Becoming parents is life changing so it’s not surprising that even the most solid of couples can experience serious issues once they have kids. Here are some of the most common hurdles new parents face, plus tips from an expert on what you can do to help keep your relationship intact.
1. Extra responsibility
A baby is a lot of work – As well as the day to care required for a baby; there are also more things to buy, more clothes to wash, more bills to pay, more doctors to visit, more things to worry about – the list goes on. When it comes to children, there will always be a lot to think about, which can be tiring and lead to arguments.
2. Sleep deprivation
Who isn’t cranky when they’re not getting enough sleep? Tired parents are much more likely to snap at each other, take things personally and be more emotional. In short, they’re not thinking clearly, which makes everything seem harder.
3. Not feeling supported
One of the biggest causes of relationship breakdowns is when one person feels like the other isn’t doing enough. Usually, it’s the primary caregiver who feels isolated and stuck at home doing the hard yards, while the other is at work, perhaps coming home late or not helping out with chores. Many new stay-at-home mums feel emotionally unsupported by their partners as they struggle to deal with the challenges and new experiences that come with having a baby.
Read more about partner relationships:
- Should I stay or should I go? Is your relationship worth saving?
- The great debate: Should you put your partner or your kids first?
- Does your relationship need baby-proofing too?
4. Feeling unloved or unattractive
Some new mothers feel insecure about their post-baby bodies; others are also dealing with physical recovery ‘down there’ on top of sore breasts and nipples from breastfeeding. While one partner might be respectfully giving mum some time, the distance could make her feel unattractive. The same applies in reverse too, where partners feel unloved due to the mum giving all of her attention to the new baby (and is always tired). On the flip side, conflict can also arise when a partner pressures the woman into having sex too early after giving birth.
5. Conflicting parenting styles
Some people have very different views about what’s best for a baby. Many parents can argue about anything from christenings to circumcision, but also how much sleep the baby needs, the correct way to bath him, how he’s settled or when he should go to daycare.
6. Lack of couple time
When you have children, the focus comes off you as a couple, and this can be detrimental to some relationships. All the extra work it takes to look after a baby (including potentially more paid work from one parent after becoming a one-income family), plus the exhaustion and logistics involved in organising a sitter means date nights become few and far between.
Off to a bad start
According to psychotherapist and relationship expert, Melissa Ferrari, another reason why many couples experience problems after becoming parents is that there were already ‘cracks’ in the relationship to start with. The existing problems become more significant due to the physical, emotional and financial demands the arrival of a baby brings.
“Not getting enough sleep, constant crying, post-baby recovery challenges for the mother, and stacks of extra chores and responsibilities – these are all things which are going to exacerbate any pre-existing problems you might have with your partner,” says Melissa.
“Many couples also don’t discuss having children in depth before becoming pregnant, and therefore might not realise exactly what’s involved and how much things will change, or that they have very different views on parenting styles and even basic ideas such as who will be the primary carer for the baby.”
So what can you do?
In an ideal world, Melissa believes that all couples should work on their relationship BEFORE having children, to ensure there are no underlying issues which might arise later. She also thinks it’s essential to discuss your thoughts and expectations about parental roles and responsibilities with your partner before the baby is born, so you’re both on the same page from day one.
If you already have children and are experiencing relationship issues, Melissa has some advice on what couples can do:
- Communicate regularly – Don’t let negative thoughts stew or things go unsaid, if you’re frustrated or struggling speak up, tell your partner how you’re feeling and look for solutions together.
- Divide and conquer – Make assigning tasks and responsibilities a priority, so you’re never in doubt as to who’s doing what, but be sure to make sure it’s a fair arrangement that you’re both on board with.
- Look after yourselves – Take turns with sleep so there’s not just one of you running on empty, be sure to eat decent meals and exercise wherever you can to help boost your physical and mental health.
- Be patient – Sleepless nights aren’t going to last forever, a mum’s post-pregnancy body will recover in time, and things will get easier with the kids. So if you’re in a difficult phase, remember that it will pass and try to stay positive about the future by making long-term plans such as booking a holiday.
- Get help when you need it – Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family members or friends when required. This will not only give you a bit of a break but give you more time to do things as a couple and individually.
- Make time for intimacy – It doesn’t always have to be about the bedroom, just snuggling on the couch watching a movie can be the closeness that you need. Make time for regular date nights too, even if you do them at home. Keeping your couple connection outside of the children is important.
- Consider therapy – Some couples are unable to work through things by themselves and need the help of a professional, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You owe it to your children to try and work things out, and in instances where one parent is unwilling to get help, the other can still seek advice individually.
A team effort
Melissa also says that if your partner is unhappy or distressed, make it your problem too and help find a resolution. If one of you is feeling sad, the other will soon follow, and your relationship counts on helping each other get it right.