Did you know that there is a 67% drop in relationship satisfaction after the birth of a child. Yes that’s right 67%. Ouch! (APA’s 2011 Annual Convention by John Gottman, PhD, and published in the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 1)). Having a child is a “complete reorganization of the structure of your life,” and that includes your sex life. When there is a decline in relationship satisfaction and an increase in hostility, it transfers to the baby and affects the baby.

Some of the issues that arise during the first years of a young family:

  • Domestic duties: typically mothers are generally more unhappy with their marriages after they have children because they tend to take on more “after hours” work — the child-care and housework. They begin to experience the gender inequality in the relationship. The relationship is often experienced as no longer ‘fair’. Many women feel disappointed and abandoned in the early newborn phase. In countries where parents tend to take equal amounts of leave, for example in Canada, Sweden or the Netherlands, marital satisfaction rates tend to be higher. Taking care of a mother or parent who just gave birth requires a lot of understanding and sensitivity. An unbalanced division of household work can strain parental relationships. This also applies to homosexual couples.
    • Talk together about time availability, gender ideologies and domestic practices generally. Find out what you each think your role entails. Take a transparent, proactive approach to dividing household work — including child-care.
    • Don’t snap at each other – kindness is so critical to maintaining the lines of communication open. It is easy to let your irritation get the better of you. Apologize quickly if you recognize you’re being unreasonable.
    • Acknowledge each other’s efforts – remember the thank yous. If you don’t – resentment will quickly build up.
  • Compromised sleep: the unfairness can also extend to sleep. Sleep is also more equal in countries with more egalitarian policies in place. (See https://www.academia.edu/36866121/Gender_Equality_and_Restless_Sleep_Among_Partnered_Europeans). Remember that sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture and can make the most sane of us irritable and irrational.
    • Try to support each other and give each other the space to sleep or catch up on sleepgood quality sleep is so important for good quality relationships.
    • Don’t try analyzing your relationship until such time as your sleeping patterns have returned to normal for a two month periodprior to that time you’re simply two people treading water, trying to survive.
  • Clashing Parenting Styles: the partner’s should actively support his/her partner’s employment and embrace his/her identity as carer as well as making adjustments to his/her own job. The amount of time the father spends alone, caring for the baby during the first year of parenthood, is associated with the stability of the parental relationship and one of the most important sources of well-being and happiness for the father.
    • If mothers want childcare to be divided fairly, they have to let fathers do things their own way, even if it’s not their way (unless the child is truly in danger). 
  • Gap between couples’ closeness and emotional intimacy. The reality is that whether or not your partner is happy with his or her life is dependent to a large extent on YOU! The lingering pain from delivery, raging hormones, baby blues or postpartum depression, understandable body changes, and the pure exhaustion of having a newborn are all factors that relate to the couples’ sexual and physical satisfaction.  Research indicates that if couples have a high level of satisfaction with physical affection (including nonsexual forms of physical intimacy (e.g., kissing, hugging, cuddling), the vast majority of couples (71 %) have high overall marital satisfaction as well as satisfaction with the other partner. However, if both partners are dissatisfied with their physical affection, only 6% of couples tend to be satisfied with their overall marriage. (Nezhad and Goodarzi (2011).  A mother can also feel “touched out” after cuddling a baby much of the day. About 90 percent of mothers resume sex within six months of birth, though 83 % are experiencing sexual issues three months postpartum, and 64 % are still experiencing issues at six months (From “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” by Esther Perel (2017)). First-time fathers’ satisfaction with physical affection appears to have a crucial impact on the quality of the marital relationship because satisfaction with sexuality—and physical affection more broadly—seems to be a particularly strong predictor of global marital satisfaction among men (Jackson, Miller, Okay, & Henry, 2014).
    • Continuing to connect sexually is important for keeping those hostile feelings at bay, for both parents. “There’s nothing holding a family together except the contentment of the couple.” Make sure your bedroom is baby-free at bedtime.
  • Couple time is now Family Time. Your former life is over! Embrace the new life wholeheartedly. Many modern parents report experiencing a high degree of pressure to spend large amounts of time with their children, particularly on the weekend. In turn, they sacrifice time with their spouses, which can decrease the intimacy between couples. Essentially couples have to reconfigure the whole picture of who they each are. Hence, both parents confront a changed dynamic in their relationship that accompanies the need to accommodate a third family member.
    • It is now critical that the couple find alone time together – even if its only a couple of kilometers down the road at a local pizza joint.
    • Communication is number one – don’t think you can read the other person’s mind. You can’t. Keep talking.
  • Very Little Alone time to pursue your favorite activities: new parents are tasked with developing a new relationship—the co-parenting partnership—in which supportive couples work together to meet the needs of their child. Withdrawal reveals itself when one person suddenly becomes more invested in things outside the couple or the family, or consumed by work.
    • Self-care is a critical aspect of a healthy relationship and whatever you choose to do make sure it’s about you and not the kids.
    • Help ensure your partner gets his or her time out, too.
  • grandparents wanting time with baby. Family relations are profoundly altered by babies. It can be a ‘Love Fest’ or things can really change for the worse. Imposing in-laws and grandparents wanting to run the show, competition over who’s going to be ‘grannie’ or ‘grandma’, who’s bought the best gifts etc. Competitiveness can quickly seep in. Problems around interference and equal access are common. When your grandparenting standards differ arguments typically follow. Encroachment on the mother’s ‘turf’ is unlikely to be well-received. Men are often anxious to find help for their wives but often are unaware that their choice of help is the issue. This can be further exacerbated in bicultural relationships.
    • The new nuclear family has to be the couple’s top priority. Do not put your ‘old family’ ahead of your ‘new family’. The ‘new family’ must come first. And each partner needs to be number one in the extended family pecking order. When we put our spouse first everything else falls into place.
    • Men need to know that they too are number one in the pecking order. Don’t leave them feeling invisible. Mothers also need to try not to be so territorial when it comes to children and the home and try not to interpret sharing experiences with meddling or judgment.
    • Each spouse’s desire to be with their family and holiday time has to be negotiated. If parents are divorced another layer of complexity emerges.
    • Start your own traditions.
  • Money matters more than you thought. Take a step back and talk frankly about what you really want for the family or for yourselves. Fathers can often feel as though they are on a treadmill – work, domestic and baby responsibilities. And often career and financial success become the focus.
    • Pick your battles and make compromises e.g. New furniture this quarter and the holiday next quarter.
    • Make sure you discuss finances regularly, build it into your monthly routine.
  • SEX. The husband initiates sex; wife feels as though he has not or does not help enough and/or does not try to connect to her; wife rejects husband; husband avoids wife; communication breaks down; the relationship deteriorates and the couple drifts apart; followed by sexual disconnection, nagging and more withdrawal – leading to self and couple neglect and the Vicious Cycle continues.
    • Don’t stop focusing on each other. If you do – important physical and emotional needs will not be met and this can lead to affairs. You must be proactive. Choosing happiness is a responsibility!

Happy couples engage in lifelong learning about one another. Even as they celebrate their silver anniversaries, these couples ask one another open-ended questions, such as, “What life goals are you still hoping to accomplish?” They maintain connection rituals—such as eating dinner together and family play times. These activities help couples develop a sense of mutual purpose on a daily basis, learning to ask one another about their larger life goals, and brainstorming ways in which to help each other realize their individual goals.

This post is based on the book Babyproofing Your Marriage. It may help those of you in this situation. Babyproofing Your Marriage is a simple and sometimes humorous book to read, written by three mothers. The book is full of anecdotes from other people who have been there and done it. It has some useful tips. Some of you may find it a little old fashioned in its gender stereotyping or even un-PC. For others it will be on point. Its target is definitely the heterosexual community.

If you need to talk about your situation with a professional – contact us: https://milestherapie.com/contact-the-gingko-leaf-for-an-appointment/

There ‘s definitely plenty of space in the market for another good book on the early years of the new family and its effects on partner relationships.