by Hayley Doyle
This is a safe space.
So, go on. Admit it. You hate your partner.
Now that you’ve said it, does it feel better? No… Because you’re wracked with guilt. Baffled. How can you loath the person you fell in love with, so soon after you both created the new love of your life; your baby.
You might feel that the problem lies right there. You love your baby more than you love your partner. Whereas, before that baby was born, your partner was Number One. It could have happened suddenly, or perhaps it’s crept up on you day by day, minute by minute, but your relationship is no longer what it used to be. Yay! You have a baby. Yet, oh. Your marriage is in tatters. You look at your child, this beautiful miracle with a fluffy head that smells like heaven. Even when it screams and refuses to sleep or splatters a poo explosion all over its vest - again - just before you were about to leave the house after days - yes, days - of preparation, you love it with every fibre of your being. Then, your partner sniffs. Or blinks. Or breathes. And you want to kill them.
For starters, you’re not alone. Bringing a new baby home can look like a wholesome burst of pastel rainbows, especially if you’re looking at the two-dimensional side of Instagram. What seems like a joyous event is stressful and complicated in reality. Arguments arise like never before, not to mention the added torture of sleep deprivation. Whilst the love for your baby is unconditional, they came into this world without a choice, the love for your partner is in question because, well, you chose each other. So you doubt yourself. You wonder if you made a mistake. Now, this might be easier said than done, but take a minute. Relax. According to the Gottman Institute’s research-based approach to relationships, the majority of couples face stress, conflict, and lack of intimacy during the first year of parenthood.
Remember, this is a new journey for you both, so…
You read the recommended books. You learnt how to bath a doll at the appropriate temperature. The nursery was finished way before due date. And still, nothing prepared you for the actual upside-down mammoth change that’s occurred since your baby arrived. When I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband and I (ignorantly) judged stressed out parents whose children seemed to rule the roost and we’d engage in little chats along the (ignorant) lines of, “Our baby will fit into our lives, not the other way around…” Sure, things would change, although it was impossible to fathom how much.
Being “prepared” and being “in the thick of it” are wildly different. The baby doesn’t fit into you and your partner like the missing jigsaw piece (no matter how much you might see this or similar metaphors on social media). Nor does it fall asleep if you just let it cry for a bit so you can watch the next episode of Succession. It needs you. All. The. Time. The baby knows nothing and you, of course, know everything. There is no downtime, something you had in abundance before the little one made an appearance. You’ll look back to days when you thought you were busy, but at least that was managed on your own time. Not anymore. Chillin’? Nipping out to the gym? Catching a movie? No chance. And if your hair is long, get used to up-dos and dry shampoo.
A problem that many couples encounter is denial. They cannot accept that their lives will change. They believe they will find a different route to every other parent who went before them. That the secret is just waiting to be revealed. But this only adds to the fresh frustration and anxiety that have now become a part of your daily life. At the end of the day, no matter what quick-fix solution you’ve found to feel like your “old self” for ten minutes, your priorities have changed and your relationship no longer comes first. Leaving the house becomes a military operation and I remember breastfeeding my son before going out, reeling off a check-list to my husband, “Nappies? Wipes? Dummy? Muslin cloth? Nappy sacks? Change of clothes? Extra change of clothes…?” And then I stopped and said, “What have we turned into?!”
Having said all that, try not to grieve your old life. Accept the change. Sure, there will be rocks, but make a decision to go with the flow. Change - in whatever capacity - is good. It’s necessary for us to evolve and live fulfilling lives. If parenthood is what has changed your relationship, then look at what you’ve gained rather than lost. You might wish for more sleep, but when it comes, you’ll appreciate it more than you ever thought possible. You can still go on adventures, albeit with a stroller, and okay, the recklessness and spontaneity has gone… for now, but your adventures will be full of new discoveries that you’ll share as a family. And when the years roll by and you finally get to spend Sundays lying in bed all day doing nothing again, you’ll probably wish you were doing something… with your kids. And you’ll reach for your phone, scroll through old baby photos and wonder why time has such a cruel habit of ticking by so quickly.
50/50 = Team Work
The big one. For a marriage to survive after having a baby, you must be a team. Whilst everybody outside of your inner circle is showering you with congratulations and welcoming your new addition to the world, there are no signs warning you about something else that comes along with parenthood; the mental load. Another name for this is cognitive labour, and it refers to the invisible, non-tangible tasks involved in running a household. Traditionally, women have taken on this role since they are more likely to care for the baby whilst men go back to work. In this instance, one parent might feel like their life has completely changed whereas their partner has waltzed back into familiarity, getting the best of both worlds. So if you and your partner can work out a way to lighten each other’s load, specifically sharing tasks and chores, there will be less friction and more understanding.
Make lists and dish out the jobs. If you take care of all the baby appointments, then your partner can do the weekly shop. Whoever cooks doesn’t wash up. Take turns in soothing the baby as much as possible. Your laundry load is also considerably heavier, so make sure one of you is on top of sorting and washing, and the other does drying and tidying. Let’s turn our backs on the stigma that those who look after their children “don’t work”. Recognising that it can be a slog for both parents is a great step forward in keeping your marriage healthy.
Stop the Blame Game
As a new parent, it’s easy to look at others and think, “They’re smashing it…what are we doing wrong?” The answer is nothing. You’re not doing anything wrong. Every parent is fumbling through this journey themselves, getting lost, making u-turns and taking a chance. Other than a whole heap of love, there are no rules to this game. So don’t blame your partner for small mistakes because their knee-jerk reaction will be to play ball and blame you for something in return, and nobody is a winner. All this does is destroy self-esteem, leaving you questioning whether or not you’re a good parent. Shift the energy away from blame. It accomplishes nothing but bickering, which can be tiring in itself, especially to a couple who aren’t currently granted the luxury of enough sleep. It’s likely due to the sleep deprivation that you’re feeling snappy in the first place, so don’t allow it to escalate quickly.
Remember, kindness always goes a long way. It doesn’t require more effort than being angry, and rather than find ways to unleash your exhaustion onto your partner in the hope that they will feel as knackered as you, say “please” if you’d like a cup of tea, and “thank you” if they make it. You might not be up for much conversation in the fog of the newborn weeks, so make your few words count.
Quit the Meddling
“No, don’t hold her like that, she doesn’t like it…” You might have certain ways of soothing your baby, especially if you’re the one who does the majority of the childcare. But sticking your nose in when your partner is doing things their way is only going to ruin their confidence. To be a strong team, you both need to figure out what works for you individually in your new roles as parents. Modern relationships are striving for equality, but this won’t be achieved if one of you is constantly telling the other what to do. If it’s too hard to keep quiet, take yourself into another room with your laptop and watch your guilty pleasure TV show. Or grab your keys and go for a walk to the local shop! Get the sugary supplies in… or perhaps something a little stronger! Unless the child is truly in danger, don’t intervene. Trust the process.
Physical intamacy after a baby can be complicated. Every pregnancy, birth and recovery is unique, both physically and mentally, so no comparisons should ever be made. Although you might get the go-ahead from your doctor 6-8 weeks after giving birth, this does not mean you should feel under pressure to start being adventurous in the bedroom. This can be tough for partners to understand, especially if you struggle to talk about it. But lack of transparency will cause tension. You might feel like you’re not good enough or that you’re not being supportive enough, and resentment starts to form in one way or another. You must talk to each other about how you’re feeling, and most importantly, touch. Hold hands. Hug. A gentle kiss. Remain physical as much as possible. The physical 'act' can wait until you’re ready, but that human connection must stay in action.
When you and your partner first got together, it’s likely you both couldn’t keep your hands off each other during the honeymoon period. Don’t be fooled into thinking that electricity will naturally bounce back once your baby is a toddler or a kid or a teen… Like anything worth hanging onto, it requires a tight grip and some groundwork. Because when family life gets overwhelming, my husband and I can slip past one another without eye contact or words, and any touching is the result of me colliding into his chest like a bull because I’m chasing a toddler with jam on her hands. We try to call out these times, usually with a hug. If neither of us remembers - or can’t be bothered - a wall goes up and our connection starts to break.
A gentle massage can be good. Intertwining fingers when watching TV. And don’t forget the power of words. Telling your partner they’re beautiful can create great intimacy. It’s a reminder of who you both are to one another and why you’re on this crazy journey together.