Arguing – the underlying causes

Almost everyone does it and hardly anyone talks about it. Here we look at why new parents argue and how you might diffuse those moments of tension.

Having more arguments with your partner since your baby came along? You’re not alone. Research shows that nine out of 10 first-time parents argue more than before the child was born (Medina, 2014). It turns out all those perfect-looking new-parent relationships on social media don’t always tell the whole story.

Why are we getting at each other?

You have a new baby to look after and your world has turned upside down. These are not ideal conditions for a relationship. Our friends at Relate tell us there are four main reasons new parents argue. Sleep (lack of it), sex (ditto), money (wait, there’s a pattern developing here…), and doing your fair share (Relate). Let’s take them in turn.

Lack of sleep

Try not to slip into the ‘who’s had the least sleep’ competition. In all likelihood, neither of you will have had much sleep. Relate advise coming up with a plan collectively. Probably around taking turns to get up in the night. And if you can, give each other the odd night off altogether (Relate). You will get through it. We promise.

“The unbearable anxiety of trying to get to sleep knowing that the cry was going to come again within a couple of hours... About the only good thing I can say about it, is that after a few months all those nights kind of blur into one and you forget about them.” Laura, mum to Agnes, three years

Sex

New babies do not make for a great sex life (Brotherson, 2007). Where before, physical closeness might have helped smooth the edges of any disagreements, now, it’s probably off the menu. At least for a little while. It’s perfectly natural for mums to lose interest and partners to feel rejected (Brotherson, 2007).

And in any case, it’s common for neither of you to have the time or energy (Brotherson, 2007).

 

But just because you don’t have sex, doesn’t mean you can’t still touch. Or be romantic. You may be a family of three now, but it’s still a good idea to make time for the two of you. Couples who continue to show each other love and affection are more likely to find that parenthood strengthens their relationship (Shapiro et al, 2000).

Money

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, you’re likely to be more financially stretched, too. One more mouth to feed; often, on one less income. Research shows that dads, in particular, feel the pressure of financial responsibility for a new family (Chin et al, 2011).

“It plays on my mind that all of a sudden paying the mortgage is down to me. For now anyway. I feel like I have to be more grown up, there is no safety net. I can’t mess up at work. I think it is just worry, rather than reality, I’m good at my job. But my attitude towards it has changed somewhat.” John, dad to Jackson, seven months

If you find yourself arguing over family finances, it’s a good idea to come together to agree a baby budget. Agree on larger baby purchases together. Agree to buy second hand where possible perhaps. Managing money together shares the burden, and builds trust and commitment (Relate). Remember to leave a little over for your own little luxuries too.

Doing your fair share

There’s suddenly a whole lot more to do and a whole lot less time. Oh yes, and did we mention that you’ll be more or less constantly exhausted? Research shows that parents who jointly agree a plan for sharing the housework are less stressed (Brotherson, 2007; Kluwer and Johnson, 2010).

“You need to be like a Formula 1 pit team just to get through ‘til bath time. Really take the time to understand, appreciate and respect what the other one is doing.” Ian, dad to Ted, 14 months

If you think you argue too much about who’s doing what around the house, take a look at our article on how to be a parenting team. You might be glad you did. Taking time to solve this particular problem removes a common trigger for any couple’s disagreements. 

For more on what causes the most regular flare-ups, also check out our article on the top ten topics new parents argue about.

Does arguing impact our baby?

A lot of parents we speak to worry that their arguing might have a negative impact on their baby. Children of couples who often argue or are unhappy in their relationship might have a harder time coping themselves as they get older (Reynolds et al, 2014).

Every couple is going to squabble from time to time – more so when they have a new baby to look after. But if you’re worried that it’s more serious than that, do call our friends at Relate for practical and emotional support.

You can also check out our article on how to talk and listen to each other. If you’re arguing so much you think it might be affecting your baby, it’s a good idea to take a step back and talk things through.

This page was last reviewed in December 2018.

 

Further information

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby. To find out when an NCT nearly new sale is happening near you, search here.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

This article from Relate looks at the reasons couples argue after having a baby.

Brotherson SE. (2007) From partners to parents: Couples and the transition to parenthood. IJCE 22(2):7-12.

Chin R, Daiches A, Hall P. (2011) A qualitative exploration of first time fathers experiences of becoming a father. Community Practitioner. 84(7):19-23.

Kluwer ES, Johnson MD. (2007) Conflict frequency and relationship

quality across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family. 69:1089-1106.

Medina J. (2014) Brain rules for baby: How to raise a smart and happy child from zero to five.  London: Pear Press.

Relate. (2018). Top 4 reasons couples argue after having a baby.

Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/top-4-reasons-couples-argue-after-having-baby

[Accessed 1st December 2018].

Reynolds J, Houlston C, Coleman, L. (2014) Understanding Relationship Quality. OnePlusOne. Available at: http://www.oneplusone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/UnderstandingRelationship-Quality-by-Jenny-Reynolds-Dr-Catherine-Houlston-and-Dr-Lester-Coleman.pdf [Accessed 1st December 2018].

Shapiro AF, Gottman JM, Carrere S. (2000) The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology. 14(1):59-70.

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