There are moments in our lives that are life-changing, such as graduating high school, accepting your first job or finding your lobster (your partner for life). But one of the most complex moments is bringing a new baby or child into your marriage or relationship.
Having or adopting a baby is a positive and beautiful period in your lives. As a couple, you hoped for, planned out and/or made changes to make your dream possible.
Now that baby is here, life is great, but what happened to those loving feelings you once had for one another or the bundle of joy in your arms? Before having kids, you hardly ever fought, now it is taking all your strength not to blow your lid at your partner. What gives?
“Children bring a lot of joy into a relationship, but they can also bring a lot of stress,” said Kristine Goto, PhD, a psychologist with Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “The time that you once had with your partner (alone!) must now be shared with someone else. For both partners a new baby can bring about a host of emotions and new challenges.”
New baby and the green-eyed monster
Maybe you’re finding it hard to adjust to parenthood. You’re struggling to care for your newborn day and night while you enviously watch your partner seamlessly make the transition. You resent that they can escape the monotony of life with a newborn.
Or maybe your partner complains they feel ignored or left out of the caregiving process. They’re jealous of all the time you have with the baby, when you barely give them an ounce of attention.
Between hormones, exhaustion and fragmented conversation, the first child can spark feelings of resentment, insecurity and even jealousy.
“A lot of things bubble up to the surface when you’re exhausted and emotionally depleted while focusing all of your efforts on caring for a new baby,” Dr. Goto said. “If you already have fears of rejection or abandonment, it may be triggering and upsetting to see how much attention your partner showers on your new child.”
You might ask yourself, “How could I be jealous of my own baby?” As crazy as this might sound or as embarrassing as it may be to admit, jealousy and other emotions aren’t uncommon for either parent to experience.
Research shows that partners who show signs of relationship anxiety before the arrival of their first child were more likely to be jealous of the child after the baby comes home.
“Although the traditional belief is that, given biological role responsibilities, fathers may be most vulnerable to having feelings of jealousy, these feelings are experienced equally amongst parents, whether you’re in a heterosexual, same-sex or different-sex relationship,” Dr. Goto said.
Tips for navigating jealousy and other emotions
Holding in negative emotions or angrily lashing out at one another isn’t healthy for anyone in the family and needs to be recognized and managed. If you don’t address them, these feelings can erode your relationship and affect the health and well-being of your baby.
In fact, after having a baby, about 67% of couples suffer a decline in relationship satisfaction, and this can have a long-term, negative impact on their children’s mental health.
Fortunately, taming the green-eyed monster is doable. Dr. Goto shared these tips to help both you and your partner find stable footing as you embark on this special journey with your new little bundle of joy.
Check in with your own emotions
“One key of moving through these feelings is doing a brave evaluation of yourself and where the jealousy could stem from,” Dr. Goto said.
- Think about your upbringing and what you might be bringing into the relationship. Get to know your attachment and parenting style. What do you want to carry forward and what do you not want to recreate in this relationship?
- Acknowledge your fears and anxieties and how they drive some of your reactions, habits and patterns.
- Consider how your insecurities are damaging yourself and your relationship. If need be, work with a therapist to develop new coping strategies.
Communicate with one another
“Couples need to be able to communicate with one another – even if it’s 10 minutes a night,” Dr. Goto said. “Take the time to check in and talk about your day and reconnect with one another.”
Resist the urge to pick up the house or check email. Make these 10 minutes sacred time for you and your partner.
- Hold hands and just talk about where you are emotionally and physically.
- Talk about things that are fun or hard about the baby.
- Remember fun things you’ve done together and what things you’re excited about in the future.
“That little piece of shared partner time is a thread to keep you on the same team,” Dr. Goto said.
Avoid trying to “fix” anything
It’s important to be open and honest with one another about how you’re feeling. Likewise, your partner needs the same support. Acknowledge what your partner is telling you without trying to “fix” it.
“It’s a big act of love to accept and listen to your partner,” Dr. Goto said. “Really listen and don’t try to minimize their feelings.”
Express gratitude instead of keeping score
Instead of keeping count of all the things your partner is or is not doing, tell your partner how much you love and appreciate them. If this doesn’t come naturally, keep a notebook or notepad on your phone to jot down little things you notice your partner does throughout the day. Set a time during the day to lift their spirits.
“We have to reinforce positive actions and not punish one another,” Dr. Goto said. “Something as simple as thanking your partner for doing something or letting them know you appreciate that they were OK when you forgot to do something can bring you closer to one another.”
With a new baby at home, it’s easy for one parent to take on more than their fair share. Research shows, however, that when couples approach problems together as a team, they are more likely to avoid marital issues after having kids.
Reallocate tasks, caregiving and household chores in a way that makes sense for your family. It’s unrealistic to expect one parent to shoulder all the responsibility.
Accept this adjustment is difficult
Despite the expectations you might have held for yourself or partner or what unrealistic expectations you see on social media, accept that parenthood isn’t perfect.
“Parenting can be messy and tough,” Dr. Goto said. “There’s no parenting book that will have all the answers, either. No one does this perfectly, but you can adapt and learn to do it in a way that is best for your family.”
If you’re still struggling to adjust, reach out to your health care provider, a licensed behavioral health specialist or a new parent support group. These are safe spaces for you to be vulnerable and know you aren’t the only one going through this.
Having a baby is life-changing, so it’s natural to have some conflict. When emotions are high, make time to discuss them. Address issues sooner rather than later. This will not only benefit you and your partner, but your child as well. Remember that you’re a team—you’re in this together.