Handling relationship changes after having a baby
For you and your partner
A new baby places emotional, practical and physical demands on a couple’s relationship. In the early stages, sleep deprivation can impact mental and physical health, causing tension. On a practical level, some parents find themselves resorting to separate beds to catch up on lost sleep. This is just the beginning: parenting as a couple means accepting the partnership will evolve as your child grows, but there are ways to safeguard your bond and embrace the changes:
Communication is key
There’s no shame in being too tired or distracted to put the world to rights after a long day at the cot-face. But setting aside a few minutes to catch up with your partner, even if that means scheduling a phone call during the baby’s nap or turning off the TV 15 minutes earlier in the evening can go a long way towards nurturing your connection.
Appreciate ‘me’ time and ‘we’ time
It’s unlikely you’ll have lots of quality time to yourself or alone with your partner in the early days of parenthood, so it’s important to savour any moments you do have. With the increased demands of a newborn, it can be easy to get caught up in multi-tasking, yet research in Psychology shows taking time to focus on the ‘now’ and relish moments that bring joy can improve wellbeing.
Small gestures can have a big impact
While you may not have the time or energy for grand gestures as a new parent, don’t underestimate the power of small kindnesses. There’s never been a better time to make your partner a cuppa or let them sleep in. Plus research suggests that carrying out acts of kindness can make you feel happier and more satisfied too, so everyone’s a winner.
Beware, the purple cat
When emotional well-being deteriorates, negative thoughts can become more frequent. But just because you tell yourself your partner isn’t attracted to you anymore, doesn’t make that real. Try the following exercise. Let yourself have the thought: ‘I am a purple cat.’ Repeat this thought over and over. Does repeated having this thought make you a purple cat? No. Remember: thoughts are not reality - your relationship is not your thoughts.
Work as a team
Harness the power of teamwork: going to parenting classes together, establishing a joint approach to critical issues before they arise, even sharing ‘in’ jokes can give you a shared purpose and nurture unity during the adventure of new parenthood.
Accept difficult feelings as they arise
Accepting difficult feelings towards your partner is essential to preventing them from worsening. Welcome your emotions as basic survival mechanisms, brought to safeguard your relationship. If you notice yourself feeling frustrated with your partner, sit with the feeling and explore it. What sensation does the emotion have? What colour is it? How would you label it? Where do you notice the emotion physically? What thoughts is the emotion associated with? Being inquisitive about emotions can bring release and prevent harboured resentment.
All relationships can benefit from expert help at times. Marital therapy, counselling or emotional wellbeing therapies can be a useful support system for your relationship. Our wellbeing professionals can recommend the most appropriate service for you.
For you, your friends and your family
It's natural to expect your family and friends to rally round and be as excited as you are about your new arrival, but there's a possibility they won't react as you expect. Similarly, where you may have had relatively sparse contact with friends or family before starting a family of your own, they may now be inspired to be more involved. These reactions can be challenging, but easier to manage with the following advice.
Be clear about what you want and why
Setting expectations and boundaries with friends and family can help protect your relationships. Taking the lead when it comes to explaining your baby’s routine to babysitters, for example, can help you relax and appreciate their support. Be specific. And while you don’t have to justify your parenting, it can help to lay out your reasoning if necessary. ‘Please put Harry to bed by 7.30pm, or he will be tired and grumpy tomorrow, which makes life difficult for the whole family,’ lets everyone know where they stand.
Staying in touch with friends might feel like wishful thinking during the early years of parenthood. You might be too tired or busy to socialise like you used to but being open about your new life can help people understand and make allowances until the time is right to connect with them again.
Involve friends and family in your new life. Everyone likes to feel needed: inviting a friend to push the buggy, hold your toddler’s hand or take your child to the park develops empathy and shared interests, and encourages the people you care about to establish their own bond with your child.
There’s no doubt that a new baby can mean new territory for your relationships. But with the right toolkit to help, bonds can deepen and flourish with the common purpose of a new baby. Likewise, your child can benefit from having a fuller circle of support in their life. After all, as the well-known proverb goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child…’
Last updated Friday 7 October 2022
First published on Monday 25 February 2019