Having a new baby can be a rollercoaster ride, with exciting and thrilling highs and anxiety provoking and scary lows. Becoming a parent - and especially for the first time - can bring a huge variety of emotions, experiences and unknowns, some of which are welcomed, others are viewed with uncertainty and trepidation. All of these feelings are common.
It is typical to feel fulfilled, pride and excitement alongside feeling overwhelmed, frightened and incompetent. These feelings are often in relation to your new baby, yourself and your relationships with those who are on the roller coaster ride with you.
There are many things that you and others can do to help with these feelings which will make the ride a more enjoyable experience.
How are relationships affected by the arrival of a baby?
When a new member of any family arrives, it will impact on the current dynamics and patterns of interaction that have become the norm and, for a while, things may feel rocky and unsettled. You have a tiny person who will now take up much of your time and this will influence how much time you have left to give to yourself and others.
You may have some time off work meaning the busy professional in you is on hold and you probably will not have as much time to socialise with friends or enjoy the hobbies you would previously have done. As well as sacrificing some of your own needs, those around you may feel you have less time for them. You and your partner may not have the time or energy to prioritise intimacy or quality time together, you may not visit family as often or in the way you used to and if you have other children or dependents you could worry they feel neglected. Again, all of these difficulties are common.
Mothers know that they need to prioritise time to care for a new baby because babies cannot care for themselves and each of their needs must be responded to. Yet, despite this, mothers often have feelings of guilt for being unable to meet all the previous demands from others to the same standard they used to.
Many mothers carry feelings of guilt and inadequacy for not being the ‘perfect’ mother that society, the media and out-dated traditions expect us to be and this feeling of inadequacy often trickles into their relationship with their partner.
How are romantic relationships affected by the arrival of a baby?
Along with all of the ups and downs mothers experience, their partners are often experiencing very similar emotions. They too have a new person in their family and they too have to adapt their old ways of being. In addition to this, they often worry about their partner who they have witnessed go through pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum physical and emotional changes. All of these changes will bring added stress and this can often lead to disrupted communication and misunderstandings.
There may be feelings of competition for who is the ‘best’ at settling the baby or who was the last one to change a nappy. There may also be differing opinions on how to care for a baby, which is often due to our own experiences of being parented and how that has shaped our values. There can also be feelings of resentment when one partner gets to enjoy some ‘me’ time away from being a parent. These can then lead to either arguing or upset when things are voiced in a highly emotive way or withdrawal and avoidance when things are not said and left unresolved.
Intimacy within relationships can also be affected due to tiredness, loss of libido, mothers’ loss of confidence in their own attractiveness and lack of time! This loss of connection will ultimately impact how close a couple feels and will perpetuate the lower feelings of the roller coaster ride.
Finally, due to less available time and energy couples may feel guilt that they cannot be there for each other as they used to. Such as cooking a favourite meal, helping out with household chores or going out together for the evening. Again, although not intended, this lack of relating will feed into the perception that a couple are losing what they had and may lead to worry about the viability of their relationship.
What couples can do to help overcome their difficulties
Focus on communication
Communication is vital for couples at this time. Couples need to talk to each other about their feelings and worries. This needs to be done at a time when things do not feel pressured, busy or tense. Spend some time talking and listening about how you are experiencing your relationship, what things you would like to change, what you appreciate about each other and what your hopes are for the future.
Make small gestures
You can also communicate that you care for each other through acts of love and kindness - when time and energy is limited these can be small gestures such as buying your partner their favourite chocolate bar, making them a hot drink, sharing a hug or leaving them a love note somewhere.
Focus on positive thoughts
Remember how much you cared for each other before you had a baby and the reasons you chose to have a child together. Remember why you wanted a child with them, what is it about them you thought would make a great parent? How do you envisage yourselves as parents over the next few years? What do you think your baby would want for you as their parents?
Speak to a therapist
Professional help is also available to you at these times and having someone neutral to help facilitate open and honest conversations can be of real benefit. Many couples say having conversations together with a therapist where they feel safe and valued can ensure a different type of talking.
Couples feel able to say things that they might be unsure how to put into words or may hold back on for fear of hurting the other. This then leads to a better understanding of each other and a stronger healthier relationship.
Looking for professional support? Find out more about how our friendly team of expert psychologists could help you with online therapy and relationship counselling from the comfort of your home.
George is a Family & Systemic Psychotherapist with over 20 years experience. She specialises in offering therapy focused on relationships - with others, such as a partner, parents or children, or the relationship you have with yourself.