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For Couples: Keeping your relationship strong during parenthood
Most parents-to-be expect a baby to change their lifestyle as a couple. What they don't expect, perhaps, is that pregnancy may already be affecting their relationship. For men and women, feelings about becoming a parent can change how they view their spouse during the months preceding birth.

What Women Experience

Hormonal and physical changes can wreak havoc with an expectant mother's emotional state. Mood swings, non-specific anxiety, physical discomfort such as backache or nausea, fatigue, irritation over bodily changes—all can make a pregnant woman less fun to be around. The constant physical presence of the baby naturally preoccupies her. She may harbor fears about the child's health, her own ability to withstand labor, or her competence as a new mother. She may worry how she's going to fulfill her roles as wife and mother if she's planning to return to work. Her interest in sex may waver, either because she doesn't feel comfortable or she feels increasingly unattractive.

What Men Experience

Perhaps because they feel their spouse is more preoccupied with pregnancy than with marriage or romance, some men withdraw—either by working longer hours or communicating less. A husband may have worries, too, about the health of the baby, his role in labor support, his capacity to be an adequate provider and parent, or his wife's ability to survive childbirth. Some fear the child will become the wife's sole focus of love and attention. Fears of added responsibility can make a father-to-be withdrawn just when his partner needs his reassurance most.

Nurturing the Relationship

Communication now will strengthen a bond that may be sorely tested once the baby arrives. It's important that parents-to-be take a break from all baby conversation and focus on each other. Feelings, fears, and worries should be brought out into the open. Gestures that show one another that you care deeply, preoccupied though you may be, can make all the difference to your well-being as a couple once the baby asserts primacy over your relationship.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education