Bringing a baby into the world is an incredible and life-changing experience. This change can also put a strain on your relationship. If you're finding that your relationship is suffering after having a baby, you're not alone. There are so many reasons a relationship can falter once a baby is added into the mix. Here I’ll go through some of these reasons and what you can do to support your relationship.
Why a relationship suffers after having a baby
You’re no longer a couple
Suddenly there is a third person in the mix, a little one that demands your attention 24/7, leads to sleep deprivation and extra responsibilities. If this third person was anyone other than your child we would kick them out because it would be too much. As a couple this is a massive shift and it’s often not talked about in the lead up to the birth.
Even in 2023 there are still pressures from society on what family life ‘should’ look like, who should do what, whether you should work or not. New mums so often feel the pressure to be able to juggle everything, after all if you’re on maternity leave you have all the time in the world to look after a baby and keep the house spotless and provide a healthy meal for your family, don’t you?! The reality is very different, a baby, whether sleeping in the day or not, needs constant attention. You’re never alone, your thoughts might be all over the place, you have your own emotional, social and physical changes that you’re dealing with and doing everything just isn’t possible. All of this can lead to resentment to the partner who gets to go to work, socialise through work and essential go on with ‘life as normal’. On the flip side that partner may be feeling sad that they don’t get the time with the baby, they might feel financial pressure to provide and if they’re sleep deprived too they might feel resentful of you getting to stay at home.
Lack of communication.
The shift in your relationship is sudden and as individuals you’re both firefighting to deal with the changes it’s caused you. So often this leads to nothing being said about how you feel and so the impact of the third person on your relationship and the role expectations outlined above never gets dealt with.
Lack of intimacy
As a mum, being pregnant and giving birth changes your body in so many ways. Whether you had a vaginal birth, c section, had a tear, a prolapse or generally struggling with the change in how your body looks it can have a massive impact on your body confidence. This might lead to avoiding having your partner touch you, avoiding intimacy, because you feel uncomfortable. While all of this is going through your mind, your partner may be wondering what’s going on, why the two of you aren’t physical anymore. Both of you may feel unloved by the other particularly if this change isn’t talked about. On top of this there is also sleep deprivation, a baby that needs constant snuggles and everything else that needs doing. Getting that alone time can be really difficult.
4 Things you can do to improve your relationship after having a baby
This is so important. So often, we are imagining what is going on with the other person or not seeing how it is difficult for the other one. Making time to sit down and talk about the change in intimacy or how you feel about the sudden shift in roles or responsibilities is a great first step. It can lead to understanding and to something shifting so you can both get some of your needs met, as well as meeting the needs of your baby. As part of this, try to use ‘I feel’ statements, rather than focusing on what your partner does or doesn’t do. If you both agree to this it can feel less like confrontation and more about sharing your feelings and experiences.
2. Find time for things you enjoy as a couple
Whether it’s going for a walk, having a date night, going to the cinema try to schedule in the time to do things together without your baby. Get your friends or family involved, even if it’s just once a month to start with. This is often the first thing that disappears once a child arrives in your life, both parents get so focused on the responsibilities they have, that this time goes out of the window.
3. Self-care for you both
If you’re at home with your baby or toddler all day it can be exhausting and so often mums feel that if they’re not working they can’t ask for time out, like they should be happy with being with their child 24/7. It is so important to get some time for yourself and you are allowed to ask for help with this from your friends or family. No one will think less of you, there is an incredible strength in saying ‘hey, I need time out here’. You’re recognising what your need is and you’re making it happen. The same goes for your partner too, try to create a schedule where you both get some time out. It might feel hard at first but the more you do this the more present you will feel when you’re with your child, the less resentment you’re likely to feel towards each other and the more supported you will feel.
4. Challenge expectations
If you’re struggling to get time out or you feel like you ‘should’ be doing xyz or managing just fine without support, gently challenge yourself on why you feel it has to be this way. Does the house have to be tidy all the time? What is stopping you asking for help? Could your partner put the children to bed some evenings? Do you have to go back to work full time? Do you have to stay at home full time? Do you have to have sole responsibility of the household chores etc if you are at home with your child? Try to look at your life as it is now and consider (realistically) what you would like your life to look like, what would you need to change in order to get there?
So often when we become parents, we get into a new normal and accept the struggles as the new reality. If you’re struggling, your relationship isn’t as you’d like it to be and you feel alone, unhappy or unloved, it is possible to change things. Becoming parents can mean we change and grow and with communication and support you can do this together.
Postnatal Counsellor in Harrogate & Online
Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with new mums and their postnatal mental health. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together.
Follow @therapy.for.mums on Instagram for information, tips and advice.