It’s no secret having kids changes everything. That includes your relationship with your partner.
After becoming parents, couples face both expected and unforeseen challenges ― from the division of tasks to the lack of sleep to the limitations on intimacy.
We asked a group of therapists to share the most common relationship concerns they hear from their patients who are new parents. You may find some consolation in their answers if you’re a new parent yourself.
“Parenthood is putting a strain on our relationship.”
“Couples almost always experience significant relationship stress upon becoming new parents. With limited sleep, changes in work schedules (and limited parental leave), and the huge responsibility of caring for a vulnerable little baby, many couples find themselves stressed and feeling disconnected. Millennials especially value parenting well, which means that sometimes they are more willing to sacrifice the needs of their partnership. But research continues to show the importance of parental relationship health in families. When you invest in your partnership, you invest in your family and your child’s health. Seeking out couples therapy during the first few years of your child’s life can help both partners feel connected, navigate challenges more gracefully, and solidify the foundation of their relationship together.” ― Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist and founder of Happy Nest
“Will we have sex again? I feel like my sex drive has left my body.”
“Most people will have sex again. No need to put that much pressure on yourself, sex isn’t going to happen with all that pressure. There are a few things conducive to having sex again. First is sleep. We don’t want to do anything when we don’t have enough sleep, let alone sex. Second is time alone with your spouse. Are you two having date nights? It’s hard to foster an intimate relationship when you two are surrounded by dirty diapers all the time.” ― Mabel Yiu, a marriage and family therapist in California
“How can we maintain a connection with each other?”
“It is difficult to have regular dinner dates or pillow talk when your life has been turned upside down. Being mindful to keep a strong relationship with your partner a priority, take time to build in bonding moments when you can with flexibility. For instance, you may use the baby’s nap or feeding time to catch up about your day. Text each other hilarious things that keep you in touch while you’re away so you can talk at different times. Be sure to occasionally flirt and physically touch when you’re both in the same room. Do not replace your intimacy with just the baby, no matter how strong your hormones, because you deserve and need to have adult intimacy as well.” ― Kari Carroll, a marriage and family therapist in Portland, Oregon
“We can’t figure out how to divide responsibilities.”
“New parents often bring up how to divide labor in the home now that the load has significantly increased while free time has significantly decreased. This is not ideal and can create a lot of conflict and tension between the new parents. Along with the new bundle of joy comes diaper duty, feedings, bathing, extra laundry, more messes and so on. Fighting over who does what is not romantic! Most couples don’t have any idea prior to having a baby the amount of workload that increases. Many couples will start to find their new normal a few months in. If not, sit down and discuss what things should look like. What makes the most sense? For example, if one parent stays home with the baby, then naturally much of the burden of the household chores will fall on this person. But if both work outside the home, discuss a fair division. Express this in a nonblaming and noncritical way, as it’s likely you both got caught off guard by this.” ― Marni Feuerman, a licensed marriage therapist and couples counselor in Boca Raton, Florida
“Lack of sleep is tearing us apart.”
“Almost ALL parents bring up lack of sleep and its implication on their marriage. It is known that couples who are sleep-deprived are less sensitive to each other, argue more often, and about two-thirds report marital dissatisfaction. Many bring up lack of downtime, saying, ‘I just want to be.’ In other words, they complain that they are just too busy, they don’t have time for themselves and [their own] needs.” ― Orly Katz, a relationships and marriage counselor practicing in Rockville, Maryland
“It’s hard to go from being a couple to being a family.”
“I work with new parents on the adjustment from being a couple to being a family. Having a new baby can bring about a lot of stress, and oftentimes, in the middle of the transition into becoming parents, communication between the couple can break down a bit. I work with couples on how to reconnect after a baby, how to maintain connection when having a baby to care for, communication between the partners, including dad, in the caretaking, helping parents to continue to place an importance on their relationship while still caring for a baby.” ― Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, a marriage and family therapist in California
“Why won’t my partner help me as much with the baby?”
“Often, I hear from clients that one partner expects to maintain their usual hobbies or work after the baby is born, typically the man in a heterosexual relationship, and neglects their part in the duties of caring for a baby. While it is true that woman traditionally have had the role of raising children, many women are also working and re-negotiating duties within the nucleus of a new family. Historically, women also had more community support in caring for a baby, and our culture has largely shifted to remove that support. In my practice, I help couples negotiate the reality of the new duties that exist and come to terms with how to share the burden of care, creating a sense of fairness and avoiding the spawn of resentful long-term patterns. Taking parenting classes and talking with other parents, your doctor and your spouse can be good ways to learn these caretaking skills. There may be a natural grieving for both parents of their old selves, but ultimately, an acceptance and desire must exist to take on this joint responsibility.” ― Carroll
“My in-laws are driving me nuts.”
“When new parents have come to therapy, establishing boundaries with in-laws is one of the most common concerns. Whenever there is a change to a family system, it can be difficult for all members involved to know their role in the unit and to establish boundaries for healthy relationships. For this reason, it is common for in-law relationships to be difficult to manage, as in-laws are excited for the new addition to the family unit but struggle to know their place.” ― Amanda Cummins, an associate therapist with The Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, Colorado
“I’m worried we’re not on the same page.”
“How to raise a child and parenting decisions are a common concern for couples. Although couples may have discussed this prior to becoming new parents, their plan on how to raise a child often changes in some regard once the child is born. Couples want to feel like they are a team with their partner, so it can cause emotional distress when feeling that they are not ‘on the same page’ as they thought they once were.” ― Cummins
Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.