couples experience a decline in relationship satisfaction in the first three years after a baby’s birth.  And 10% of all married couples divorce within the first two years of marriage.  

So here you are.  You’re expecting a baby (or you just had one) and you want to build your marriage.  What steps can you take?

1. Establish the right mindset. 

A baby is all-consuming.  The presence of a baby can magnify conflict and tensions.  One of the best ways to prepare for your baby is to intentionally become a team with your spouse. Create unity.  Instead of being self-focused, become a servant to your family.  Drs. John and Julie Gottman discovered that couples who already functioned as a team prior to the baby’s birth transitioned much better to parenthood than couples who saw themselves as more independent.  

2. Discuss hard topics. 

A baby will change your finances, your sleep patterns, your freedom, and your roles as a couple.  How are you going to navigate these transitions?  Agree ahead of time on a plan of action and a budget so there’s less conflict in the future. Talk about boundaries to set with your friends and family so you don’t criticize your spouse to others.  Determine what you’ll communicate to those individuals and how you’re going to say it.

3. Give each other space. 

A couple of years ago Heidi was in the grocery store before sunrise and she saw another mom there.  The mom’s cart was loaded with items.  As Heidi was checking-out, she overheard the mom say to the cashier that this was the only time she could get out of the house to shop without taking her small children!  One of the best gifts you can give a new parent is time alone – and it shouldn’t be spent in the grocery shopping for the family.  Make sure your spouse can take a bath, go out with friends, read, go to a class, or walk ALONE.  An emotionally healthy spouse is a gift not only to your marriage but also to your new baby.

4. Stay sexually intimate. 

Often after birth, a couple needs to take a break from making love while the wife’s body heals. This is normal. The wife’s body has been through incredible trauma and it will take time to heal. However, as she heals it’s important to be intimate with each other.  Touch each other. Kiss. Hold hands. Hug. Cuddle. Then whenever possible resume making love.  This will bond you together and create connection in your marriage. 

5. Seek wisdom from parents who are 5-10 years ahead of you in their parenting. 

Look for parents you respect in your church or neighborhood. Are these couples striving to put Jesus first in their family and marriage?  If so, ask them how they handled sleepless nights or crying babies. What about differing opinions on roles within the family? Do they know of a good daycare provider or babysitter?  Do they have any parenting suggestions or good books to recommend?  When our children were younger, Heidi belonged to a MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers) where she was encouraged and helped as a mom.  Check with your church to see if there are any programs or classes on parenting.  If so, go!

6. Pray. 

We firmly believe that the prayers of our friends and family greatly affected the lives of our children.  Often we didn’t have the answers or know what decision was best so we prayed.  The Bible says that if you need wisdom you should ask God for it and He will give it to you (James 1:5). Today with three married children, we attribute their success, wise choices, and spiritual maturity to the daily prayers we and others offered for them. Never underestimate the power of prayer.  It’s the most important thing you can do for your children as you grow your family and build your marriage.