The effect of a baby on couple relationships
When a couple has a baby it is usually seen as a wonderful event. Often the couple will regard the birth as a further step towards being closer and anticipate the joys of family life.
They may have been warned about sleepless nights and that their lives will change for ever, but many couples are unprepared for the potential pressure on their own relationship that a baby brings.
It can be even harder for the couple to acknowledge this, even to themselves, because they can be caught up in the celebration and day-to-day pressures of looking after the new arrival.
Men, in particular, can find it hard because in most heterosexual relationships they do not have the clear role that the mother has in looking after the baby. The father finds that not only is his partner less available to him emotionally and sexually but she also needs even more support from him because of the demands made on her by the baby.
Meanwhile, the mother will probably be feeling exhausted much of the time and may also be finding it harder than she ever realised, especially because in our culture we often no longer have the support of extended family nearby,
The mother may, at times, feel inadequate or even hostile towards the baby but afraid to express these feelings because she fears they make her a ‘bad mother.’
All these feelings, expressed and unexpressed, are likely to affect the relationship between father and mother.
The danger is that the father’s feelings of exclusion can lead to him effectively excluding himself by, for example, working longer hours. The mother then feels less supported and may turn to the child for the feelings of intimacy she feels are lacking in the adult relationship.
The good news is that, as the child gets older, the pressures on the couple lessen a little and there is a bit more emotional space for their relationship - at least until the next child comes along!
But with some couples the danger is that the early feelings of rejection or lack of support develop into a pattern in which the father withdraws into work or other interests and the mother increasingly seeks her emotional satisfaction from her relationship with the child.
Both partners may not be fully conscious of what is happening, though they may be aware that they seem to argue more about things or that there seems to be an emotional distance between them that was not there before.
In these situations what needs to happen is for both partners to re-connect with each other emotionally. But that can be difficult when resentments have been stored up and each partner feels hard done by.
A couple therapist may be helpful in offering a space where each partner can have their feelings heard and acknowledged. The couple can then explore how their own relationship can be honoured and attended to, while also attending to the needs of the child and family.
This is a delicate balance and there is no ‘right answer’. But by talking about it in a non-blaming way and being emotionally honest there is a good chance that the relationship can be revitalised.
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