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Having a baby inevitably changes your relationship with your partner. Becoming a parent is a massive identity shift that affects where your attention, time, energy, and resources go. The changes you may experience in your relationship or marriage are expected and natural results of expanding your family and transitioning into parenthood.
In fact, research suggests that the majority of parents feel a decrease in marital satisfaction post-baby. These trends can have negative mental health outcomes for babies and children and create long-term marital issues if left unresolved, which is why it’s imperative to take action to better connect and manage conflict as new parents.
Here are six tips for connecting with your partner after having a baby:
Women in heterosexual relationships, in particular, may experience a greater dip in satisfaction due to the fact that they are often taking on “second shift” work, including childcare and housework, and begin to feel that the division of labor at home is unfair. Therefore, enlisting your partner in helping manage caregiving and house chores is a way to decrease unhappiness.
While responsibilities don’t have to be perfectly equal (and realistically won’t be), the key is to divide tasks in a fair manner to prevent a total imbalance in which one partner does most of the work while the other partner remains uninvolved. Work together to make a list of tasks and then consider how to manage them in a way that feels fair, taking into account work schedules, your baby’s needs, your individual preferences, etc.
For example, with a newborn, it probably makes the most sense for the mother to spend more time with the baby if she’s breastfeeding, but it’s important to carve out opportunities for the father to bond with the baby and pitch in with other baby-related tasks. Remember your entire family benefits when you and your partner work together and feel good about what you are contributing.
For most people, adjusting to parenthood is naturally challenging. Add in a crying baby, and you may find you have little patience for anything else. However, if you turn on each other or don’t operate as a team, your level of marital satisfaction will suffer even more.
Being critical or defensive with each other as you shift into new roles will also drive a wedge between you, causing anger, distance, and resentment over time. Be patient with each other, and understand that parenting is a new experience that is often accompanied with anxiety or stress. Show your appreciation for each other’s efforts, and don’t take anything for granted. Focus on viewing your partner in the best light. Remember to express gratitude for what your partner does to support you as a parent.
Notice what your partner does to help you with caregiving, cooking, cleaning, emotional support, etc. If you need more support, speak up about your needs and give feedback in a constructive, respectful way, modeling healthy communication for your family. This is important practice because as kids get older, they notice if their parents are not united and happy. Plus, you are role models to your children, so the way you talk to each other matters big time.
Although most women get the green light that it is safe to resume sex six weeks postpartum, many do not feel emotionally or physically ready. Factors that have nothing to do with your marriage may be interfering with your level of desire, and this is all normal.
For example, breastfeeding, birth trauma or general recovery, postpartum body image insecurities, parenting anxiety, and hormonal changes may all contribute to a lack of sex drive. Also, if you are not feeling deeply connected to your partner or you are exhausted from taking care of a newborn, your motivation to be sexual might be minimal.
If you feel ready to have sex again, you may find that intercourse feels different or painful. Share how you feel with your partner so they understand that your lack of sexual interest isn’t personal. Without pushing yourself to do anything you are uncomfortable with, make an effort to ensure there is some level of passion and intimacy in your relationship. This may mean giving each other a good night kiss, holding hands, giving or receiving a massage, etc.
It will take time to get your sex life back, so again, know that these changes are natural. How you navigate them and stay connected despite them is what matters.
Having a baby brings up many topics to consider, for example, breast milk versus formula feedings, sleeping arrangements for your newborn, managing your baby’s schedule in a flexible way, navigating childcare options and work-life balance, among others. Communicating your decisions and having an understanding of your parenting philosophy as individuals and as a couple is necessary so that your choices feel comfortable.
If you determine that you are both most comfortable with one of you taking the lead on these decisions, that’s okay too. What’s most important is giving your partner the opportunity to be involved and feel heard while learning how to parent together. If you and your partner have differing opinions, reduce arguments by communicating clearly and openly, and listening attentively to better understand your partner (and not simply to respond). Some decisions will naturally have to be negotiated. Also, it may take trial and error to assess what’s best for your family.
Caring for a baby will occupy a large part of your day, but that doesn’t have to mean that quality time with your partner is nonexistent. Continue to pay attention to each other and put effort into your relationship every chance you get, whether it’s enjoying dinner together or curling up for some TV time while your baby sleeps.
It’s easy for conversations to be overwhelmingly about your baby, but it’s also important to connect as romantic partners and friends. Brainstorm easy and manageable date ideas (it’s OK if they are short and at home while baby sleeps) and use methods to get your spark back.
There is no sugarcoating the fact that parenting is hard work. Chronic sleep deprivation can make you prone to depression and feeling more short-tempered or irritable.
That’s why it’s essential to create a home environment that is as calm as possible, despite the inevitable stress new parents face. Use your trusted support system for emotional support and let your partner and others help you complete tasks, set boundaries around visitors and visiting hours, and carve out time for self-care. Even 10 minutes of self-care time a day can go a long way for your mental health and well-being as a new mom.
For example, with a newborn, this may mean taking turns watching the baby so you can each take a nice, relaxing shower or quick nap. Self-care may also include taking your baby on a daily walk and soaking in some fresh air and vitamin D. If you are experiencing any postpartum symptoms of depression, reach out to a psychotherapist for support. Learn more about postpartum depression here.
Knowing that you may experience a change in marital happiness and/or a decline in passion when you have a baby can help you understand what a life-changing and emotional milestone becoming a parent is. However, simply accepting that your relationship will change without taking measures to keep things on track and address areas of concern will have a negative impact on your whole family.
While it will take time to achieve emotional and physical intimacy and overall marital satisfaction as new parents, know that a healthy, satisfying, and fun relationship or marriage is possible. Commit to being kind and generous to each other as you adjust to your new roles and know you can work together to reach a higher level of satisfaction.