A depressing question, we know. But we often hear from parents experiencing a real change in their relationship when a baby comes along. And frequently. these feelings can be negative (Relate, 2019a).
Perhaps you are both experiencing new feelings and these will be short lived. Perhaps previous problems have resurfaced, which may be harder to shake. Or you might be experiencing a mixture of both.
Whatever the cause, you can be sure you’re not alone.
Is it normal for my feelings towards my partner to change once we have a baby?
You don’t need us to tell you that having a baby changes everything. You’re most likely going through a cocktail of wonderment, confusion, anxiety, exhaustion, nerves, and total and utter joy. It’s safe to say the rollercoaster of emotions is in full effect.
As our friends at Relate tell us, the focus of this new chapter in your life is going to be that helpless little thing that’s just turned your world upside down. We’re talking about your baby, in case you also got a kitten at the same time.
"It’s not surprising that your relationship with your partner might take a back seat for a while, as you adjust to a new normal."
Where are all these negative feelings coming from?
Having a baby can be a huge time of stress (Relate, 2019b). And it’s not uncommon for stuff you could usually work through to become major points of tension. Why? It could be some or all of the following:
Your identity has changed
Many of us define ourselves by our friends, our interests or our careers. Guess what? Your disposable time and income has just radically shrunk. Those mountain biking weekends away and those cocktail nights are going to be in short supply for a while.
Letting go of who you are and embracing the new you (complete with sling and change bag) can be hard. But with a little bit of communication, planning and understanding, you’ll soon be operating like a well-oiled parenting machine. And that means in a few months that mojito will be back where it belongs. In your hand.
You’re responsible like never before
You’ve got to keep this baby alive, fed, clothed and with a roof over its head. You have to bring it up, teach it how to be a good human being. And you never, ever stop being a parent. Wow, that sounds like a good recipe for stress, and stress causes us to react without thinking clearly (Relate, 2019c).
You’re not focussing on each other
Humans love to be nurtured. It’s a fundamental part of being in a loving relationship. But when a baby comes along, it’s hard for both of you not to feel like you’re second place. Because you probably are. This is natural and healthy but it takes a clear mind, some perspective and a whole lot of getting used to.
You’re very, very, very tired
It’s so obvious but it’s absolutely fundamental to what’s happening. You’re exhausted. And when we’re exhausted, we’re not at our best.
Exhaustion means everything is harder. Everything takes more effort and twice as long. We get irritable. We take it out on the people closest to us. We get defensive. We don’t listen. We’re less tolerant.
And how much better do we feel after just one night’s good sleep? Yes, it’s vital to work out a sleep plan from the start.
So what’s making me feel this way?
Is it me? Is it them? Chances are it’s both of you. Both new mums and new dads will be affected by becoming a parent. When you think about what’s happening (see above), it’s no wonder you might be behaving differently. And you might not even realise it. This is why communication is so important.
When things are stressful, it really helps to talk through how you’re feeling with your partner. The lack of sleep, the stress, a million things to do – all of these make it easy not to take the time to understand what your partner is going through.
None of us are mind readers. Rather than snapping or brooding, try finding a 30-second window and having a calm chat. There’s more relationship advice on the Relate website.
How can we get back to a more positive place?
First things first. Something brought you together and made you want to create this family in the first place. As parents, it’s tough to find the time and headspace to focus on your relationship. It can also take effort to maintain a healthy partnership (Relate, 2019d). Some of the most important things to think about are the following:
Did we mention how important this is? It’s really important. Get a plan in place, make sure you know who’s doing the night duties, who’s having the lie in and grab any opportunity to catch up (Relate, 2019d).
Your little one will do a lot of sleeping. So resist the temptation to always tidy the house or catch up on admin when they’re asleep and sleep like a baby too. Afternoon naps, why wouldn’t you?
It’s important to try and carve out the time to keep connected. And when negative things are on your mind, try and be open and honest.
If you don’t think your partner is helping out, try and find time to have a conversation, rather than snapping an accusation across the dinner table. We know it’s hard, but even a quick glass of wine and a 15 minute catch up after dinner can make a world of difference (Relate, 2019d).
Time for you
It might sound like a cliché but planning some ‘us time’ for just the two of you is a great way to make sure your relationship isn’t neglected. A date night can be as simple as dinner at the table with some music on. Or you could order a pizza and have a foot massage while watching your favourite boxset.
If you’re feeling adventurous, get a babysitter and go wild. That is, until 9.30pm when you’ll be ready for bed (Relate, 2019d).
When you’re in a negative place, thoughts of intimacy can be the furthest from your mind. But sex brings closeness and bonding, and is a natural part of most relationships.
Don’t think you have to go at it, just being physically close is a great first step. And if there’s resentment on either side due to mismatched expectations, make sure you talk about how you’re feeling (Relate, 2019d).
Like we said, when you’re tired, emotional or stressed, you get negative. When you’re negative, it’s easier to get defensive. When you’re feeling defensive, it’s natural to argue.
Yet not every difference is worth an argument. If you can take a deep breath and not mention the niggle you’re feeling, it will probably pass. And hey presto, an argument is avoided (Relate, 2019d).
Sometimes relationships don’t work. It’s as simple as that. We know working at your relationship as well as every challenge the new baby brings can feel overwhelming. But try to find that slither of time to talk, listen and understand (as well as a few hours’ kip).
With a bit of effort, you and your partner can get back on track and love each other as people as well as parents.
This page was last reviewed in June 2019.
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 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.
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.
Relate help people make the most of their relationships and offer practical advice and counselling services.
BACP has a register of couples and family counsellors if you think talking with an independent expert might help get you back on track.
Relate. (2019a) How to maintain a healthy relationship after a baby has been born. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/how-maintain-healthy-relationship-after-baby-has-been-born [accessed 11th June 2019]
Relate. (2019b) We’ve just had a baby and we’re arguing all the time. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/weve-just-had-baby-and-were-arguing-all-time [accessed 11th June 2019]
Relate. (2019c) Stress in relationships. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/mental-health/stress-relationships [accessed 11th June 2019]
Relate. (2019d) Top 4 reasons couples argue after having a baby. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/top-4-reasons-couples-argue-after-having-baby [accessed 11th June 2019]