Bringing a new baby home is bound to challenge even the steadiest of relationships—especially if the two of you are first-time parents. With an endless list of to-dos, sleepless nights, and compromises to be made, you and your partner may start to feel more like coworkers and less like a couple. But hang on—that crazy newborn transition time is temporary. You and your significant other can find your way back to a healthy, happy place, and odds are you’ll find that facing parenthood together makes you an even stronger unit in the long run. (It just takes a bit of work.) For tips and insights on navigating your couple bond with a new baby, we chatted with relationship expert Robyne Howard, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist with Lakefront Consulting Group in Chicago.
Struggling to connect? You’re not alone
It’s no secret that the newborn stage can be tough on a couple — but it’s easy to forget how normal that struggle is when you’re in the thick of it. “It is unlikely that a couple will not struggle after having a baby,” says Howard. “For many couples, relationship satisfaction drops significantly after the birth of their child. New parents often become tired, sleepy and irritable, making good connections and attachment to one another strained.” The bottom line? If you’re feeling relationship strain, remember that it’s pretty common. And those couples who seem to have it all together? Odds are they’re having a tough time, too.
Relationship issues can pop up at any time
Some couples struggle the most right after baby is born (particularly if the baby has health issues or requires NICU time) but for others, the strain sets in even earlier—like during pregnancy. (Symptoms like morning sickness and exhaustion can put a damper on things.) Others might sail through the first few weeks with a new baby only to be hit hard down the line as parental leaves end. The good news? Howard says that most couples do find their groove as the months go on. “Things are often easier for most couples a year post baby when they have a better rhythm of how tasks are divided and more acumen in understanding their new roles as parents and expectations of each other,” she says.
Good communication takes effort
Staying on the same page is tough when you don’t have any alone time, but Howard says to prioritize open and honest conversations on a daily basis. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or even depressed, discuss it with your partner, she says. And ask for what you need! Whether it’s more help with washing bottles, a back rub, or even just a few hours away from the baby, no one can anticipate your needs unless you communicate them.
Your partner may be struggling more than you know
While your partner may not be dealing with the lingering effects of childbirth or the challenges of breastfeeding, he or she is probably struggling with the transition as well. Sex may be the last thing on your mind (understandably!) and your partner may be struggling to feel physically connected to you. “He or she might feel rejected, which can create distance and hurt and anger,” says Howard. It’s tricky—you’ll likely be feeling “touched out” thanks to the responsibilities of feeding and caring for a human, but it’s important to remember that you’re more than just a mom. “Finding alone time, scheduling date nights, being social with friends, discussing the things that were meaningful pre-baby and most of all, keeping the romance alive—even if you don’t want sex—are all key,” says Howard.
Don’t feel guilty about missing your pre-baby life
“It’s a tough transition for every parent, even those who have fought long and hard to conceive,” says Howard. “It can create grief for your former life along with an intense joy, which combined, can be overwhelmed and confusing for many couples. Delight in the child you have created together and the new life you are embarking on together,” she says. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss sleeping in or spontaneous date nights, but remember: You and your partner just created whole human together. That’s pretty huge, and it’s worth celebrating. Even on the hard days.