At first, my husband and I were so grossly in love that our mutual friends would gag when we kissed and referred to us as “Nian,” because we were so glued to each other’s sides that our individual names (Natalie and Ian) were no longer relevant or necessary.
Fast forward just a few years and you’d find me crying silent tears of rage in my bedroom, fantasizing about leaving him (even looking into hotels) because he didn’t know what size diapers our baby needed.
I hated him. He ... wasn’t so fond of me, either. What the hell had happened to our relationship?
Right, we had a baby, and even though we swore it wouldn’t happen to us, our marriage went to shit. And, if the conversations I was having with my mom friends and in Facebook parenting groups were any indication, we weren’t alone.
Babies really do strain relationships
Two thirds of parents are less satisfied with their marriage after having a baby, according to a widely-cited 2011 study by famous couples’ therapists, John and Julie Gottman. In fact, it’s so common, that a lot of people think it’s inevitable and acceptable, John Gottman told the American Psychological Association.
The reason for all that discontent mostly boils down to change: to your identity, your sex life, the division of labour, and the stress that comes along with all that change.
“Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse,” Matthew D. Johnson, Chair and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at Binghamton University, wrote in The Conversation.
So, how do you fix things?
There are a number of tips new parents can try to get their relationship back on track. And no, it’s not all about date nights (although those are still important).
Below are some tried and true suggestions for working on your relationship after a baby bombshell.
1. Get more sleep
Listen, I know more than anyone how LOL impossible this might seem when you have a new baby. Babies are, after all, the ultimate sleep killers.
WATCH: The truth about baby sleep. Story continues below.
But neither you nor your partner are at your best when you’re chronically sleep-deprived. Little things are more likely to set you off when you’re exhausted, and if your baby is up all night, that means you and your partner also lose out on some much-needed time without bebe.
Need more convincing? A U.K. poll of new parents found that three in 10 said sleep deprivation was a factor in why they broke up.
When my own relationship was at its worst about six months after our son was born, I decided to sleep train. I’m not exaggerating that I think this may have saved our marriage. We went from dozing in 45-minute stretches to getting a proper night’s sleep, we had our evenings back, the stress of trying to get our baby to fall asleep every single night to no avail had been eliminated, and getting our son to stick to a schedule gave us something to work on — together.
2. Read this book
But How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn should be considered essential reading for anyone going through a rocky time after baby’s arrival. It’s funny, it’s full of scientific facts and research, and the tips are spot on.
My mommy book club is reading this right now, no joke.
And not just via angry texts reminding your partner they forgot to pick up formula (AGAIN).
The daily stress of raising a baby, or going to work, or trying to do both, can leave parents feeling emotional and overwhelmed. The Gottman Institute recommends having daily, stress-reducing conversations with your partner.
“Couples who can discuss the frustrations of their day, as separate from the relationship, have an opportunity to vent, gain support, and show empathy for one another,” the Institute notes.
“Feeling heard and understood helps alleviate any unwanted tension that can otherwise filter into the relationship. Gaining comfort and encouragement at the end of the day makes you feel like you’re both ‘in it together.’”
4. Discuss the division of labour
One of the most common complaints couples have after having a baby is that one person is doing more than the other, according to parenting expert Alyson Schafer. She recommends checking in to make sure everyone feels they’re pulling their fair share of the weight.
But try not to keep score, ie. “I changed the last diaper so you change this one.”
“In reality, deal making and contracts, quid pro quo, mostly operate in unhappy marriages. Don’t keep score. Build connection and strengthen your relationship by freely offering each other positive overtures and support,” The Gottman Institute notes.
Instead, be clear about what you need (as opposed to “storming around folding laundry,”), Parents magazine suggests.
“Women tend to think if they say what needs to be taken care of, the other person will volunteer to do it. But men often respond better to direct requests,” Carol Ummel Lindquist, PhD, author of Happily Married with Kids, told the magazine.
5. Try this online program
All my mom friends who recently had their second babies rave about this program from the popular mom blogger “Mom Break.”
It promises to help you re-connect with your partner in 30 days via a series of daily “digital love prompts.” Basically, both you and your partner will receive the same daily love prompt via email or text (an example is “what do you admire most about your partner?”), and then you forward your reply to your loved one.
You also receive a daily love note, and some date night ideas.
Speaking of which...
6. Reconnect with each other
Relationship experts agree that date nights are critical. But that doesn’t mean you have to get a sitter and a cocktail dress. The goal is to reconnect, however you can.
Anything that encourages playfulness and connecting with each other can be considered a date, whether that’s going out for a meal, going for a hike, or staying in and playing board games, Dr. Laurie Betito, a clinical psychologist and sex and relationship expert in Montreal, previously told HuffPost Canada.
7. Reconnect with yourself
It’s important to spend time apart, too. A lot of parents feel they lose their identities after having kids, but taking the time to pursue your individual interests can help — and help your relationship.
Sign up for a yoga class, sewing class, or swim class. Join that book club. Go to the gym. Meet up with friends. And encourage your partner to do the same. You can take turns watching the kids, and each look forward to your special night out.
8. Go to couple’s counselling
There’s no shame in calling in a pro.
“More couples today are seeking relationship counselling after having a baby than ever before. This does not necessarily mean that the stresses are greater now than in previous years, but rather that more couples are recognizing when they need help,” Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital notes on its website.
According to the Gottman Institute, a counsellor can help you and your partner identify toxic patterns, see new perspectives and discover new ways to resolve conflicts, and build trust, all in a neutral location.
9. Go to individual counselling
Sometimes there’s more at play than you realize.
Anger (even directed at your partner) is a common, but often overlooked, symptom of postnatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety. In fact, 2018 research from the University of British Columbia found that women who experience either of these disorders are also likely to experience feelings of anger.
Dads and partners can experience postpartum depression, too. Sick Kids recommends seeking professional help if you or your partner experience any signs of depression, such as feeling out of control, unpredictable crying, feeling worthless, forgetfulness, or withdrawal from your baby or your partner.
20 Ideas For 2020 is our series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.
Also on HuffPost: