You’re exhausted, you’re not having sex (that may be the last thing on a new mother’s mind) and emotions vacillate wildly. Is this the blissful time you were expecting?
And what about you, new dad? How is your life changing now that you are a parent? What do you need?
If you’re concerned that you’re not yourself or feeling that maybe you’re drifting apart as a couple, don’t worry. That’s completely normal. The road from coupledom to familytown is a bumpy one…and it’s absolutely worth putting in the effort because the rewards for you and your partner can lead to an incredibly fulfilling life together.
This next part may be difficult to read but I think it’s important to understand that marriages and other long-term relationships are not static. Things change over time. That is certainly true when you go from being a couple to being new parents. Along those lines, the data shows that there’s some bad news and some very good news.
First, the bad news. For around 30 years, researchers have studied relationships, particularly when transitioning from a couple to a family, and the results are conclusive: the relationship can suffer once babies come along. Researchers have found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly double for parents than for childless couples. That’s the bad news. You might think that this is a bad omen. Not necessarily.
Now for the good news! It turns out that research also shows that as marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. This could be a good sign for the marriage in that one or both partners may also be learning to pull it together in the face of the normal challenges that parenthood presents.
What to expect
While bringing home your baby is an exciting time, it is also a time of massive change (and I’m not just talking about the endless diapers!). These changes can include:
- Emotional swings that move from elation, deep love and baby bliss to anxiety, frustration, and even the “baby blues” and sometimes full on post-partum depression (these can happen as fast as a rollercoaster — in minutes and throughout the day…hold on! You’ll make it out okay!)
- Transitioning into motherhood/fatherhood
- Being a couple to being a family
- Working to not working (and for how long)
- Figuring out what kind of parent are you going to be (Baby wearing? Cloth or disposable diapers? Baby food making or store bought? Breastfeeding or bottle baby? Germaphobe or naturalist?)
- Dealing with other people’s reactions whether appropriate or inappropriate
- Coping with your and other’s expectations of you and your partner about what you can accomplish in any given hour/day/week
- Redefining roles of household chores (laundry, dishes, cooking, diapers, grocery shopping…yeah, someone still has to do that AND now there’s another person in tow)
- Your energy level may not be what it used to be. A lack of sleep has a lot to do with it, but hormonal changes, as well as the sheer amount of energy and attention that that little munchkin uses, will astound you.
- Financially you may have moved from a two income household to one (even if temporarily) and the diapers and endless baby items have to be paid for somehow!
- Due to all of these factors, and others, there may also be changes in sexual desire between the two of you. We’ll talk about that later in this article.
Tips to help you cope and support your relationship
Now that we’ve looked at some of the issues that virtually all new parents encounter, let’s help you get in front of the inevitable bumpy times that normally happen after a baby is born.
Note: I’ve been offering these tips to new parents for over 25 years. They are time-tested and proven tips that my clients, family, and friends continue to say are very helpful in supporting their relationships.
Make a point to connect with each other every day
One of the things I see happen with so many new parents is that they stop making their relationship a priority. I would say that this is the number one reason that marriages fail, whether you have babies or not.
Here’s just one very simple tip that my clients have told me is very helpful. Set the following intention every day…
Simply take a minimum of five minutes to check in with each other. Just five minutes. No electronic devices. Just the two of you, even if one of you is cradling your baby. You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome if you do this daily. This is in addition to date night!
Ask this question every day
“What can I do to make your day a bit better?” Just the simple act of asking your partner that question will go a long way in sending this simple message: “I love you. I care about you, and I want to do something tangible as an expression of my love for you.”
You can do a lot to help sustain and grow your relationship by asking this simple question.
I see this happen all the time: sometimes one partner may say or do something that they think is supportive, only to find out that it was not well received.
To help out with this, here are two questions that you might want to ask if you’re not sure of what your partner needs: “What can I do for you that would be helpful?” and “ What would not be helpful for you right now?”
It just takes a moment to ask, but you doing so can make all the difference to your partner.
Be a couple-focused family
When you two are connected and are present to your love (even as tired as you may be), your baby will also know love. Strive to be a couple-focused family, not solely a baby-focused family. Remember that it was your love for each other that brought your baby into the world.
Family law courts are overloaded with marriages that went dead because everything in a relationship was exclusively child-centered.
When your true intention is to keep your partnership and connection a priority, your marriage will be stronger and your children will automatically thrive.
Let go of your need for everything to be perfect
Parenting comes with bliss and stress! Demanding perfection of yourself and others only adds to the stress. Of course, we want to be good parents. Right? Right! But what we don’t want to do is create more stress by the relentless pursuit of something that can’t be attained – perfection. I call this anxiety-driven demand for perfection an “emotional black hole.”
Parenting perfection is a myth. There is no such thing. Ever.
When you strive for perfection, and sometimes without even knowing it, you are likely condemning yourself, your partner, and your children to a situation where they are going to take on what I call “perfection anxiety” and your partner and your kids are likely going to pick up on this – either consciously or unconsciously. Demanding perfection can also lead to bouts of depression. It’s a buzz-kill for you, your relationship, and your children.
I suffered from this earlier on in my life, and to a much lesser degree even today, so I know what the impact can be. Life became so much easier when I swapped out using the word “perfection” for “pursuing excellence.” The idea of pursuing excellence or “doing my very best” took a lot of pressure off. I became much more relaxed.
Practice loving kindness, patience, and grace
This can be a very emotionally sensitive time for both you and your partner. Know each other’s love language. Do you or your partner respond to touch, gifts, quality time, kind words, or acts of service?
Also be aware of things that may trigger negative reactions. It’s going to happen. And when you’re triggered or frustrated say to yourself, “loving kindness, loving kindness” as many times as you need to with deep breaths.
As you focus on your breathing, pay special attention to your exhale. The deeper your exhale the more you will help relieve some of the tension that inevitably and normally comes with parenthood. It’s a mantra that can help calm you, your partner, and your baby.
This is one of the easiest things to do. Just say, “Thank you for caring for our baby.” “Thank you for bringing our baby into the world.” “I am so grateful that I get to parent our baby with you.” “Baby or not, I am so grateful that you are my life partner.”
It can be these words but it doesn’t have to be these exact words. Find words of appreciation that work for you and your partner.
The expression of gratitude is one of the greatest keys to enduring love and getting more out of life.
Embrace the wisdom of flexibility
It will be important for you to remember that as much as you may plan and have a need to keep your sh*t together with a baby, all that planning at times can just fly out the window.Burps, tears, hunger and diaper changes can come at the most inopportune time. Remember to be flexible. Learn to go with the flow. And have patience with yourself, your partner and your sweet little baby.
Get support and ask for what you need
It’s super important to get the support that you need. This could range from nanny help to a walking group, to new parenting classes. But also make sure that you have a supportive outlet to share (and sometimes cry) about the challenges that you face. You don’t need to go at it alone, and you shouldn’t.
This is also a time to turn up the communication levels and ask for what you need. Do you need your partner to participate more in household chores? Ask. Do you want your mother-in-law to come around less or more? Just ask. Do you need some alone time so that you can take a shower and get out of the house. For goodness sakes, ask!
At the very least this could be a great start to a conversation with your partner about how you’re feeling and dealing with all these new changes.
Don’t assume that your partner should do anything or know anything that is going on between your ears. We always hope that they are mind-readers, but they are not. Get in communication and ask for what you need.
As parents, you’ll be spending lots of time with your baby, but there are other important “meetings” that need to be had. Once you’ve settled in with your new baby – and that could be weeks or months – please find a way to establish a date night. Yes, just the two of you.
Get out of the house without baby (you can do it!) and spend some time alone, looking into each other’s eyes (see the first tip), talk about the parenting experience and how you’re doing. And when you’re not talking, listen. Listen deeply to your partner.
After my wife and I first started going out on date nights, we noticed something. Even when we went out, our conversations often revolved around our children! Haha! That’s ok! The main idea is that you have some time together and nobody has to change diapers, feed the baby, or put the baby to sleep. This is your exclusive couple-focused time!
Make sure you schedule time to discuss the household (and not during date night). Consider the house as your mutual business. Chores and bills still exist. How are you doing managing all this with the new boss baby? Check in with each other. Make requests. See if you need to get additional help in that area.
Also being all-consumed with baby and all these new demands, it’s also important to get some alone time. Getting out of the house by yourself for a little while may even seem like heaven. Make it a priority to do something for yourself, by yourself. Get a massage, mani-pedi, listen to your favorite music, or anything else you enjoy. It’s important to refuel so you can be a better parent and partner. Most importantly, you need to do this for your own self-care.
With all these demands on time, it may be important to say no to invitations from work, friends, and family until you’ve established your groove and the above needs are met. There’s no need to spread yourself too thin. You already have a lack of sleep and newborns (and toddlers) are great excuses to decline. Better for you. Better for your relationship.
Let’s talk about sex
First thing: having a baby, even under the best of circumstances can be stressful at times. This is absolutely normal and is particularly true with your first because all of this is so new. What we know about stress is that it can impact our sex drive.
As a new mother, you may be over the desire for touch after being with a baby all day, you also may be too tired to have sex (still may want sex, but want sleep more), and maybe you just want to cuddle. Wherever you are, talk about it.
As a new dad, it may have been weeks or even month(s) since you’ve had sex. Whether a vaginal delivery or a C-section, your partner’s body has been through a lot. Hormones are striving to find balance in her body. This will be the largest change her body will likely ever go through, so you’re going to need to be patient. Very patient.
So here’s a tip for you to consider (as I’ve been told and have experienced myself) …many women find it sexy to see their partner holding a baby or helping around the house (dishes, laundry, and vacuuming) without being asked.
And remember that there are many ways to be romantic without intercourse.
Bottom line: be patient and kind in this area (see practice loving kindness above). Your intimacy will change, but using the tips above and making it a priority to talk about your needs and desires, will help you both find your way back together.
Laugh whenever you can!
When all else fails – and there will definitely be those times – try to find the humor in the situation. See what you can do to smile or laugh and share that with your partner. Self-deprecating humor is the best. Humor directed at the other person has a tendency to be hurtful. You want to be positive towards your partner!
Remember why you decided to have your baby!
Remember that this baby was, hopefully, created out of the love you feel for each other. That’s a beautiful expression of your love. Celebrate it! Again, be grateful. I believe that if more couples took a moment every day and looked into each other’s eyes and simply said, “Thank you” (with or without a baby), the world would be a better place.
I hope that this article was helpful. Relationship issues after having a baby are very common for just about all couples. It’s normal to experience some conflict after this major life event. If you would like to explore this more, simply contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if I can answer any of your questions that relate to your specific situation.