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 negative 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 and you and your partner might go through things at a different time and pace to each other (Relate, no date b).
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. It is normal in the early transition to parenthood for you and your partner to neglect each other as you focus on nurturing your baby (Delicate et al, 2018).
"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 (Ayers et al, 2019; Relate, no date c). 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 (McCourt, 2006)
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 mates nights out are going to be in short supply for a while.
Letting go 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 your mojo will be back.
You’re responsible like never before (Nelson et al, 2014)
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, no date d).
You’re not focussing on each other (Delicate et al, 2018)
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 (Montgomery-Downs et al, 2013)
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.
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 two minute 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, no date e).
Our other articles discuss some of the most important things to think about for getting your relationship back to a more positive place:
- Top tips: taking care of yourself after having a baby
- How to be a parenting team
- How to communicate with your partner after having a baby
- Date night when you're a parent: keeping the spark alive
- Sex after a baby: 10 questions to ask yourself
This page was last reviewed in March 2022.
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. 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.
BACP has a register of couples and family counsellors if you think talking with an independent expert might help get you back on track.
Ayers S, Crawley R, Webb R, Button S, Thornton A, HABiT collaborative group, et al. (2019) What are women stressed about after birth? Birth. 46(4):678-685. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31612558/ [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Delicate A, Ayers S, McMullen S. (2018) A systematic review and meta-synthesis of the impact of becoming parents on the couple relationship. Midwifery. 61:88-96. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323576128_A_systematic_review_… [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
McCourt C. (2006) Becoming a parent. In: The new midwifery: science and sensitivity in practice. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone: 49-71.
Montgomery-Downs HE, Stremler R, Insana SP. (2013) Postpartum sleep in new mothers and fathers. Open Sleep J. 6(1):87-97. Available at: https://benthamopen.com/contents/pdf/TOSLPJ/TOSLPJ-6-87.pdf [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Nelson SK, Kushlev K, Lyubomirsky S. (2014) The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being? Psychol Bull. 140(3):846-895. Available at: https://content.apa.org/record/2014-03896-001 [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Relate. (no date a) How to maintain a healthy relationship after a baby has been born. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/how-maintain-healthy-relationship-after-baby-has-been-born [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Relate. (no date b) We’ve just had a baby and we’re arguing all the time. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/new-parents/weve-just-had-baby-and-were-arguing-all-time [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Relate. (no date c) Stress in relationships. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/mental-health/stress-relationships [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Relate. (no date d) 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 e) How to maintain a healthy relationship after a baby has been born. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parent…; [Accessed 2nd February 2022]