Being a first-time parent is quite an interesting journey. When our daughter was born, my husband and I were not prepared to deal with the changes that have hit different aspects of our individual lives as well as our life as a couple. People do not usually talk about those changes, which is why I thought I would share some of the issues and challenges that couples might face and give some advice on how to deal with them to help you navigate this journey and avoid disconnection and conflict.
To us, the idea of having a baby is associated with a sense of connectedness with the partner. Some couples believe that childbirth is a phase that brings with it lots of excitement and joy and increases intimacy. Some of those expectations are unrealistic. Research by the Gottman Relationship Institute in Seattle shows that “about two-thirds of couples become dissatisfied with their relationship within three years of having a child”. Reality is that partners will wake up one day and realize that their lives have changed 180 degrees. Parenting is a challenging job; the transition to becoming a parent means lots of changes which brings with it lots of stress. The couple will have to learn how to create a new identity. Everything in your family life changes, including roles within the couple, daily activities, expression of intimacy and financial difficulties.
Research has found that men expressed concerns providing their family financial support, lack of sleep and exhaustion, increased chores and housework, intrusive in-laws, loss of free time for self and social activities, decline in spouse’s sexual interest and couple disagreements about roles.
As for women, some of those concerns were similar, such as the lack of sleep and tiredness and increased chores and housework while the different ones included changes in body figure, feeling insecure about parental competence, unpredictable shifts in mood and anxiety, individual stress about roles and responsibilities and change in work situation.
Couples need to take time and discuss concerning issues and find ways to be supportive of each other while transitioning from partners to parents. If parents can overcome their differences and work together, they will more likely respond positively to the challenges of raising a child and provide a nurturing atmosphere.
Children need an increasing amount of care and attention. This can lead parents to become weary and stressed, especially that they lack the experience in child-rearing and the knowledge around the amount of time and attention a child needs especially at the beginning of their life span. If the couple fails to sit and discuss chore division and who does what, the stress will increase leading to conflict and one partner feeling unsupported and weary.
Another major issue when a baby is born is how the couple manages to take care of him/her. The couple might face difficulties making decisions for the baby, including sleep routines, feeding routines etc. Their parenting styles might clash, leading to conflict which might result in disconnection. This is so common especially that parents are both adapting to their new roles and responsibilities. Each partner has a set of beliefs on how to raise a child which is mostly based on his/her past experiences and history.
Some tips to cope with that include:
Couples should allocate time to sit and discuss their expectations of one another and the role each plays in their contribution to child-rearing. It is very crucial to discuss each other’s thoughts openly and not disregard them. Each partner comes from a different background and family of origin which most of their ideas originate from. Honoring each other’s thoughts and differences is crucial.
For division of chores, some couples have specific ideas that things need to be done in a certain way which typically originates from their perception of gender roles and their experience with their own parents and the way they do things. Couples should talk about that and be honest with one another. It is recommended to have couples create a list of childcare and household tasks, where fairness is discussed and whether the other partner feels comfortable doing the chore allocated to him/her and discuss how couples can support one another so they do not feel weary and isolated.
Babies need constant attention, so couples usually fail to prioritize their relationship, leading to less time spent together, less intimate moments and less spontaneity. All those changes bring on a lot of stress which when unresolved leads to conflict and distance. Couples spend most of their time catering to the baby’s needs. By the time baby sleeps, parents are extremely depleted, so they prefer to sleep and get some rest. Couples will lose their intimacy, most probably since they discovered they are pregnant. Hormones and body changes might decrease the women’s desire for sex. Growing bigger might affect the woman’s self-image which will lead her to retreat from engaging in sexual activities. After giving birth, the mother could be injured and needs time to heal. Even after she heals, the stress and exhaustion might decrease the couple’s desire to engage in sexual activities.
Some tips to cope with that include:
Always try to set time for the couple. Babies take up most of your day. Couples need to be very mindful that time flies which means they need to put extra effort to find some time to sit together and talk. Couples could agree to allocate 15 minutes every day and consider it a sacred time to either go for a walk or just have a conversation. During that time, make sure not to talk about the baby. Talk about other topics that interest you and that you enjoy.
Don’t ignore sex and intimacy. It is crucial to work on breaking the routine and intentionally create an environment where both partners feel as if they are newly dating. Couples need to think outside the box. They need to put an effort to go on dates. If there is no one to babysit, set a time at home when baby sleeps to do something thoughtful such as watch a movie, eat dinner, have sex. Couples need to feel that they still have something to look forward to. Intimacy is not only about sex. Intimacy is sharing emotions with one another, holding hands, hugging, cuddling, complimenting one another. After the transformation women go through after birth it is very common to feel unattractive. It is very important for couples to talk about that matter. If not dealt with properly, it might lead to the woman feeling unwanted, unloved and will negatively affect the intimacy as well as the quality of the couples’ relationship.
Adding a baby to the family will increase expenses which might lead couples to start fighting over financials. Increase in expenses will lead to more stress and anxiety. Couples who fail to discuss their money styles will lead them to clash.
Some tips to cope with that include:
Couples need to slow down and talk to one another about each other’s thoughts around spending money. The couple might have different perceptions on ways to use money, which is very normal and common. It can be very helpful to be open and honest with one another. Discussing budgets and talking about priorities is very important. Talking about savings and the future to meet the family’s needs will alleviate anxiety and will help the couple create a unified vision to meet their family’s needs.
In conclusion, what parents almost forget is that they are important as well. Self-care is crucial in addition to meeting the needs of one another as a couple, because if they fail to do so they will eventually get depleted and disconnected which will negatively affect their relationship with one another and with their children.
Kristelle Mallah is Lebanese and bilingual; fluent in Arabic and English. As an MFT Kristelle uses structural and emotion-focused therapy to help individuals learn better ways of relating and communicating with one another. As well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help clients modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts. Kristelle is a wife and a mother of a fantastic daughter who uses her experiences to empathize and relate to families and couples’ struggles.