“Before my husband Tom and I had a baby, we truly didn’t fight. Then we had a baby, and fought all the time,” says Jancee Dunn, a mom and author, who went on to write a book entitled “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.” If either part of Dunn’s story sounds familiar — the fighting or the hating — you’re not alone.
Parenthood can really change a relationship. After all, you’re stressed, you’re sleep deprived, and you simply can’t put your relationship first anymore — at least not while you’ve got a helpless newborn to care for.
“We know from research that a relationship that’s not given attention will get worse,” says Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, a couples and family therapist at Redesigning Relationships in New York City. She adds:
“If you do nothing, the relationship will deteriorate — you’ll be co-parents arguing about tasks. You have to put work into the relationship for it to stay the same, and work even harder to improve it.”
That sounds like a lot, especially when you’re already dealing with so much change. But it helps to know that many of the ways your relationship is changing are totally normal and that there are things you can do to work through them.
These are some common ways romantic relationships change after couples become parents.
“My husband and I had to take turns sleeping, so… we were hardly talking to each other,” says Jaclyn Langenkamp, a mom in Hilliard, Ohio, who blogs at One Blessed Mom. “When we were talking to each other, it was to say, ‘Go get me a bottle’ or ‘It’s your turn to hold him while I take a shower.’ Our discussions were more like demands, and we were both pretty irritated with each other.”
When you’re caring for a demanding newborn, you simply don’t have the time and energy to do all the things that keep a relationship strong.
“Relationships thrive on time spent together, holding that other person in your mind and connecting and listening to them,” says Ross. “You have to make it a priority — not the first 6 weeks of baby’s life — but after that you have to make time for your partner, even if it’s small amounts of time to check in with each other and not talk about the child.”
This can mean some logistical planning, like getting a sitter, having a family member watch the baby, or planning on spending some time together after the baby goes down for the night — once they’re sleeping on a more predictable schedule, that is.
This is way easier said than done, but even a short walk around the block together or having dinners together can go a long way in helping keep you and your partner connected and communicating.
Creating that connection will likely look a lot different after having a child. You probably used to spontaneously go on date nights to try that new restaurant or spend the weekend hiking and camping together.
But now, the sense of spontaneity that tends to keep relationships exciting is pretty much out the window. And just preparing for an outing requires logistical planning and prepping (bottles, diaper bags, babysitters, and so much more).
“I think it’s okay to have a period of mourning in which you say goodbye to your old, more footloose life,” says Dunn. “And strategize to think of ways to connect, even in a small way, to your old life. My husband and I take 15 minutes every day to talk about anything except our kid and logistical crap like the fact that we need more paper towels. We try to do new things together — it doesn’t need to be skydiving, it can be trying a new restaurant. Trying new things recalls our pre-kid life.”
And it’s okay to change how you think of spending time together and become the type of people who plan ahead more. Heck, schedule time for each other on the calendar so you stick to it.
“Have a plan, but have a realistic plan,” says Ross. “Remind yourself that you’re two adults who spend time together because you like spending time together.”
Langenkamp says she and her husband too, over time, figured out how to make couple time work with a baby.
“While our quality time together may not be the same as it was before our baby was in the picture, we try to be intentional about making time for it,” Langenkamp says. “Instead of a weekend getaway, we have a ‘no chores’ weekend. Instead of going to dinner and a movie, we order dinner in, and watch a Netflix movie. We don’t abandon our parenting duties, but we at least enjoy them — or sometimes just get through them — together.”
And can we please talk about postpartum emotions? Even if you don’t have postpartum depression or anxiety, you’re likely to feel a roller coaster of emotions — a whopping 80 percent of gestational moms experience the baby blues. Let’s not forget about the dads who can get postpartum depression too.
“I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me, ‘Listen, it’s going to be really hard for you to even move around,’” says Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, who’s a mom of a toddler and the founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics.
“Everybody prepares you for sleepless nights but no one says, ‘Oh, your body is going to feel really rough for a while.’ It’s going to be hard to go to the bathroom. It’s going to be hard to get up. It’s going to be hard to put on a pair of pants.”
So between the hormonal changes, the sleep deprivation, and the stresses that come with a newborn baby, it’s no wonder that you might find yourself snapping at your partner and putting them at the bottom of your priority list.
Know that these symptoms should be temporary — if they don’t seem to be improving, talk to your doctor right away. And in the meantime, do what you can to try to communicate kindly to your partner.
When it comes to sex, you’ve got everything we’ve talked about so far working against you. You have no time, your body’s a mess and you’re annoyed with your partner.
Plus, being covered in spit-up and changing 12 dirty diapers a day doesn’t really put you in the mood. If you’re breastfeeding, you may experience vaginal dryness which means your desire is probably sparse. But sex can be a wonderful way to reconnect and spend a little time with your partner.
Remember: When it comes to sex it’s okay to take it slow. Just because the doctor gave you the green light doesn’t mean you have to rush in.
“One way for couples to ensure that lack of sex doesn’t become permanent is to intentionally make the romantic relationship a priority,” says Lana Banegas, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist practicing at The Marriage Point in Marietta, Georgia.
This is another place where all that work you’re doing on communicating with each other and spending time together is important.
Fran Walfish, PsyD, family and relationship psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” warns that “a decrease in sex, foreplay, and intercourse is often symptomatic of poor communication and a gradual wedge that can build between the couple.”
To get back on track in the bedroom, she encourages couples to make time for sex and find ways to do it when their child is home, such as during nap time.
And definitely invest in some lube.
In any relationship, one person may feel more pressure to take on more child-rearing responsibilities than the other. That can leave that person feeling resentful toward the other.
While researching her book, Dunn found that “most mothers are irritated when their husband snores away when the baby cries at night.” But sleep research suggests this is an evolutionary trait.
In a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health, “Brain scans showed that, in the women, patterns of brain activity abruptly switched to an attentive mode when they heard the infant cries, whereas the men’s brains remained in the resting state. “
This makes so much sense.
So while one partner might not be trying to leave a certain duty to the other person — like getting up with the baby in the middle of the night — it might happen. This is where clear and kind communication is important. Having sit-down chats to decide how to handle parenting tasks can be super helpful and prevent arguments.
Hitting your partner with a pillow to wake up in the middle of the night, while tempting, isn’t effective.
“I do think it’s important to hash it out,” says Husain. “I think we can be guilty of assuming the other person is going to read our mind.” Have a plan but also be flexible, since not every situation is predictable, she says.
For example, Husain says her baby was born while she was completing her residency, which meant she was often on call as a doctor. “My husband would sleep closer to the baby’s crib when I was on call,” she says. “That way, he would wake up first and take care of her.”
Husain says she often felt tied to a chair when breastfeeding, especially when her baby was going through a growth spurt and nursing often. During those times, it was important to her that her husband would take over duties she couldn’t.
She also suggests working moms who pump ask their partners to take care of washing the pump parts, since pumping itself can be stressful and take time from her busy day — that’s one related task a partner can take over to ease her load.
“It’s important to take care of each other, to try to be the best you can for each other. Look at it that way,” says Ross. “You’re not just dividing chores. Look at it as, ‘We’re in this together.’”
Not only does your time together change once you have children, your time on your own tends to as well. In fact, you might not have any.
But Ross says it’s important to ask each other for the time you need to take care of yourself and to help give it to each other.
“It’s okay to want time to yourself, to go to the gym or see friends or just to go get your nails done,” says Ross. “New parents should add a category to the conversation: ‘How are we going to have self-care? How are we each going to take care of ourselves?’”
That break and time to feel more like your pre-baby self can go a long way in making you good partners and good parents.
You might find that you and your partner parent differently and that’s okay, says Ross. You can talk about any big disagreements and make decisions on how you’re going to work together as a team, whether it’s finding a compromise on a certain issue, going with one parent’s method, or respectfully agreeing to disagree.
If the difference is something small, you might want to just let it go.
“There’s a common situation where women want their partner to do more but micromanage and don’t give them the space to do it,” says Ross. “If you want to co-parent, let each other do things and don’t micromanage.
Maybe there are certain things you can’t stand having done a certain way and talk about those but focus on letting go of the things you can stand. When the other parent is on, it’s their parenting time.”
Despite all the tough hits a relationship can take after having a child, many people report their bond becoming stronger and deeper. After all, you’re not just a pair, you’re a family now, and if you can work through the rough stuff, you’ll be building a strong foundation to help you weather the ups and downs of parenthood.
“Once we implemented new systems — which also included a boring-but-necessary weekly check-in meeting — our relationship grew so much stronger,” says Dunn.
“We are united in our love for our daughter, which adds a whole new dimension to our relationship. And we became better at time management and ruthlessly edited out things that were draining us. There’s a reason why people say that having kids was the best thing they ever did!”
Originally published on Healthline.
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