A baby doesn’t make anyone’s relationship easier. Here’s how the two of you can get through this together.
By Sarah Z. Wexler
A new baby can be a landmine that instantly exposes previously-buried hot topics between partners, like how to divide responsibilities, what your priorities are, and how to spend money. Add to that sleep deprivation and stress, and it’s no wonder that after having a baby, 67 percent of couples say their marital satisfaction plummeted, according to research in the Journal of Family Psychology. It’s easy to get resentful when you’re drained—sleep deprivation and hormonal changes mean you can have mood swings and be more irritable—and the truth is, in heterosexual relationships, studies show that moms are less happy because they take on more household chores and childcare, regardless of whether they’re working outside the home.
Here are some ways to get through this major transition:
- Talk about it. Rather than seething in silence, dropping hints, or bottling it up, try to sit down for a conversation with your partner (in a calm moment, not when an argument is brewing) where you talk about how you want things to be, rather than blaming or criticising them for the current state. Often women say, “It feels like we’re on different teams.” Try to see your partner as a teammate in taking on the challenge of a new baby together (to extend the sports metaphor, the baby can be the opposing team).
- Think about your biggest pain points. If you’re dying for an uninterrupted stretch of sleep and you’re breastfeeding, maybe you can pump or use formula so your partner can do an overnight feeding. Maybe you’re happy to do more baby care but can’t deal with the emotional labor of monitoring the household supplies like groceries or when the dog needs a walk. Figure out what the hardest parts of your day (or night) are that are causing the most overwhelm and see if your partner can help lighten your load on those specific tasks or responsibilities.
- Hammer out schedules and routines. Maybe your partner says they want to help more, but then when the baby cries, you get into an argument about whose turn it is, or you automatically jump into action, then feel resentful. The constant evaluating and negotiating about whose turn it is can be exhausting. Instead, make systems–maybe your partner does the first-morning wakings on weekends and you do weekdays, they make dinner on even calendar days and you do on odd days, and so on. It can feel rigid when you’re planning it out, but establishing a routine means one tough negotiation to iron out the details so you don’t have a thousand micro-negotiations in the moment–and you know you’re getting the support you need.
- Make sure you’re not gatekeeping. The concept of “maternal gatekeeping” basically means you think you care for your baby better than anyone else can, including your partner–so you tend to pick at them when they step in, making them not even want to try. If you have trouble not monitoring and criticising how your partner (or mom, or babysitter) is caring for the baby when safety is not a true issue, step away. Take a walk, go in the other room and call a friend, or do something to get a true break.
- Remember that it’s all temporary. It’s easy to sink into catastrophic thoughts such as, “this baby ruined our marriage” or “it’s going to be like this forever.” One helpful thing, when it feels like the very ground under your feet is shifting, is to remind each other that this is just a phase that will pass. A mantra like “this, too, shall pass” or “right now doesn’t mean forever” can be helpful in remembering that though your days may feel like 59 hours apiece, the infant period will feel like ancient history soon.