Becoming a parent is a joyous, wondrous, tiring, and at times, challenging experience. It brings with it the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Your relationship will often take a backseat to the demanding needs of parenthood. During the first year of parenthood, the emotional toll can be so extreme that it can destroy your relationship. So it’s no wonder that many couples find themselves in an unhappy marriage after having a baby.
Sometimes it can feel like no one understands what you’re going through, but you aren’t alone. Numerous studies have shown that marital satisfaction declines after the first child is born, especially for women. Sleepless nights and fighting over small things, like whose turn it is to change diapers, can take the fun out of a relationship.
However, the relationship breakdown after a baby is not inevitable. One of the key ways to foster a healthy relationship with your husband after a baby is to prioritize your relationship. Try different ways to keep your relationship strong after a baby, such as going on dates, weekend vacations, or spending time together.
You can follow a few more practical strategies to strengthen your marriage after a baby. We have outlined some of the most common relationship problems couples face after a baby as well as how to find hope in an unhappy marriage after a baby below.
1. Family Turned into a War Zone
“Why does he/she get mad at me for no reason or Why he/she is so annoying .” Questions like this may often arise in your head. It’s very common for new parents to fight. Even research shows that first-time parents argue 40% more on average after their child is born. Researchers think that one of the main reasons why relationships change after the baby is because the first year of parenthood wreaks havoc on a parent’s sleep. When you’re low on sleep, you might feel more irritable and hostile and react more strongly when something terrible happens.
A study by Ohio State University found that couples who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to exhibit hostile and irritable behavior. Even if you are no longer dealing with nighttime sleeplessness, you’re probably still suffering from massive sleep debt.
Stacie Cockrell, the author of Babyproofing Your Marriage, recommends recognizing and appreciating our partner’s perspective more after a baby is born. It’s also important to realize that sleep deprivation makes everyone seem grumpy and foggy. There are certain things you can do to alleviate the issue.
- Focus on prioritizing your sleep.
- Make time for exercise and eat well.
- Try giving yourself a bedtime whenever you have an opportunity.
- Don’t take your phone or tablet to bed with you. Instead, spend the time recording early motherhood memories and milestones in a baby memory book.
- Engage in good sleep hygiene so that you’re not tossing and turning all night long.
2. Parenting Styles Clash
Every parent is unique. Hence, there are many differences in parenting styles. That’s why it’s common among new parents to fight over their different parenting styles. You may find that your partner takes a different approach when it comes to sleep training, food, and discipline for kids. You may also feel neglected by your husband for every parenting decision you make.
It’s hard to deal with a partner who repeatedly contradicts whatever you say. It may only feel a little annoying right now, but it’s a communication pattern that will get worse with time. In the long term, it can be costly to a relationship. The good news is there are ways to compromise on serious issues, such as sleeping, feeding, or discipline.
To begin with, sit down and have a calm, non-judgmental, respectful conversation regarding parenting styles. Of course, you both have to make compromises. Do not let guilt play into your decisions. Decide what’s best for your child. A few strategies may help:
- Be transparent and do whatever is needed to get on the same page.
- Explore how your parenting styles complement each other. Do not argue in front of the kids about the right/wrong way of parenting.
- Effective parenting takes teamwork. Select parenting books to read together.
- If none of the above is working, consider finding a relationship coach to assist you in moving forward toward a solution.
3. Fight Over Household Responsibilities
Household responsibilities increase after having a baby, and so does the bickering. As new parents, we often forget that we can’t do it all by ourselves. We feel like we have to do everything perfectly all the time. As a result, we start micromanaging. Micromanaging daily life can bring bitterness and resentment in a marriage.
“Doing everything ourselves isn’t heroic—it’s toxic,” says . Jancee thinks bringing both parents’ burdens to a calm, objective conversation is key to reducing tension at home.
You can start addressing the situations by making a household chores chart that will work for both of you. Then consider what each of you enjoys doing. If your partner cares more about having good home-cooked meals on most nights and you care about having things clean, let him/her do the cooking while you do the vast majority of the cleaning. The reverse can also work for you.
Try to appreciate your partner for what they do. They may not do it perfectly, but guess what? Neither do you.
4. Sex and Intimacy After Having a Baby
Sex is the last thing many new parents think about, but it is important for a happy marriage after a baby. Less intimacy after having a baby can make your partner feel disconnected and neglected. There are many reasons that may contribute to less sex after a baby:
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of elasticity in vaginal tissue
- Vaginal bleeding
- Vaginal pain
- Postpartum depression
- Fear of pregnancy
- Low sex drive after a baby
There are some psychological issues as well that might contribute to less sex. According to some studies, lack of quality communication after a baby is responsible for post-baby sex drought. It’s important to let your partner know about your expectations of yourself and one another as parents. Gottman says that new parents can build intimacy by asking open-ended questions such as: “What has affected our intimacy? If so, how?” “What kind of changes can we make together to enjoy sex again?” “What do you feel is not going well?” etc.
You can also try some resources to rekindle your sex life. And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives is a fabulous book by award-winning marriage researchers and bestselling authors Drs. John and Julie Gottman. There are many real-life stories included as illustrations and quizzes for you and your partner to take stock of things and practices to improve your relationship.
5. Couple Time & Solo Time After a Baby
Both couple time and solo time become a distant memory for couples after having a baby. Those times become family time after having a baby, where you are always together but no longer alone. The transition can be challenging for new parents, and eventually, they find themselves in an unhappy marriage after having a baby.
Relationship experts suggest that couples who regularly plan a night out with their partner are less likely to suffer from a relationship breakdown after a baby. Schedule regular date nights even after having a baby. Count on your parents, friends, or babysitter for some childcare duties. Plan brief meetings if you cannot find temporary support for your baby. You can discuss household chores and baby-care issues in these meetings, such as an upcoming doctor’s appointment or .
Do not forget to find some solo time each week for yourself. A little time off from the baby and everyday responsibilities will make you feel refreshed and happy. Spend those little moments doing activities important for your sanity or identity.
6. The Grandparent Issue
“I got pissed with him because he had his mom/dad helping me,” one mom shared. Watching in-laws morph into the scene and having much baby and toddler time can be overwhelming for some parents.
However, there are solutions. First, you need to set boundaries. You have the right to say no, especially if your relationship with your husband is at stake. Be kind but firm in stating your desires ad feelings. Another sanity-saving strategy is to ask your partner to speak to his/her parents.
Together with your partner, you can decide specific times or specific days during the week when they can come by that are convenient for you. Having agreed boundaries and sharing them with in-laws can save your marriage from a breakdown.
Some in-laws are just too toxic and dysfunctional to understand. You need others’ support and resources to comprehend the unusual behavior of in-laws and how to deal with them. The book “can be your ultimate tool to revive your unhappy marriage after a baby.
7. Money Issues
No doubt, money is a significant source of stress for new parents. Many parents forget smart financial family planning and struggle financially after having a baby.
First, develop a financial plan together. If you have a credit card loan from your wedding or student loans, set a goal to pay off the debt within a reasonable time. Of course, you have to make some smart choices to do that. Here are some money moves for new parents:
- Manage Your Debts
- Get Serious About Saving
- Adjust Your Budget
- Add the Baby to Your Health Insurance
- Write Your Will
Final Thoughts on Unhappy Marriage After Baby
Changes are always challenging and stressful, and having a baby changes everything! Many parents fail to cope with the change and put lots of strain on their relationship. Eventually, they split up after having a baby.
But a new study states that staying in an unhappy marriage after a baby is the best thing you can do for its long-term success. Going through tough times will make you mentally resilient and give you a good chance of seeing your kids grow up just as happy and healthy as you. As Gottman says:
“A good marital relationship is the best gift you can give to your child.”
However, there is no reason to believe that being stuck in an unhappy marriage because of a child is better for the child than divorce. In fact, research shows that “staying together for the kids” is likely the wrong decision. If you’ve tried your best to survive an unhappy marriage after a baby and nothing is working, then move on. The best you can do is handle the situation in a mature and collaborative way.
The first year of parenthood brings some significant changes — more significant than many new parents anticipate. Approaching parenthood as a process can make a tremendous difference in your quality of life. Take it seriously but not too seriously. No matter how difficult the situation, remember that this too shall pass.