Your relationship after parenthood

Published in Blog by Tavistock Relationships on July 14th 2023

You might expect to feel unwavering happiness and joy with your partner after having a baby, but that’s often not the whole story. 

Indeed, many relationships struggle under the stress and responsibility of a new baby.

After all, having a new baby is a time of immense transition. You're not only adding one more mouth to feed, you're becoming a parent too. And if you've never been a parent before, there's sure to be a certain amount of fear and anxiety involved, especially during the first year.

Let’s look at how having a new baby impacts most couples.

Lack of Sleep

Some studies show that new parents get less than five hours of sleep each night during the first year of parenthood.

By no means all newborns or even toddlers sleep right through the night, and the constant feeling of "being on duty" can leave one or both partners feeling drained, tired and depleted. 

It’s also not uncommon for partners to indulge in a spot of ‘competitive tiredness’ as the cumulative toll of reduced amount of sleep causes antagonism and resentment between the couple.

Anxiety

New parent anxiety is a real thing. The anxiety may be rational or irrational, and it can be fuelled by all the other emotions that seem to do the rounds when a new baby enters the scene.

As anxiety plays out differently in everyone, you may find your partner acting out of the norm, making you feel worried, uncomfortable, or even insecure.

As anxiety plays out differently in everyone, you may find your partner acting out of the norm, making you feel worried, uncomfortable, or even insecure.

Some things that new parents are anxious about include:

  • Am I a good enough parent?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • Is my baby still breathing? (this one can keep you up at night!)
  • Am I parenting my child correctly?
  • Does my partner still love me?
  • Is my baby normal and what will I do if there’s a problem?

These are all very common feelings when having a new baby.

Frustration

The arrival of a baby pretty much changes everything. Your partner used to have time to listen to you talk about your day, but now falls asleep almost instantly on the sofa. Your sex life will very likely be affected by the arrival of a baby too and this can cause frustration and resentment between couples.

Sometimes one parent can feel left out, or find themselves feeling quite intense feelings of jealousy regarding the bond between their partner and the baby.

And it’s not unusual for new parents to have difficulty adjusting to their new roles. Sometimes one parent can feel left out, or find themselves feeling quite intense feelings of jealousy regarding the bond between their partner and the baby.

It can also be quite difficult to experience, and stay with, the feelings of vulnerability that may be evoked in you simply as a result of being around a tiny, helpless new human.

Communication breakdown

It's not uncommon for couples with a new baby to feel as if their partner is suddenly tuned into a different frequency. If you feel as if your partner is suddenly talking a different language - one you don't understand - ask yourself if you're being as clear with your partner as you think you are. 
New parents are often overwhelmed with new responsibilities and change, leading to one partner wishing the other would help with something or do something but not speaking up.

It can also be difficult to speak freely to your partner about how you are feeling, particularly around feelings of isolation or frustration or jealousy.

Physical Changes

Women experience physical change during pregnancy and after having a baby. This is normal but can be an overwhelming process/experience for both partners. 

It's normal for a woman to feel worried about her body changing physically to accommodate her new baby; and whether or not she will get back to her pre-baby body quickly enough or even at all. 

Men supporting women going through these changes may also find the process stressful. For starters, he may not have a full understanding of the changes his partner is experiencing and may also be impacted by the emotions his partner is feeling and portraying. 

Physical changes can be as overwhelming for the person experiencing them as the partner providing support.

Physical changes can be as overwhelming for the person experiencing them as the partner providing support. 

Challenges

Most couples suddenly find that they have differences of approach or opinion when a new baby comes along. Accepting that your partner may think, feel and act differently to how you expected in certain situations can come as a surprise and even cause feelings of frustration and anger. 

Some of the following are common differences couples find suddenly crop up.

  • parenting styles - you and your partner may come into conflict over parenting. For example, one parent may believe in self-soothing methods, while the other believes in providing comfort whenever the baby demands it.
  • lifestyle - in today's modern age, it's not uncommon to find couples living in harmony, despite their differences in lifestyles. A vegan may live happily in a relationship with an omnivore, or people who strongly believe in sustainable or organic living may find it's okay to find happiness with someone who doesn't. But… add a new baby to the picture, and you might find both parents fighting for their lifestyle choice to be the chosen way for their new child. Experiencing this difference of opinion with a partner during early parenthood can create anger, resentment and general unhappiness.
  • culture/religion - religion is a very personal thing. It can be a source of upset and sensitivity in a relationship, especially if you can’t agree on what religious beliefs or cultural beliefs you will teach to your growing child. In some instances, differences in belief systems may seem more pertinent and distressing when there's a new baby involved. 
  • money issues - having a new baby will undoubtedly cause changes in your finances. Whether you and your partner keep your finances separate or share finances, a new baby will require you to spend more than usual. You may come into conflict over who covers what costs or if the costs relating to your new baby are valid or not.

While anger, frustration, resentment and tiredness are to be expected when a new baby joins your family, there’s also a great deal of fun, happiness and love to enjoy.

Communication is key

Finding a way to communicate openly and clearly while focusing on the positive aspects of your changing relationship is a step in the right direction if you want your relationship to thrive. 

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