Most expectant parents will hear plenty of tales of sleep deprivation, unconditional love, and some funny spit-up/diaper explosion stories. But what many new parents do not hear is how having a baby can impact a marriage—and they might be unprepared for the huge disruption a baby can cause in a marriage.
Some of the greatest sources of conflict after baby include determining how to divide responsibilities, managing money when a newborn is thrown into the mix, and making time for each other and friends after baby arrives. New dads also may experience feelings of jealousy because they may not feel as close to the baby as a breastfeeding mother, while mom may feel self-conscious after giving birth and adjusting to her role as a mother and sexual person in a relationship.
While there are many factors at play for parents when raising a new baby, parents have successfully navigated these concerns for years. Also, more resources are available to parents that can help make for a relationship as strong and healthy as their baby is.
Ideally, the relationship-strengthening process for new parents should begin in the prenatal period. This can include creating a list of common newborn parenting tasks and discussing questions such as:
- How will we decide who wakes up at night?
- How will we take turns changing diapers?
- Who will take the baby to his or her doctor’s appointments?
- How might the tasks we each complete now change when the baby comes (for example, will the same person still pay bills, cook dinner, etc.)?
While you may not be able to answer these questions right away, you can start the conversation about expectations after arrival and start considering responsibilities.
The next step is to begin practicing effective conflict management communication techniques. With the added stress and sleeplessness of raising a child can come the tendency to make plainspoken statements that could increase tensions in the household. New parents should take steps to understand the differences between an accusatory statement and one that truly shares feelings without hurting the other person’s. In this case “I” statements are preferred to “you” statements, and words like “never” and “always” should be avoided during disagreements. For example:
Instead of: “You never wake up and take care of the baby at night.”
Say: “I feel like I’m the only one who wakes up at night to take care of the baby.”
Another helpful step is to commit to finding time to spend together, engaging in something you like to do or in meaningful conversation. Even if this is 10-20 minutes a day while the baby is sleeping, these efforts will help to keep you connected and your relationship strong.
Finally, remember that there are no perfect people or parents. Mistakes, conflicts, and resolutions are a part of life. By keeping lines of communication open, you can keep your marriage a strong one.
Reviewed by Dr. Eva Benmeleh, September 2020
- New parents may often feel their relationship suffers due to their new commitments as parents.
- By discussing these concerns during pregnancy, new parents can create more realistic expectations.
- Steps include discussing parenting tasks, learning conflict management strategies, and making time for each other.