Babies can put a lot of pressure on your relationship. Here, we look at some typical new-parent relationship issues for dads and how to address them.
Relationships can be tricky things at the best of times. The overwhelming responsibility of a new baby and a seemingly endless procession of sleepless nights. Add to that the pressures on family finances and no time or space to yourselves. It’s no wonder tempers can get a little strained.
It’s perfectly normal for new dads as well as mums to feel like their relationship has taken a hit (Lawrence et al, 2008; Doss et al, 2009). That’s why it can be a good idea to take a step back, be aware of what’s causing any upset, and talk together about some practical and emotional coping strategies.
There’s no denying that babies change relationships. You might feel like a spare part. Your partner may seem to have no time for you anymore. You may well have more money worries than before too. And as for sex, that probably feels like a distant memory. With all this going on, it can be perfectly natural for new dads to feel upset or resentful towards their partners.
“It feels bad to admit it now, but there were times I just wished we hadn’t done the whole thing. I really didn’t like my partner anymore and I was angry that this baby just seemed to make us fight more.” Paul, dad to Sophie, four years
Inevitably, all the focus is on the new mum and baby – particularly over those first few days and weeks. But research shows that dads face particular challenges of their own, including dealing with feelings of loss and rejection (Musser et al, 2013).
What can I do?
If you feel your partner’s shutting you out, the last thing you want to do is hold out an olive branch. But suggesting that you find some time – even just 10 or 15 minutes – for you each to share your feelings is an important first step. Think through what you can do to come together as a new family.
Research shows that the more engaged you are as a dad, the more likely you’ll both be happier parents (Burgess, 2011). When couples agree on joint approaches for parenting their babies, they’re likely to have stronger relationships with each other as well (Adamsons, 2013; Chong et al, 2016).
“I guess, we learnt as we went along. We talked a lot about every new thing that was happening and tried to agree the best approach.” Del, dad to Edie, three years
Try to get into the habit of taking turns with your baby. Of course, in those first few days the focus will be on supporting your partner. Helping her to recoup after the birth and get to grips with feeding etc.
But it’s also important for you to spend time with your new baby too. Have the confidence to soothe and snuggle with them – those precious first moments should be savoured. And that time together will give you the confidence to know what your baby needs. Don’t feel like a spare part in those early days – you’re as qualified as mum to make decisions regarding your new baby, and she’ll be glad of the support.
Taking time out to discuss a way of divvying up roles and responsibilities with your partner can go a long way. Household chores are high on the list of things new parents argue about. If you’re both agreed on a fair division of household labour, you can cut some of those arguments off at the pass. See our article on how to be a team here.
“A friend suggested we draw up a list of all the day-to-day household chores we do. I think it gave both of us a bit of a shock to see what the other one was doing. We made a few tweaks to make it more 50:50 and I can’t tell you the difference – it’s like a weight’s been lifted.” Andy, dad to Seb, two years
Before your bundle of joy came along, you might have taken for granted the time you had together as a couple. Now, it’s probably impossible to remember what it was even like.
For the first few days and weeks, maybe months, your relationship may take a back seat. But after a while, you will settle into some sort of routine and your baby will sleep for longer periods at a time.
As soon as you’re ready, try making a positive effort to grab some of that couple time back – even if it’s just a takeaway and movie curled up on the sofa. And while it’s perfectly natural for sex not to be on the cards at first, don’t put it off indefinitely. After all, it might feel like a long time ago, but there was a reason you decided to get together and do all this in the first place.
“I think it was 18 months before we got a babysitter and went out for a meal together. By the end of the meal, we’d even just about managed to stop talking about our daughter. I think it was long overdue.” Ben, dad to Angie, three years
A stronger couple and stronger parents
Becoming first-time parents can be a testing time for any relationship. But couples who show each other love and affection actually find that parenthood strengthens their relationship (Shapiro et al, 2000). Parenthood can improve both your abilities to cope with challenges in other parts of life too (Backstrom et al, 2018).
Amid all the mayhem, you’ll both be growing as people, not just as parents. Recognising this in each other can be a beautiful thing.
What if I’m still struggling?
Keep an eye on the way you feel. If you’re in a really low place for several days, or you notice that your partner is, it’s a good idea talk to your GP or health visitor. One or both of you might have postnatal depression – that’s right, dads can get it too (Escribà-Agüir and Artazcoz, 2011).
If your feelings towards your partner have really altered, or you’re arguing so much you’ve reached a real block, we’d suggest a couple of things. It is important to remember you’re not the only one who is feeling like this. Check out our articles on how dads and mums like you say they’ve experienced changes in their relationships. And our article, why does no-one talk about arguing with their partner?
Also, read our articles on arguing, and how to deal with it, with practical advice from a Relate counsellor. Chances are, these heightened feelings will pass. Having a baby is THE most life-changing experience. Usually a little adjustment, time and effort is all that’s needed to get your relationship back on track.
This page was last reviewed in December 2018.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
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.
Read further articles on relationships in our dedicated section here.
PANDA, a perinatal mental health charity, runs support groups and a Facebook group. Click here to see a support group near you.
Adamsons K. (2013) Predictors of relationship quality during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 31(2):160-171. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02646838.2013.791919 [Accessed 1st November 2018].
Backstrom C, Kareholt I, Thorstensson GM, Martensson LB. (2018) Quality of couple relationship among first-time mothers and partners, during pregnancy and the first six months of parenthood. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. 17:56-64. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877575617302823?via%3Dihub [Accessed 1st November 2018].
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 1st November 2018].
Chong A, Mickelson KD. (2016). Perceived fairness and relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Issues. 37(1):3-28.
Doss BD, Rhoades GK, Stanley SM, Markman HJ. (2009) The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationships quality: An 8-year prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 93(3):601-619. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702669/ [Accessed 1st November 2018].
Escribà-Agüir V, Artazcoz L. (2011) Gender differences in postpartum depression: a longitudinal cohort study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 65(4):320-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3069755/ [Accessed 1st November 2018].
Musser AK, Ahmed AH, Folj KJ, Coddington JA. (2013) Paternal postpartum depression: what health care providers should know. Journal of Paediatric Healthcare. 27(6):479-485.
Lawrence E, Rothman AD, Cobb RJ, Rothman MT, Bradbury TN. (2008) Marital satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Psychology. 22(1):41-50. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367106/ [Accessed 1st November 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.