If you’re a parent of a new baby and your relationship with your partner is off track, you’re not alone. Decades of international research show that a whopping two-thirds of couples experience relationship distress for up to three years after the birth of a baby.
Why do two-thirds of unhappy post-baby couples experience relationships woes? And what can we learn from the other one-third about weathering the new-baby storm?
Why do so many marriages suffer after the birth of a baby?
Couples cite many reasons for bumps in the marital road after bringing a new baby into the mix, including these:
- A shift from “having fun” to “managing the family”
- A decline in intimacy
- Arguments about dividing responsibilities
- Irritability, or even hostility — often due to hormonal changes for the mother and lack of sleep for both
- Financial stress, including disagreements about how to spend money
- Disagreements about parenting style
What can we learn from couples who remain happy after the birth of a baby?
Research from the Gottman Institute found that couples who happily weather the new-baby storm had one key thing in common: A strong friendship, which helped them stay connected through the ups and downs of transitioning to a new family stage.
How do these couples nurture a friendship in the days, weeks, months, and even years after the birth of a baby? By cultivating these 5 things:
Whether showing affection, having a forgiving attitude, expressing appreciation, or doing small acts of service like making the other a cup of coffee, generosity in its many forms is a mainstay of happy post-baby couples.
Interest in Each Other
Remembering to ask personal questions about the other, and listening with interest and empathy goes a long way in generating feelings of fondness and support.
They nurture a partnership by:
- Dividing responsibilities in a way that feels fair to both
- Taking each other’s opinions into account when making parenting decisions
- Fostering an attitude of being in the trenches together rather than experiencing challenges alone
A Gentle Approach to Conflict
When conflict arises, they try to wait until they are calm to discuss it. They approach issues with willingness to hear the other’s side and find a solution they’re both comfortable with.
Let’s face it, even when women get the green-light to have sex after giving birth, it can be hard for parents to be intimate when they’re exhausted, waiting for baby to wake up at any second, and probably have a breastmilk or formula on their shirts. Making intimacy a priority, though, by doing what they can to create romance and physical connection, is a hallmark of relationships that remain strong after baby comes along.
The key takeaway is that during the busy baby days, small but deliberate acts of kindness and connection in a relationship have a big impact. If your marriage is suffering no matter what you try, a marriage therapist may be able to help. You can find a therapist in your area with unique knowledge about parenting-related relationship challenges here.