How to talk and listen

We look at why talking and listening to your partner is vital for new parents, and how to keep communication channels open.

As a new parent with so many new things to think about and feel, talking it over couldn’t be more important (Relate, 2018). Yet with this new world comes that heady cocktail of hormones, stress and tiredness, which you’re now familiar with. This can make talking and listening distinctly challenging. If this is happening in your relationship, rest assured you’re not alone. A whopping 90% of couples argue more after having their first child (Medina, 2014).

There’s every chance your mood is swinging from sheer joy to frantic despair, and from overwhelming pride to angry frustration. And that’s just when changing a nappy. All too often, these emotions spill over into interactions with your partner (Miller, 2005). Sometimes with not entirely healthy consequences.

But if you and your partner have a positive relationship, you’re giving yourselves a better chance of raising happier children (Reynolds et al, 2014). Which means they’re more likely to have positive relationships too (Reynolds et al, 2014).

"Nobody’s perfect but reducing the amount you argue and upping those more constructive interactions means everyone’s a winner."

Er… what are we arguing about again?

By the time you’re both in full-on screaming match mode, all sense of rational thinking has likely gone out the window. Or maybe, you’ve reached an impasse and you’re both silently seething, allowing things to fester while thinking ‘how dare they say that?’

Our friends at Relate say that arguments are like onions. What you’re fighting about – the outer layer – might not turn out to be the most important thing (Relate, 2018).

It might be really annoying that your partner hasn’t washed up the feeding bottles again. But what might be more painful – the inner layers – is you perhaps don’t feel supported enough in other areas of your relationship. Behind the dirty feeding bottles, your partner may have their own issues too.

It’s an important first step to see past those surface emotions and dig a little deeper (Relate, 2018).

Conversation starters

Maybe you feel you’re at each other’s throats so much you’ve forgotten how to have a civil conversation. It can be tough to get back in the habit. But after you’ve taken a step back and gained some perspective, it’s worth remembering these handy hints for talking and listening to each other (Relate, 2018):

Timing is everything

Turn the TV off and make sure neither of you needs to be somewhere else. It’s also good to choose a calm time – ideally not mid-argument.

Be nice

Even if you don’t feel like it, it’s probably best to start things off on a positive note. Try not to be sarcastic or critical.

‘I’ not ‘you’

Sounds simple but it can make a real difference. Rather than ‘you never take an interest in them’, how about ‘sometimes, I could really do with some help with x’.

Empathise and sympathise

Seeing things from your partner’s perspective is vital to resolving any disagreement – for both of you. If you’re respectful of your partner’s feelings, there’s more chance they will appreciate yours. And remember, it’s those inner layers that hold the key.

Keep an eye on yourself

Do you feel yourself getting angry and emotional? Maybe it’s best to press pause and start again when you’ve both calmed down.

Compromise, compromise, compromise

You’re not going to get anywhere by digging in your heels. A bit of give and take will go a long way.

Moving forward…

If you follow these tips, there’s every chance you can start taking the heat out of some of those fights. It’s much better this way than to give each other the silent treatment. It may take a while as old habits can die hard. Yet with a little patience and perseverance, you can really change things for the better (Relate).

This page was last reviewed in December 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

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.

And take a look at our articles on arguing, teamwork, and how your relationship changes when you become a parent.

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

Miller T. (2005) Making sense of motherhood: a narrative approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Relate. (2018) I can't seem to stop arguing with my partner. What can we do? Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/arguing-and-conflict/i-cant-seem-stop-arguing-my-partner-what-can-we-do [Accessed 1st December 2018].

Reynolds J, Houlston C, Coleman L. (2014) Understanding relationship quality. OnePlusOne. Available from: 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].

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