Strategies to Keep Your Relationship Loving & Intimate While Raising Young Children: A Book Review & Summary

marital intimacy with baby

Maintaining a close marital relationship during the early years of parenting is no easy task.  Who has the time or energy to nurture marital intimacy in the midst of changing diapers, juggling doctors’ appointments, and bouncing a crying baby in the wee hours of the night?  So often couples turn into business partners, talking solely of family schedules and huge to-do lists, rather than acting as best friends who have great fun together.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to keep your marriage strong during the early parenting years, there is one book you might want to have at your fingertips: And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives, by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D.  The Gottmans use their decades of couple’s research to develop practical, easy to implement strategies on how to nurture a happy marriage during the most stressful time in the relationship.  This post reviews the main points from this valuable resource.

The book outlines their Six-Step Plan to having a strong and loving relationship after baby arrives:

  1. Realize that we’re all in the same soup.
  2. Delight in responding to your baby.
  3. Cool down your conflicts.
  4. Savor each other by building a strong friendship and a zesty sex life.
  5. Add warm fathering to the mix.
  6. Create an enriching legacy.

They suggest that following this recipe will help couples preserve a happy relationship, prevent escalating hostility, prevent postpartum depression, and positively influence baby’s development.  They use specific examples of common couples’ interactions throughout the book to make it enjoyable to read and help explain the concepts they draw from research.

Realize that we’re all in the same soup.  The Gottmans emphasize that new parents face significant stress on a daily basis which leaves them emotional, exhausted, and irritable.  The reality of day-to-day parenting with the many feedings, sleepless nights, crying bouts, laundry, and illnesses doesn’t quite match up with the fantasy we may have created of what family life was supposed to be like.  This stress and exhaustion becomes ripe grounds for conflict as physical intimacy tends to wane. And the Gottmans suggest that being aware of these stressors will help you stop blaming your partner or seeing the struggle as a sign of a bad relationship.  You are in this stressful situation together and can help one another weather the storms with gentleness and connection.

Delight in responding to your baby.  The Gottmans review the history of pregnancy and childbirth to shed light on the often conflicting advice we receive as new parents.  They focus on what parents and babies really need: touch, warmth, responsiveness.  They provide clear strategies to help you identify if your baby is overstimulated and ways to manage this.  They list “do’s” and “don’ts” of playing with baby to help you feel more in tune and calm while engaged with your baby.  This helps you find more joy in parenting and strengthen the emotional bonds with your baby.

Cool down your conflicts.  Many couples identify wanting to stop arguing as the primary goal for couple’s work.   The Gottmans point out that the process of how couples fight is often the real issue, rather than what they’re fighting about.  Arguments heavy with criticism, defensiveness, contempt and blame leave everyone feeling hurt and distant.  Babies who witness these interactions sense the tension too.  A third of this book is devoted to describing the specific strategies needed to cool down the inevitable conflicts so both people can understand one another and feel connected.  These strategies range from softening how you approach a problem to physiological self-soothing techniques to processing a fight after it occurs.  Couples will find the skills useful throughout the life of their relationship.

Previous Linden Blog Posts review some of these helpful strategies:

Savor each other by building a strong friendship and a zesty sex life.  The Gottmans provide several Self-Test quizzes to help couples identify where they struggle and where they shine when it comes to emotional and physical intimacy.  A strong friendship is based on knowing your partner’s inner world; expressing appreciation, affection, and admiration; as well as intentionally turning toward one another’s efforts to connect.  They provide exercises and activities to help rebuild intimate friendship together.  They also address strategies to improve your sex life by communicating about it differently.  Couples who are good friends and make sex a priority are more likely to feel satisfied with each other.

Add warm fathering to the mix.  Again, the Gottmans give a historical perspective on the role of fathers in our culture and provide Self-Tests to increase self-awareness of your beliefs about fatherhood.  They identify a number of significant benefits to having engaged fathers in the family and provide a long list of activities fathers can do to be meaningfully involved.  This increases a sense of we-ness in the relationship as both partners appreciate the contributions of the other.

Create an enriching legacy.  Starting a family is often a time when couples re-examine their values and goals to build a life of purpose together.  This section of the book is full of Self-Tests and exercises to help couples examine their values together and create meaningful rituals to share with their growing family.  They help couples look at ways to appreciate each other’s roles in the family and use these opportunities to teach what really matters to their children.

Research is clear that children benefit cognitively and emotionally from being raised by happy, loving parents.  So putting the time and effort into nurturing your relationship with your spouse will benefit the entire family for years to come.  This book outlines specific strategies and skills you can implement immediately.  If you feel your relationship needs more, a couples’ therapist trained in Gottman methodology can help you apply these strategies in a personalized way.

Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D., adult clinical psychologist at Linden BP who treats individuals and couples.  If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.  If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Smith or scheduling an appointment, call the Linden BP office at 440-250-9880.