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Having a baby doesn’t have to hurt your relationship

Tags: parenting, becoming a parent, relationship advice, transition to parenthood

If you're about to have a baby, you may have heard all manner of scare stories about how your relationship will suffer. It doesn’t always have to be that way. We’ve scoured the research and found some encouraging tips about how to look after your couple relationship as you make the transition to parenthood.

While it’s true that many couples face a decline in relationship satisfaction when they become parents, there are also couples whose relationships maintain strength, and even improve during parenthood [1]. If you feel like you’d rather be one of those couples, read on, but be warned – it’s going to get a little rough before it gets smooth.

Whatever happens, things will change. There’s no point pretending they won’t. If you want to be one of the couples who keep hold of the happiness that their love for each other brings, one of the first things you need to do is acknowledge the risks. You don’t have to be scared of them, but simply knowing what you face will help you avoid the pitfalls. [2]

Let’s be clear: babies are incredibly demanding. They rely on you for food, shelter, cuddles, getting from one soft surface to another and, very importantly, clean underwear. They don’t know how to use a toilet, they sleep irregular hours, and the only way they know how to communicate with you is by crying very loudly. They need you. All the time.

This demand on your time and resources can leave you and your partner feeling very tired, and tiredness can wreak havoc on your emotions. You’re learning new skills, you’re exhausted, and you’ve got less free time than you used to have. It can be hard (impossible, even) to squeeze in things like nights out with friends, trips to art galleries, snuggles on the sofa, lazy days with the Sunday papers, and that old cherished pastime, sex. [3]

With all this new activity, exhaustion, and decrease in couple activities, you won’t be surprised to find yourselves feeling a little raw and ragged. It’s no wonder that new parents sometimes find themselves snapping at each other about who does all the housework and who was supposed to pick up nappies on their way home from going out to buy nappies.

But there is a glimmer of hope: not all new parents experience a decline in relationship satisfaction. In fact, some couples find they adapt so well to the changes that the shared experience of parenting can bring them closer together than they were before. [3]

Research has thankfully shown that there are certain things you can do which will help you maintain a good relationship as you make the transition to parenthood:

Talk to each other

When you’re considering trying for a baby, one thing you might want to think about is how well you communicate now, and what you can do to improve things. Research shows that couples who have good communication before the pregnancy are likely to be happier with their relationships after the baby is born. [4] [5]

Remember you’re a couple and keep saying “I love you”

Having a baby will change your identity. As well as being a friend, a lover, an electrician (or whatever you are), you’re also going to be someone’s mum or dad. It’s not just a change in what you do; it’s an extra part of who you are. But remember that you’re also still a partner and a lover. Making an effort to express your love and affection for your partner is one of the things successful couples do to ensure their relationships don’t suffer. [6]

Acknowledge that things are going to change

You don’t have to be terrified, but you do need to acknowledge that things are going to be different in your relationship. Admit this to yourself, and talk about it with your partner. Research shows that when couples have similar expectations of parenthood, they are more likely to cope better with the changes. [1]

Be realistic. Accept that you’re going to be busier, and that it’s going to be harder to find time for intimacy for a while. Talk about how you’re going to handle this together. Even if it turns out to be tougher than you expected, you’ll be facing the challenges together, and you’ll find it easier to talk about further adjustments that you need to make. Whatever you do, just keep communicating.

Let your family help

Obviously this isn’t possible for everyone. Your family might not be local, or they might just not be very helpful but, if you can lean on your child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., then do. Wider family can offer tips and advice if they’ve had children of their own (you don’t always have to follow this advice, of course!) and much needed practical support. If your family aren’t much help, perhaps you’d find it easier to lean on close friends. Most people love to feel helpful, so you should never feel guilty for accepting help. [7]

Take a parenting course

There are loads of great parenting courses available, and many of them include elements of relationship support. Visit your local children’s centre or ask your GP where you can access parenting support. It is often free and, as well as equipping you with really valuable parenting skills, it can also help you connect with other parents in your area. Whether you feel like you’re struggling or not, parenting and relationship practitioners can help make difficult things better and great things stay great. [8]

As we often say here at the CoupleConnection, the most important thing is to keep communicating. Accept that things are going to change. Talk to your partner about how this might play out. Discuss your hopes and fears, and make sure you are both on the same page. Don’t forget to be a partner as well as a parent. And, perhaps above all, seek out and accept help wherever you can. Having a baby doesn’t have to hurt your relationship.

 

[1] Kluwer, E. S. (2010). From Partnership to Parenthood: A Review of Marital Change Across the Transition to Parenthood. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 2(2), 105–125.

[2] Clements, M. L., Martin, S. E., Cassil, A. K., & Soliman, N. N. (2011). Declines in Marital Satisfaction Among New Mothers: Broad Strokes Versus Fine Details. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(1), 13–17. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00783.x

[3] Houlston, C., Coleman, L., & Mitcheson, J. (2013). Changes for the couple relationship during the transition to parenthood: Risks and protective factors. International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, (1), 18–22.

[4] Houts, R. M., Barnett-Walker, K. C., Paley, B., & Cox, M. J. (2008). Patterns of couple interaction during the transition to parenthood. Personal Relationships, 15(1), 103–122. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2007.00187.x

[5] Kluwer, E. S., & Johnson, M. D. (2007). Conflict Frequency and Relationship Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(5), 1089–1106. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00434.x

[6] Koivunen, J. M., Rothaupt, J. W., & Wolfgram, S. M. (2009). Gender Dynamics and Role Adjustment During the Transition to Parenthood: Current Perspectives. The Family Journal, 17(4), 323–328. http://doi.org/10.1177/1066480709347360

[7] Glade, A. C., Bean, R. A., & Vira, R. (2005). A Prime Time for Marital/Relational Intervention: A Review of the Transition to Parenthood Literature with Treatment Recommendations. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 319–336. http://doi.org/10.1080/01926180590962138

[8] Glenn, F. (2007). Growing together, or drifting apart: children with disabilities and their parents’ relationship. London: OnePlusOne.

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