Your life changes in a single moment, even though you had nine months to warm up for the new role. For first-time moms and dads, any amount of reading and hearing about what it’s like to become a parent cannot prepare you for what is to come. And the change is so extensive that it reaches into your self-identity, into your perception of the world, and probably most noticeably into your relationship with your partner. Your marriage will change after having a baby, and it would be deceitful to claim that the change will necessarily be for the better. At least not right from the start. Nonetheless, parenthood does not have to signal the end of romantic infatuation and intimacy, if you take up active attitude and seek professional help to assist you through this period.
What will change?
Studies show that becoming a parent alters your relationship, regardless of whether the child was planned or not, if it’s a boy or a girl and what you were hoping for, for how long you’ve been in the relationship before the pregnancy, or any other factor, for that matter. And, unfortunately, psychological research suggests that relationship satisfaction is likely to decrease, especially during the first months of your child’s life. Both new mothers and new fathers will feel the pressure in their own way, although men’s needs and emotions are often neglected in this whirlpool.
The main culprit is absolute exhaustion you’re about to experience. Women are usually main caregivers, especially if they breastfeed, but men also suffer from lack of sleep and rest during the first weeks and months. They often find themselves having to joggle their roles, new and old ones – helping their wives with household chores, providing care to a fragile infant, while also struggling to ensure enough financial stability for their growing family. When men become fathers, biology and societal norms demand that they assume the role of main breadwinners for some time, which puts them under greater pressure to be at the top of their game at work. Nonetheless, they also wish to spend some quality time with their child and partner and participate in their newborn’s milestones. All this stress every new father is bound to withstand is further amplified by the changes in sexual life, intimacy, communication, and previously shared socializing and dates.
What can I do?
It is normal to feel overwhelmed by what is possibly the single biggest change in your life. It is also understandable that your relationship will undergo some modifications and possibly a true storm. However, there is also good news. With some patience, understanding, and proactive approach, you and your partner will become stronger together. Here’s what you can do to help this process go smoother and end well:
Whether or not you take some time off work, keep the old schedule, or take on additional hours, keep in mind that your partner works overtime throughout her days, even though she’s at home all day long. Try to recognize out loud how much effort she puts into caring for your delicate new addition, and how tiring that must be for her. Praise her for all the good work she’s pulling off and ask frequently how you can help, and you will both learn to be more empathetic towards other’s hard work.
Your partner is no longer master of her own time, she cannot be spontaneous as she used to be, and most of the time cannot do what she likes when she likes it. You can help her not to feel lost in motherhood by offering to take care of the baby, even just for a few hours during the weekend for example, so that she can take a long uninterrupted bath, do some yoga, call her friends, or do whatever she might feel she’s missing out on. Such step will ease the tension in your relationship, as she won’t be feeling like she’s on her own in looking after your offspring (no matter how unjustifiable this perception may seem to you).
Be patient with intimacy after childbirth, even if it meant waiting for a few weeks or months. Your partner will need some time to find a way to be a woman again, not just a mother, and you should help her by being understanding of her inner turmoil. In the meantime, don’t lose sight of other forms of intimacy, hug and kiss her often, and try to arrange enough time just for the two of you. The moment when you both remember why you decided to bring a new life to the world in the first place will come soon enough.
Your most important task is, however, to be mindful of the moment in which the stress becomes a serious danger for your relationship, and seek advice from a psychotherapist if and when it happens. A psychotherapist will help you find your way around all the hurdles that lay ahead, communicate your feelings and needs in a healthy way, understand what your partner is going through, and bring your family over this difficult period of adjusting to your new roles. Becoming a parent is not an easy task, and it poses the most important test your relationship will ever have to succeed at. I will not be easy, and you may feel as if everything you loved disappeared and transformed for good. Nevertheless, that does not mean that you have to come to peace with your marriage falling apart, not at all. You just need to be prepared for the changes that are to come and know when to reach out for professional help, so that your new family and your relationship become the best parts of your life.