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Couple under pressure

We all know tempers can get frayed as new parents. Here we look at ten typical hot topics and how to manage them.

You’d be surprised about the variety of things parents can find to argue about. Here we list the top ten we hear about from parents we speak to, time and time again. Plus advice on how best to deal with them. Some may sound familiar…

1. ‘I’ve had less sleep than you have’

Worst competition ever. Try to put aside unhelpful feelings of resentment and focus your energies on working together to share the burden. It's a good idea to plan the day so you both have a chance to sleep and take some time for self-care.

2. ‘You’re just at home all day, I have to work’

Plenty of partners have thought it; some have even dared to say it. With a new baby, you’re both facing huge new pressures on your time. Research shows that divvying up household chores while respecting each other’s responsibilities makes for better, happier parents (Kluwer and Johnson, 2007).

Maybe sit down and list all the household jobs: the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about planning when and who might be best to get each one done. Remember that some jobs can wait until you have more spare time. If you have any friends or family who offer to help, you could note down which jobs could be passed to them.

3. ‘Let them be, they’ll be fine’

When to wrap them in cotton wool and when to allow them to take risks – it’s a daily tightrope all new parents walk. If you’re disagreeing on something, try to put yourself in your partner’s position before leaping to judgements.

If you can’t reach a way forward, you could talk to someone you both trust (e.g. a friend, family member or health visitor) for a third-party perspective.

4. ‘It would be better if we did sleep training/co-sleeping/controlled crying’

You won’t be the first couple to disagree about this, and you certainly won’t be last. Have a look at our article on the pros and cons of leaving a baby to cry and sleep training, and decide what’s going to be best for the whole family. And it goes without saying, it’s best to have this conversation at a neutral time rather in the middle of the night when baby is crying…

5. ‘I thought you were watching them’

Blaming each other isn’t going to get you anywhere. Couples who support each other are more likely to have better parenting experiences (Burgess, 2011; Chong and Mickelson, 2016).

6. ‘We haven’t had sex for months’

Yep, that’s about par for the course as a parent (Brotherson, 2007) and it is important to wait until you both feel ready. Remember to be open and honest with your partner about how you're feeling and use other ways to show love and affection in the meantime. Perhaps you could plan a date night.

7. ‘You shouldn’t let your mother mollycoddle her like that’

Managing grandparents’ or other family members’ ideas about childcare can be tricky enough as it is. Try not to let it come between the two of you as well. Remember, you are parenting as a team and you are making the best decisions you can for your family. 

8. ‘You put what on the credit card?’

More to pay for and quite possibly less to pay for it with. Managing your new family budget together is a great way to build trust and commitment (Relate, no date a). You can find information and support with your finances from the Government-backed Money Helper website. You can also read more about how to talk to your partner about money here.

9. ‘Why are you feeding her that rubbish?’

The topic of baby weaning and feeding is almost as sensitive as sleeping. Rather than wading in, try taking time to decide collectively on your approach. You could start by reading up about the pros and cons of baby-led weaning and practical tips for starting solid food on a budget.

10. ‘Back late again? That’s the second time this week.’

New parenthood is a team effort. Glancing at the door waiting for your other half to walk through it (so you can share the bedtime load) is a common scenario.

While it is important to find time for yourself or for work commitments, try to plan ahead when you can, and clearly communicate those plans. Then keep each other informed of your movements and timings.

So how do we resolve these spats, and prevent them from recurring?

Having a baby means so many new potential flare-ups. And, of course, you’ve both had very little sleep. So don’t be too hard on yourself, or your partner, as you’re bound to argue a bit. Sometimes, it can even be healthy (Relate, no date b).

Try to deal with conflict constructively. You could start with identifying the problem by listening to each other and talking it over (Relate, no date b).

With emotions running high, new parents often find it hard to resolve disagreements happily (Houts et al, 2008). They’re less likely to discuss problems (Glade et al, 2005), which means arguments are often left to fester (Kluwer and Johnson, 2007). So talk it out, and break the silence.

This page was last reviewed in February 2022.

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.

You might find attending one of our 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.

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.

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

One plus one also has lots of useful articles with information on changing relationships. For further help with making your relationship better, take a look here

If you're struggling with your mental health after having a baby, it might help to read our articles on how you might be feeling when you become a parent.

Brotherson SE. (2007) From partners to parents: couples and the transition to parenthood. International Journal of Childbirth Education. 22(2):7-12. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278728617_From_Partners_to_Par… [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Burgess A. (2011) Fathers roles in perinatal mental health: causes, interactions and effects. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Burgess%20Fathers%20roles%20in%20perinatal%20mental%20health%20%2824-9%29_1.pdf [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Chong A, Mickelson KD. (2016) Perceived fairness and relationship satisfaction during the transition to Parenthood. Journal of Family Issues. 37(1):3-28. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0192513X13516764 [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Glade AC, Bean RA, Vira R. (2005) A prime time for marital/relational intervention: a review of the transition to parenthood literature with treatment recommendations. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 33:319-336. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01926180590962138 [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Houts RM, Barnett-Walker KC, Paley B, Cox MJ. (2008) Patterns of couple interaction during the transition to parenthood. Personal Relationships. 15:103-122. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2007.00187.x [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Kluwer ES, Johnson MD. (2007) Conflict frequency and relationship quality across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family. 69:1089-1106. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00434.x [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

Relate. (no date a). 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 2nd February 2022].

Relate. (no date b). I can’t seem to stop arguing with my partner. What can we do? Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/arguing-and-conflict/i-cant-seem-stop-arguing-my-partner-what-can-we-do [Accessed 2nd February 2022].

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