There’s no denying it. With a newborn in the house, things between you and your partner will change forever. Having a baby is a momentous step. The transition from a relationship of two to a relationship of three—or more—is likely to be one of the biggest challenges you ever face as a couple.
For some, the new stress reveals existing problems and makes them even worse. For others, the shared responsibility creates new bonds and makes their relationship stronger.
Having a newborn is a crucial time for the future of your relationship. The way you tackle issues now can set the pattern for the rest of your life together. Now is the time to make sure those changes are positive instead of negative. Read on to find out what to expect during this time—and how to deal with the challenge.
- Mothers often feel like their needs become secondary to the baby. Before having a baby you were independent, with your own social life, interests, and, for many, a challenging career. Now you spend most of your time doing chores, feeding your baby, and changing his diapers. People in your life—including your partner—used to pay attention to you. Now they pay attention to your child. As a result, you feel less important in your relationship. In addition, mothers may experience body-image issues following birth as their body changes.
- Fathers often feel isolated and ignored. They may even feel like they are competing with the baby for their partner’s attention. In our culture, women are often viewed as naturally more adept at dealing with a newborn. As a result, when everyone is focused on what’s best for the child, new fathers can feel sidelined by their partner.
- You feel financially insecure. Even with two incomes, the expenses associated with a newborn are likely to be intimidating. Medical costs, clothes, food, and childcare will stretch your budget far more than you’re probably used to. If one parent extends their time off work beyond their parental leave, the pressure will increase. That can lead to them feeling guilty. The financial burden on the other might breed resentment. And when you feel the pressure, you most likely won’t take it out on your baby, but on your spouse.
- Make sure your relationship is strong before having a baby. It’s essential that you and your partner have a deep mutual trust and respect before raising a child. Both parents are likely to feel like their partners is paying more attention to the baby than to them. And that is likely to breed insecurity. You need to know you have each other’s backs in order to weather the storm. Research supports this fact. Couples with poor communication skills and high levels of conflict are more likely to experience a decrease in relationship quality after the baby is born.
- Fathers can support their partner by asking two things—“How are you?” and “How can I help?” It’s important to let your partner know you are interested in her physical and mental well-being when she feels all the attention has shifted to the child. At the same time, she is probably exhausted. Taking over some chores, cooking food, and spending one-on-one time with your child can work wonders for your relationship—with both your partner and your kid.
- Mothers can support their partner by allowing them to have one-on-one time with the baby. It’s also important to recognize any other contributions they make. Whether it’s doing chores, running errands, babysitting, or bringing home the bacon, it’s important for new fathers to feel validated. If they don’t feel like their impact is substantial at this crucial time, it can lead to problems down the road.
- Address your financial problems. Before your child is born, try to contribute to a savings account. The knowledge that you have money saved for emergencies can make daily financial stresses smaller. If possible, keep contributing once your child is born. Accept that you will probably have to make some tough choices about money: the big house or the great school district? A fancy stroller or a weekend vacation? It’s important to decide together, whatever your choice is.
- Build and use your support network. Your newborn child will require an enormous amount of time and attention from you and your partner. Factor in the demands of your career, your social life, and your own mental and physical well-being, and it’s not hard to see why so many couples feel completely overwhelmed. At this time it can help enormously to have access to trusted friends and family. Think of them as more than potential babysitters. Sometimes the most important thing they can offer is a conversation. The timeless saying, “It takes a village” will never seem more accurate.
The Bottom Line
Having a baby in the house is a massive challenge for any couple. Think of this as a time to grow. When problems come up, you will be forced to deal with them. On the other hand, raising a child together is an incredibly deep bonding experience that can draw you together. With communication, flexibility, and fundamental trust, your relationship will endure this tough time and emerge better than ever.