How Does Having a Baby Change Your Marriage?

Amy Guertin
couple with baby

Having a baby is a joyful event, but it is also a stressful event. It can bring changes that you and your partner are not prepared for. Sixty seven percent of couples report a significant decline in the quality of their relationship within three years of their child's birth. Knowing what to expect and knowing what to do about potential problems may be what allows you to be one of the 33 percent of couples who successfully navigate the transition to parenthood.

Sleep Deprivation

Most couples understand that there is going to be some sleep deprivation when bringing a new baby home. However, this is probably the number one underestimated problem. Couples just aren't aware of the severity of the sleep deprivation or its effects. Sleep deprivation can lead to:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty in getting things done
  • Memory impairment
  • Weight gain/difficulties losing baby weight
  • Decreased sex drive, and
  • Impulsivity

The Problem

The lack of sleep caused by a new baby may not be short-term, either. Some babies don't sleep well for months. Chronic sleep deprivation can have profound effects on your relationship, such as:

  • Increased irritability
  • Less patience
  • More fighting
  • Expectations (often unmet) that your partner will do more

These changes in mood and behavior can lead you to view your partner as "the enemy," someone you are working against, rather than someone you should be working with.

The Solution

  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. Many new parents try to use the baby's nap times to get things done around the house or to get work done. Although this is a noble idea, it will only make things worse and make you more irritable.
  • Take turns taking care of the baby throughout the night.
  • Take turns going to bed early. This way, you will both get adequate sleep.
  • If necessary, have a family member or friend come over for a couple of hours to watch the baby so you can get some sleep.

Adequate sleep will allow you to better be able to handle things when the baby is awake and it will improve your mood enough so that your relationship with your partner isn't adversarial. Do what you need to do to get sleep. Without sleep, it will be difficult to maintain a positive relationship.

Division of Labor

Another problem that many couples have after having a baby revolves around the division of labor around the house, especially when expectations aren't communicated regarding the division of household tasks.

The Problem

When two people have different ideas about who should do what, it frequently leads to:

  • Nagging
  • Resentment
  • One person feeling as if she is doing more work than the other
  • One person feeling as if her work is more important
  • A lack of appreciation (or a perceived lack of appreciation) for what the other person does

If the mother is staying home, the father may feel that since he is at work all day, she should do the majority of the work around the home, as well as the baby care. The mother may feel that since she's been dealing with the baby all day, the father should take over as soon as he gets home from work. The two different viewpoints can cause repeated arguments and negativity in the relationship.

The Solution

Discussing these things ahead of time will give both of you an idea of where each of you stand and time to communicate and come to a consensus about who is going to do what around the house. Both of you need to communicate extensively before the baby is born about each person's expectations of who will do what. This conversation must be re-visited after the baby is born as unexpected tasks arise. Both of you need to:

  • Understand and appreciate what the other does every day to benefit the family
  • Remember that unpaid work is just as valuable and necessary as paid work

To help with this, you can use a worksheet to note the number of hours you each spend doing different tasks. You can then compare your worksheets so that you can both see what the other does and decide together if any tasks should be reassigned.

Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy is another thing that couples expect to change but not quite to the extent that it does.

The Problem

There are both biological and emotional reasons for the changes in sexual intimacy. Biological changes include:

  • Inability to have sex for several weeks after birth due to the healing process
  • Decreased estrogen (and, therefore, decreased sex drive) in breastfeeding mothers
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Vaginal dryness due to hormonal changes

There are, however, even more emotional reasons for the decrease in sexual intimacy in couples after having a baby. Most of them revolve around the amount of time and focus a baby requires. This increased focus on the baby can lead to:

  • Less time as a couple
  • Time spent as a couple revolves around talking about the baby
  • Conflicts regarding division of labor
  • Lack of emotional connection, and
  • Mother's insecurities due to:
    • Physical changes in her body/increased weight
    • Dealing with the change in identity from sensual woman to mother

The Solution

The solutions to increasing the sexuality with your partner mostly revolve around increasing the emotional connection between the two of you. You can do this by improving communication and spending time together through:

  • Planning time to talk every day that does not include talking about the baby
  • Plan date nights, preferably away from the baby
  • Make sure that you continue non-sexual touching - cuddling, hugging, kissing
  • When you are physically able, make dates for sex, ideally when the baby is out of the house visiting relatives

There are many reasons why you and your partner fell in love. You need to remember those reasons and revisit them. Although it can be difficult, good communication and alone time can be just what you need to rekindle the spark in your relationship.

Parenting Styles

Another potential issue between the two of you that may not make itself known until after your baby is born is differences in parenting styles. You may want everyone to wash their hands before touching the baby and your partner may come in the house from doing yard work and pick the baby up and plant a big kiss on her cheek. You may be working to get the baby on a schedule while your partner may let the baby nap whenever she wants. These differences can cause a major rift if they aren't hashed out.

The Problem

Parenting style differences can show up through differences in:

  • How long to let the baby cry before picking her up
  • Whether the baby should sleep in your bed
  • Whether to breastfeed or bottlefeed
  • How often to hold your baby
  • Whether the baby should go with a sitter (e.g. family) or always be with a parent
  • What type of routine the baby should have
  • How to play with the baby
  • How to care for the baby's things (e.g. washing bottles, clothes, putting away toys)

The Solution

Even when parents have the same basic parenting style, they aren't going to agree on everything. A good way to approach these differences of opinion are to work together:

  • Research information and see what the experts say.
  • Talk about how you feel and try to come to some type of agreement together.
  • If something doesn't affect both of you, allow the person who has to deal with the consequences, make the decision. For example, if you want to let your baby take a 6pm nap and the result is the baby being up most of the night, you need to be the one to get up with her all night.
  • Remember that there is not only one right way to do most things.
  • Remember that this isn't about which parent wins; it's about figuring out what is best for you and your baby.

Problem Solving

All of these things are going to cause some pretty significant changes in your lives after having a baby. However, you and your partner are going to have one of two outcomes: you're going to work together, communicate, and do what is best for your relationship and your family, or you're going to do what is best for you, ultimately destroying your relationship and your family.

The Problem

Having a baby is stressful. When people get stressed and insecure, they can:

  • Become anxious
  • Become irritable
  • Feel alone
  • See others as working against them
  • Push others away
  • Become angry
  • Act verbally aggressive
  • React negatively
  • Stop communicating openly

All of these feelings and behaviors are fatal for relationships. Although some, or all, of these may be your first reaction, you need to fight them. You need to make better choices.

The Solution

Instead of becoming selfish, you need to keep the end goal in mind. Your end goal is to develop a healthy, loving family. The above reactions won't do that. You need to get beyond you fears and stress and you need to:

  • Share everything with your partner
  • Communicate every aspect of this amazing change the two of you are going through
  • Remember that you are parters, never adversaries
  • Lean on each other for support
  • Encourage and support each other
  • Treat each other as lovers, not only as parents
  • Spend alone time together
  • Think about the needs of the other and not just yourself

Having a baby, expanding your family, is one of the best things that can happen to your marriage and your relationship. Despite the changes, you created a life together. You made a miracle. Like any difficult transition, if you can navigate it successfully, your relationship will emerge stronger and closer. You will develop the ability to solve problems that you never knew existed. Your communication skills will be stronger than ever before. These skills will only help you in other, future areas of your relationship.

Babies Cause Changes

Yes, having a baby is stressful. Babies causes changes, many of them unexpected. But once you get through the rough patch, together, the family that emerges is strong, healthy, and loving in a way that you and your partner could never have imagined before this little life was entrusted to you.

How Does Having a Baby Change Your Marriage?