Everyone tells new parents how hard it’s going to be. But you can’t really know till you’re there yourself, sleep deprived, wanting to do your best at this very important job, and always feeling overwhelmed by the demands. This is an especially hard time for couples.
A lot of people who had great relationships before baby find themselves arguing more, feeling resentful of each other, feeling rejected or abandoned by their partner. If you’re coming into parenthood in your thirties or later, it may also be difficult to adjust to the changes in scheduling. One of you may have stopped working, and you’re feeling the financial pressure. You may not have the support of family or trusted friends and feel like you have to do it all yourself. If you both go back to work, then you may feel worried about childcare or guilty that you’re not with your child enough. And, while tending to the needs of this vulnerable, little person, it’s all too easy to neglect each other, not to mention yourselves.
It’s helpful to recognize that this transition comes with a lot of unexpected stresses. Often there are elements you could never have predicted. You or your spouse may have post-partum depression or anxiety. The baby may have difficulty feeding, sleeping, or some other distress you couldn’t anticipate. You may not have realized how childbirth and parenting would impact your sex life. You may feel resentful of the changes – but also guilty for feeling bad. A lot of new parents have an idea that they have to pretend that everything is fine, even to themselves. Complaining may seem like you don’t love your child, or that you’re somehow not up to the task of parenthood. Sometimes couples don’t even talk to each other about these feelings, and neither one knows the other is going through the same thing. They end up feeling isolated. Or they fight about cleaning or money, not realizing that what they’re really feeling is lonely and overwhelmed.
If your relationship has suffered since the baby was born, it’s essential that you make some changes right away. When couples ignore problems, they tend to grow rather than to resolve. Talk to your partner gently about how you’re feeling. Don’t attack or criticize. Instead share how hard it is, how different from what you expected. Tell your partner that even though you seem angry or distant, really what you’re feeling is exhausted or overwhelmed. Tell him/her that even though you love your child, you miss the time you used to take for granted, time together and time for yourselves. Sometimes these conversations are difficult to have on your own. It can feel scary or risky to open up and let yourself be so vulnerable. It may be hard to find the time without distractions to really listen to each other. Your partner may be too defensive to hear you. Or you might not know how to phrase things – so they come out wrong. It may just feel like there’s too much water under the bridge.
If you need assistance getting your relationship back on track, you might want to meet with a counselor who specializes in couples therapy – someone who has a lot of experience working with new parents. Therapy can help you clarify what each of you is feeling, wanting and needing. It’s a place where you can learn effective communication skills. In the process, many couples find a new sense of peace and equilibrium. They find it easier to turn to each other when the demands of parenting get overwhelming. They have more empathy and understanding for each other. They recognize that even though there are times when they can’t give each other what’s needed in the moment, there is still a deep bond of love, concern and friendship. Couples who take care of their relationships live longer, happier lives and have happier, more secure kids. So don’t hesitate to get the help you need to strengthen your marriage.