Here we look at some of the typical issues new mums experience with their partner. Plus some coping strategies.
Having a baby is the most incredible experience to share with your partner. But that doesn’t necessarily equal domestic bliss. Even the strongest of relationships can be tested when making the transition from couple to family unit (White and Klein, 2002).
You, me and baby makes three
Until this moment, there were two of you in this relationship. Adding a baby into the mix can be akin to throwing a little grenade at your partnership. A lovely, cuddly, beautiful grenade of time-sucking sleep deprivation. Times are going to change, and you will need to find a way to adapt (Delicate et al, 2018).
It’s not unusual for dads to struggle with feelings of isolation or rejection (Chin et al, 2011). Suddenly, overnight, you have a new focus for your attention and that can be hard for them to deal with (Chin et al, 2011). Similarly, you might feel you become invisible, as your former identity becomes lost and transitions to that of a mum (Slomian, 2017). Do you feel like now you’re simply known as mum or mum of…
Plus, you probably feel exhausted. Birth can, let’s face it, make you feel like you’ve been run over. Then run through a mangle. And then dragged through a hedge. Playing the part of your former self (be that fun-loving, supportive, work hard, play hard or all of these things) probably seems like a joke right now. Normal life isn’t high on the agenda.
At the same time, your partner might wonder where the old you has gone. We hear from parents time and time again that there is a period where a man might miss his partner, and wonder when and if she’ll return. And you might be thinking ‘Why should I?’ or ‘Really, is it all about you right now?’
How can I navigate these early days with my partner?
It’s a delicate time, where you can feel like you’re learning to be a girlfriend or partner all over again, as well as a mother. Think about what’s important for:
- each of you as individuals
- your relationship
- your new baby.
The juggling of feelings, emotions, time and energy starts here.
Consider your partner’s feelings. Does he want to be more involved with the baby? Maybe he could take on baby duties while you get some much needed rest (win, win).
Is he wondering where his partner has gone, and missing you among the madness? Try to make some time for him. We know this can be hard (Twenge et al, 2003). But taking their feelings into account too may help build bridges and keep your relationship strong.
“In the early weeks I could see my partner was feeling like a bit of a spare part because I was getting to grips with feeding our daughter. I thought of bits he could do – nappy changes, choosing his outfits, researching baby groups. This made him feel actively involved.” Rachel, mum to Joseph, seven months
If you’re the parent staying at home to look after the little-un, this can be quite the culture shock. Gone are the days of commuting, working as part of a team, tea breaks, having a wee whenever you want to. Not to mention earning a crust and the associated feelings of pride and usefulness (Slomian, 2017).
It’s an adjustment for dads too, as having to provide for a family is a big responsibility (Chin et al, 2011). Money, or a lack of it, can cause all sorts of tiffs with your partner. You might find it helpful to work out where the work and financial pressure points are, and try to manage them.
And then there’s the small question of housework (glances at large pile of laundry). If you haven’t spent a day in sole charge of a baby, it can be hard to comprehend quite how demanding it can be.
Unless you’re a superhero (or have lots of paid help), your partner is not going to return home from work to a spick and span house and a warm dinner on the table. However 1950s you’re feeling.
Accept that you’re both working hard, whether at work or at home, and value the ‘job’ each other does, otherwise resentment can build (Kluwer et al, 2007). Divvying household and childcare tasks can have a protective effect on relationships (Kluwer, 2010).
“My husband would tell me what an amazing job I was doing and that he knew how hard it was. But when he came home to find the washing up hadn’t been done and the house was a tip, I could literally see him twitching with mild disgust. He knew better than to say anything though.” Jen, mum to Oscar, 11 months
If your baby is a newborn, you’ve hopefully got a bit of time before their tantruming begins. But your temper (and your partner’s) might reach dizzy heights from now. Short tempers, unkind words and slammed doors can all be common in those early weeks and months (Brotherson, 2007).
“My husband and I decided to instigate a ‘safe word’ because we were having such stupid, raging arguments about ridiculously tiny things. The safe word made us realise how daft we were being when one of us shouted it out.” Katie, mum to Olivia, one year
You like potato, I like po-tah-to
In relationships, you can’t always agree on everything, and how to raise a baby is no different. Even if you’ve been on the same page up until now in your relationship, you may find you have staggeringly different opinions on parenting (Delicate et al, 2018).
Discuss each other’s views and see whether you can agree on a joint approach. Just because you don’t share the same ideas, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is right and one is wrong. You can have different ways of looking after a baby, and that’s ok.
Make time for you
Make time for you together as a couple (Relate, NDa). It’s easy to lose sight of what made your relationship so good that you wanted to make babies together in the first place. If you have support from family or others, don’t feel bad about taking people up on offers of help so you can get a bit of quality time with each other.
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. We also offer antenatal courses [hyperlink] 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.
Brotherson SE. (2007) From partners to parents: couples and the transition to parenthood. IJCE. 22(2):7-12. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278728617_From_Partners_to_Parents_Couples_and_the_Transition_to_Parenthood [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Chin R, Daiches A, Hall P. (2011) A qualitative exploration of first time fathers experiences of becoming a father. Community Practitioner. 84(7):19-23. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21941706 [Accessed 1st December 2018].
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.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29574301 [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Kluwer ES, Johnson MD (2007) Conflict frequency and relationship quality across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family. 69(5):1089-1106. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00434.x [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Kluwer ES. (2010) From partnership to parenthood: a review of marital change across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Theory & Review. 2(2):105-125. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00434.x [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Relate. (no date, a) When two become three: preparing to be parents. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parent… [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Slomian J, Emonts P, Vigneron L, Acconcia A, Glowacz F, Reginster JY, Oumourgh M, Bruyère O (2017) Identifying maternal needs following childbirth: a qualitative study among mothers, fathers and professionals. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 17(1):213. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5496411/ [Accessed 1st December 2018].
Twenge JM, Campbell WK, Foster CA. (2003) Parenthood and marital satisfaction: a meta‐analytic review. Journal of Marriage and Family. 65(3):574-583. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00574.x [Accessed 1st December 2018].
White JM, Klein DM. (2002) Family Theories: An Introduction (2nd edn). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.