Originally published February 11, 2012.
You remember the intensity at the beginning of your relationship: you were enveloped in an intense, highly sexual relationship; finishing sentences for each other, craving his body against yours. You ate out when you felt like it, had fun cooking together, and spontaneously escaped to romantic getaways. A life of freedom and fun!
Then, you and your partner planned to start a family together! Baby sex was heavenly. No need for birth control. The primal feeling of making love to have offspring was intoxicating. And when you found you were pregnant! The excitement!
Your baby is finally home, after all the planning, waiting, and the drama of the birth. You bring your baby home, and there is a mix of emotion: passionate love, resentment, confusion, perhaps withdrawal, depression, anxiety. Your lives naturally organize around your child.
Parenthood is not what you thought it would be. You feel touched out from numerous responsibilities: breastfeeding, holding, lack of sleep, doctor appointments. Everyone seems to be giving you advice, from sleeping to feeding to teething!
And gee, YOUR baby does not sleep quietly in a crib in another room like on the soaps on TV.
Your relationship with your partner shifts. You’re bickering more than you used to. Your partner sex when you don’t, and when you want sex, s/he doesn’t. You don’t feel in sync anymore. You have parenting disagreements and criticize each other, seemingly for no reason.
You get the awful feeling that your relationship might be over even at the time when you are feeling most vulnerable. You are scared. You want things to get back to pre-baby, although you love your infant!
Those fun evenings of cooking together don’t seem to happen anymore.
What you are feeling is normal. Numerous studies show that rates of depression, anxiety and couple conflict are higher for new parents than the general population (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007). And you are not alone, your relationship can improve.
Here are the pieces no-one tells you about:
Think long and hard about your identity and a way to integrate the pre-baby you with the post-baby you. You and your partner are going through a seismic shift in identity. You are both expanding your identities to include parenthood. Keep some of the fun things about you before baby. There is no simple how-to for this work. It is an emotional process that takes time and thought. Maybe you don’t like lullabies but love soft folk music. Use your music in your house instead.
You are learning to parent and to co-parent. Even if you think these skills are instinctive, much of parenting and co-parenting is learned behavior. Learned from your own family, learned from the culture.
When you become a parent yourself, your own feelings about your family of origin strongly come into play. Old wounds and feelings you thought were healed come up. Learning to be a good parent takes emotional energy and thought. There is no quick, easy way to heal your own wounds. Take responsibility for your own healing.
Multiple studies have shown that just eight weeks of therapy focusing on infant care, co-parenting and non-defensive communication, reduces postpartum depression and improves family relations (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007).
If you are feeling overwhelmed in your relationship and hostility is escalating, depression is setting in, and you feel lonely, it is time to sit down and discuss things with each other.
Discuss how lonely you feel, discuss how you want to be close again. Come up with a plan for self-care and for care in the relationship. If you end up arguing and stonewalling and cannot speak authentically with each other, then take the time to consult with a couples therapist.
Focus on reducing hostility and defensiveness, enhancing co-parenting, rather than being competitive with each other. Truly understand your anger belongs to you, not an external source.
How did having a baby change your relationship?
Gottman, J.M. & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three. Three Rivers Press: New York.
Griffin, R. (2010). Why didn’t anybody tell me? Acer Press: Australia: Victoria.
Karp, H. (2006). The happiest baby on the block (DVD).
Feinberg, M.E., Kan, M.L., & Goslin, M.C. (2009). Enhanced co-parenting, parenting, and child self-regulation: Effects of family foundations 1 year after birth. Society for Prevention Research (10), 276-285.