It’s no surprise that having a baby join the family is a big change for new parents. There’s more responsibility and less sleep, seemingly little time to connect, and limited time to recharge. In the book, “And Baby Makes Three,” relationship experts Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman explore the changes partners face in their relationship after having a baby. They explain that two-thirds of couples report a decrease in marital satisfaction after having a baby. They decided to study the one-third that are doing well in their relationships to help others move through the difficulties that can occur.
Friendship is the Foundation of Partnerships.
It’s important to remember that friendship is the foundation of a partnerships, along with trust and commitment. The Gottman’s show this in their blueprint for relationships called “The Sound Relationship House.” It may be hard to connect at the early stages after having a baby, but expressing and showing appreciation is so important. Remember that you are both on the same team!
Here are some places where couples get stuck and some ideas on how to address it.
Division of Labor.
I often hear frustration about inequality in regard to the division of labor. We see that despite conversations pre-baby about what the division of labor looks like, it’s important to reevaluate this after baby arrives. Relationship check-ins are great for this. In fact, checking in with each other once a week about what is going well and what needs to be adjusted can help alleviate stress before it starts to build up. Here are some worksheets that can help with dividing up different responsibilities, both at home and with baby.
Carrying the Mental Load.
You can’t talk about division of labor without talking about the mental load. The mental load is the exhausting list of things to do in your head that never seems to end. It is remembering everything that needs to go in the diaper bag before you go out, organizing the doctor’s appointments, feeding your child while calculating the wake window for the next nap. It’s organizing meals in your head and so much more. For many self-identifying women and non-binary individuals, the mental load can lead to exhaustion and feelings of frustration that their partner is not thinking about all the things that need to get done like they are. Partners that take initiative are very appreciated, as it can take off some of the pressure of carrying the mental load.
Lack of Intimacy.
Just because a doctor has given the okay to have sex again after the 6-8 week mark doesn’t mean that sex will resume at that time. Eighty-five percent of people with vaginas report pain when resuming sex after childbirth (a pelvic floor physical therapist can help!). In addition to discomfort, sleep deprivation, hormones, feeling “touched out”, body image, and the mental load can all effect sexual desire. It’s important to talk about this with your partner. At first, it may be important to engage in intimacy that does not include sex. Talk about what that may look like for you as a couple. When sex does start up again, there may need to be some adjustments about what parts of the body are okay to touch and what’s off limits.
What are some things that can help a relationship after baby arrives?
Do your best to communicate with each other for at least 15-20 minutes each day. I already mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again, that having one day a week where you communicate about your relationship goes a long way in feeling understood and both people getting their needs met. It’s easy to begin feeling like two ships passing in the night. Make sure you are asking for what you need. Resentment is a doozy of a feeling. Communicating appreciation for action goes a long way! Express your admiration for one another. Find the humor in difficult situations. This is new for both of you and you are both doing your best.
Have compassion for yourself and each other.
This transition is an adjustment for both you and your partner. It can be a culture shock. You’re going to mess up. You’re not going to be perfect. Things are going to be different than you and your partner both expected. Have compassion. Don’t beat yourself up and try not to take out your frustration on your partner. Talk about how you’re feeling.
Take Time for Yourself.
You and your partner don’t need to be with each other 24/7. Both of you need time for yourself to recharge and take a break. This looks different for everyone. Communicating when each of you will do this will create time for each of you to restore in the way that you need. You may need to let go of thoughts that baby needs you all the time or that you have to be the one home to do everything. You have to trust that your partner is just as capable as you and that a break will help you restore.
Welcoming a baby into your home is a significant change in a relationship. If both of you are committed to being there for one another, you will continue to strengthen your relationship.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional. If you are looking for a therapist and would like to have a 15 minute free consultation, feel free to contact me.