Research shows that many parents feel less satisfied with their relationship after a baby, at least in the short-term. This isn’t surprising, since both partners are probably tired, anxious and emotional – and they may be worried about a number of issues money, loss of freedom, and just generally overwhelmed by new responsibilities.
Becoming a parent can also trigger a host of memories, some of which can be upsetting. It can help to try and explore background experiences and what to expect of each other – as feelings that are usually kept hidden can affect how behave in relationships. Understanding each other can help you to be more realistic and prepared for the ups and downs of parenthood.
Less time for each other
A new baby means extra work and less time for each other. It can be difficult to find time alone to just talk and support each other, or to go out as a couple.
The strong bond between parent and child can threaten the couple’s relationship. Six months after the birth, men and women show the big differences in how important they see the ‘partnership’ side of their lives. The ‘partner’ role is squeezed out to make room for the ‘parent’ role much faster for women. This can lead to fathers often feeling jealous of her new closeness with the baby.
Mothers may also feel left out once the baby is a little older and the mother-baby relationship is not so intense.
A baby undoubtedly brings something to a relationship – but there are changes to be made, and life is never the same again.
Many couples find their sex lives disrupted at least in the short term
Lack of sleep… and sex
Lack of sleep can make mountains out of molehills and major difficulties can seem impossible to resolve. Couples are permanently tired – so it’s easy to react badly to each other or the baby. Feeling drained and physically ill contributes to feeling vulnerable and emotional.
Many couples find their sex lives disrupted at least in the short term: new mothers will complain of being too tired and not feeling sexy, hence not interested. Some feel unattractive because of post baby weight, still sore or afraid of sex being painful. Factors that leave new fathers feeling rejected and isolated.
But men can also feel differently after childbirth: they often worry about their partner’s physical and emotional changes and are frightened of hurting them. Or they may worry about another pregnancy and the increased responsibilities that go with it.
Breastfeeding also has an impact and is usually very tiring – many women say they feel their breasts belong to their baby now. Breastfeeding can produce temporary physical changes in lubrication that can make sex painful. Men vary in their reaction to breastfeeding; some are very comfortable with it, while others find that it takes time to adjust to.
There are no hard and fast rules about how long it should take for both partners to become interested in sex again, plus even if the interest is there opportunities are often limited by disturbed nights, crying and feeding, or the baby being in the couple’s bedroom. Both partners may secretly worry that things “will always be like this” and that they never will get back to how it was but being open with each other can help. By talking honestly about feelings and understanding that this is only temporary changes should become easier to cope with.
A new baby in a step family
A new baby in an existing step family affects several relationships which might already be fragile. Children may be afraid that their father or mother won’t love them as much anymore, but a stepchild, whether visiting or living in the house may also be afraid that they will not be ‘as good as’ their mum or dads new baby. So half brothers and sisters need a lot of reassurance whatever their age.
Babies love anyone who seems interested in them – and as the only member of the family with no ‘baggage’, the new baby will help to make things work; especially if half brothers and sisters are encouraged to get involved.
There can also be issues when it’s a first baby for one parent, not for the other; a new mum in an ‘established’ family may be surprised by her feelings of jealousy about the past, and resentful if her partner seems to know more about parenting than she does. What might be intended as reassuring or helpful experience can often be taken as criticism ……so both partners need to tread carefully.
Look after yourself and your own needs
What new parents can do to take the pressure off
Talk things through with each other – to understand the different feelings and each others point of view. It’s much better to talk about things calmly, rather than letting things build up and becoming resentful and angry.
Look after yourself and your own needs – even if there seems no time at all, make sure you look after yourself as much as possible and try to carve out some time for yourself – becoming ill or stressed won’t help your situation at work or your family.
Talk to others and consider other sources of help – talking to others in a similar situation may be helpful, not only to offload but also because they may have suggestions about what can help. You may find other ways of doing things that you had not previously considered.
You can’t always have it all – talk to your partner about your priorities in life. Reducing your hours, or getting more expensive and reliable childcare can have a financial impact, but things should get easier, and childcare less demanding, when the children are older.