The period after the birth of your first child is one of the most difficult for any relationship. In fact “67% of couples... reported a decline in relationship satisfaction after the arrival of the first baby. The decline typically shows up between six months (for women) and nine months (for men) after the baby comes home.” [WP]
Note: It’s our philosophy at Whole Wellness Therapy that knowledge is power, which is why we asked the therapists in our Sacramento-based practice about some of the common changes that couples face and what can be done to best deal with them. While this advice should help you better understand your situation, many people find benefit in talking with a licensed therapist who has experience working with the issues you struggle with.
While many people have negative feelings about “seeing a shrink”, it is more helpful to think of it as having an experienced person to talk to. If you are willing to talk with one of our counselors about your own personal struggles, contact one of our providers on our individual therapy or our couples therapy pages. So without further ado, here are the 8 things that every couple should know about how your life and your relationships will change after having a baby.
1. You Will Be More Tired
This change may seem small, but in reality, it multiplies the other changes and makes your quality of life much worse. Notably, lack of sleep harms memory, so some research suggests that new parent sleeplessness makes parents forget how miserable they were with their first child and so paves the way for their second or third. If this is the case, mother nature has found a way to prioritize growing families over parental happiness, and so remaining content becomes a serious challenge.
It’s our philosophy at Whole Wellness Therapy that mental health, physical health and spiritual health are all related, and sleep is a central component to all three, which is why we have made our sleep guide, which you can access below:
This guide is one small way that you can build healthy sleep hygiene.
2. You Will Have Less Time (And Energy)
Many new parents will respond to event invitations with “We just don’t have time with the baby now.” While that is true, most often it really means “We don’t have the energy to go, sorry.” (See point 1).
According to the BLS, when it comes to children under 6, you will be spending an average of 4 hours per day (per parent!) on parenting tasks. That means meal prep, feeding, pumping, cleaning pumps, shopping, reading/educating, playing, changing, rocking, building cribs, etc.
If you have a demanding job, and are adding these tasks on top of your usual routine, it can be almost impossible to find the energy (or time) to take from your usual pre-parenthood life. As a result, some parents decide (or feel forced) to sacrifice their sleep. This is because as our schedules change, so too will our priorities. This brings us to our next topic.
Solution: Consider the following...
3. Your Priorities Will Change
Not only will caring for your child become a new major priority for you, but other things you may not have thought of will change as well. Many new parents discover that their career can’t be the main priority in their life, and so in turn experience an identity crisis (“I used to want to be the CEO, but now…”)
Many parents also discover that they have to negotiate new boundaries of their job with their employer, and maybe never had the confidence to set these boundaries in the first place. Others, end up changing careers.
Furthermore, while many couples had established their routines before they had a child, now they struggle to have any time to themselves to decompress and find inner strength.
Take the time to evaluate your priorities, what do you want?
Many people move through their lives without taking stock of what they really want. This is especially true for parents who act reflexively to changes, and who don’t take a proactive approach to their current needs and goals for the future.
One exercise that you can do on your own (or with your partner) is to schedule 30 minutes in the next week for some self- reflection.
During that time you should write these questions on a piece of paper and answer them to the best of your ability:
When you die and someone speaks at your funeral, what are the 5 things (in order) that you want the speakers to say you have accomplished? (e.g. 1. That I was an excellent parent 2. That I was a loving spouse 3. That I changed my company for the better, etc.)
Now translate these to specific titles and examples of action:
(e.g. Goal 1. Be the best parent I can be by reading parenting books and getting support when I need it.
Goal 2. Make connection with my partner a priority by scheduling quality time together.
Goal 3. Pursue self care by not always putting my dreams aside for the sake of others.)
What makes you happy? How much time do you need to spend doing these things at a minimum to stay content with your life? How can you balance these with your other priorities? Do you need a total re-haul in your life to accomplish this (e.g. embrace minimalism)?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What goals will you have accomplished by then?
How will you have to prioritize your time and schedules to get there?
Counseling is all about building goals and strategies to find personal growth, so if you are interested in exploring your relationship with yourself, contact one of our counselors today.
4. You Will Probably Have Less Intimacy and So Less Sex
The dreaded dead bedroom. Many couples become less intimate when they have a newborn in the house (partly due to fatigue). In turn, these couples have less sex. Intimacy is something that has to be cultivated, it doesn't come about without foresight. While it is certainly not sexy to schedule sex for “the Tuesday after next”, you can schedule alone time. Many couples find benefits by having date night, but we at Whole Wellness Therapy include one important caveat: Don’t talk about parenting on your dates!
We have had some couples come to us and say “we do a date night, but by the end of it we are never in the mood to make love.” When we probe deeper, it turns out that for most of the date, crib dimensions and potty training were the top item of conversation.
“So What Do We Talk About?”
Solution: Schedule Date Night AND Time to Discuss Parenting
Because so many couples end up making their date nights “unsexy” by talking about diapers for most of the night, get that out of the way beforehand. Find a time (Sunday mornings, monday nights, etc.) to put together a meeting with an agenda for you and your partner to go through. As if you are in the Boss Baby ® corporate boardroom, discuss furniture, preschools, chores, come to some conclusion on each and revisit these as appropriate.
This frees up your day to day life to be more focused on your romantic relationship (small acts of kindness, etc.) and also frees up your date night for more appropriate conversation. (Perhaps talk about each other's insights from number 3) Try to have this date night once a week, if your romantic relationship is a priority in your life, date night should be too.
5. Roles and Responsibilities
With the new time spent on parenting there will undoubtedly be changes in roles and expectations for your relationship. In general women can feel that the relationship with their body has changed (“Am I just a woman-sized milk bottle?”) and men may shirk away from childcare for a whole host of reasons. Many couples never talk about this! They instead continue as is, until they feel completely disconnected from their relationships.
Take time to explicitly talk with your partner about your responsibilities. Discuss:
How do you feel about the division of tasks now?
What your ideal solution would be in terms of specific tasks. (If I am pumping, can you clean the pump after?)
Revisit this agreement every few weeks(during your scheduled time).
6. You May Worry A Lot - Postpartum Anxiety/Depression
Many new mothers face challenges to their mental health (made worse by lack of sleep). The most common conditions are postpartum depression and anxiety.
“As many as 50 to 75 percent of new mothers experience the “baby blues” after delivery. While this usually only lasts a few weeks for most, for some this can turn into a chronic struggle. [Postpartum depression]” [Cleveland] In addition to those who face postpartum depression, 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. [postpartum]
Solution: Depending on severity, counseling may be the best option.
7. You May Have More Conflict (Maybe For The First Time)
“Before my husband Tom and I had a baby, we truly didn’t fight. Then we had a baby, and fought all the time,” says Jancee Dunn, a mom and author, who went on to write a book entitled “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.” [NYT]
Many parents find that the stresses and issues we’ve talked about above explode into conflicts. For those couples who haven’t developed their conflict resolution muscle, positive coping doesn’t come easily. Usually, the source of conflicts can be found in multiple factors.
Fran Walfish, PsyD, family and relationship psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” warns that “a decrease in sex, foreplay, and intercourse is often symptomatic of poor communication and a gradual wedge that can build between the couple.” [NYT]
If you come at your disagreements in a correct way, you can learn to turn every "fight" into an opportunity for growth. By seeing your partners perspective, you can better understand their priorities and how you fit into your relationships.
There are some best practices for having a conflict, one of our partner therapists in Minnesota Ben Hoogland, has an interesting webinar on this topic. You can watch that here: Sail Through Conflict.
8. You May Not Be Perfect
Parenting is difficult, and no one truly knows how to do it, so it’s up to us to figure it out on our own. Remember that parenting isn’t a destination as much as it is a journey. We learn, improve and grow with every day. If you make mistakes on the journey, that’s okay, you won’t be perfect as a parent, and the fact that you expect that in the first place is a good sign. However, if you are feeling that you have “parenting perfectionism” that is making you anxious, talking with someone, and putting things in perspective can help. Whether that means being honest with your partner, family, close friend or counselor.
The Solution: Cultivate Peace and Gratitude
Gratitude is probably the biggest contributor to your happiness. [Harvard] Cultivating gratitude and peace may be more difficult with a child, but being a parent offers so many more things to be thankful for if you take the time to do so. Developing feelings of gratitude and magnanimity takes time and patience. Our practitioners use mindfulness and other emergent evidence based practices which can help you achieve calm in your daily life. Otherwise, apps like Calm™ or Headspace™ both help you find happiness on your own time.