Partner's Relationship After Birth
Guest: Denise Vite, LCSW
There are a lot of different issues a couple could experience after the baby arrives. However, it is important to note that these things do not happen to everyone. Knowing some of these issues can help you relate and develop awareness to be able to take the necessary actions in case you happen to experience them.
Most Common Issues Couples Experience After the Baby Arrives
- Gatekeeping. Mothers may start acting as gatekeepers, taking a little bit or a lot of control depending on whether there is an anxiety disorder or just the normal kind of anxiety that first time or us, moms, have. It’s wanting to control everything like who visits or who does what with the baby. This often alienates the partner as it means not letting them do as much or they may not be doing things the right way. When the partner has been really criticized or see that their partners are redoing everything they just did, they stop helping out and then that loop of feeling a little resentful that your partner is not helping you. But when they do, you kind of snap at them.
- Sleep deprivation. Not having enough number of rest and sleep for days, weeks or months, even can really affect anyone’s ability to regulate their emotion and how they communicate with their partners. In the beginning, it would be really tough to keep your cool, especially if you have a colicky baby or during nighttime when you need to be up to nurse the baby. It is very common how moms would complain how dads can just sleep through the night even with the baby crying. These nighttime battles sometimes become something where you start to keep score of who did what.
- Postpartum Mental Health. There are differences between the couple’s anxiety level which can drive the things you do. One common example is the dad usually sleeping soundly while mom gets up because she doesn’t want to let the baby cry. There are some things you might be worried about but may not be that much of a big deal with your partner, and that can bring a big impact on your relationship. If either partner has any mental health issue going on, it's really going to impact how they can be present for baby and for each other.
- Breastfeeding. How you feed your baby can become a very big trigger, too. There can also be some disagreement whether it’s working for your baby or your partner urges you to continue and you just want to stop. It could definitely cause a lot of emotional distress and it’s getting harder because it’s rarely being discussed between couples.
- Differences on what a good parent looks like. These differences can be as simple as the dad watching the TV and the baby is sitting next to him, but the mom wants the dad to be singing, or rocking or playing with the baby instead. This could be an issue over what a good parent looks like and you may have different ideas of what that looks like.
- Extended families. How involved you want your extended families to be can become a big point on your relationship. Most of the time, it’s your mom trying to tell you how to mom or his mom trying to tell you how to mom her grandchild, or it could even be your partner telling you “my mom told me..” These happens a lot and it is very much important to discuss who you feel comfortable having as a support system or just asking for opinions.
- Sex. Having a baby is a big change in a relationship and and it takes way longer than 6 to 8 weeks for a mother to heal mentally, physically and emotionally. But your partner might be looking at that 6-8 week mark as the go and then for victims of trauma in the past or birth trauma, it might complicate that even more so. There’s also the body changes that can really affect mom’s self esteem. Even if you have a partner who is really supportive or makes you feel good, it’s just within your own comfort level of where you are at. It could also be hard to feel sexual if you are tired, or stressed or even if you are nursing, you are kind of protective of that space for the baby.
Loosing that connection to each other makes it so much harder for you to coordinate and provide that loving environment for your children. If you are not getting along, your children even if they are just babies, can feel that. Your child needs to see that you love each other so they can perceive what love and healthy relationships look like as they grow up.
Recommendations for Couples to Talk About Before and After the Baby Arrives
The reason couples become dissatisfied in relationships is because they put the relationship to the bottom. Frequent arguments and conflict on your relationship can cause a partner to withdraw, immersing themselves more in work and whatever activity to destress. This can lead to them not being around as much and can also result to the overall connection slipping from them.
Creating a postpartum plan could be a great help to prepare your relationship on how it’s going to look like once your baby arrives. Denise recommends a checklist of important things that couples should be talking about during pregnancy and once the baby arrives:
- How satisfied are you with your relationship and your level of intimacy? How will it look like after having the baby?
- How satisfied are you with the division of labor right now and how is it going to be after having the baby? What parts can you do to make your partner feel supported?
- What’s your plan once you're both or one of you is back at work?
- How do you self soothe when you're angry or stressed? What is your go-to at home?
- How within the home can you support each other to have your own time?
- How can you have your own time for yourselves?
- What certain things do you expect to happen (i.e., moms doing everything as that’s how things were when you were a child)
- What are the resources in the community that might support you as a mom and your partner as a dad? This cold be a therapist, a support group, or a healing practitioner you feel you want to reach out to.
- Who do you feel comfortable asking for help on errands?
- Who can you really talk to and be with for emotional support?
- What kinds of things can you and your partner do at home to stay connected?
When you're in postpartum, you're not going to have the desire or the time to do plan these things out. Talking and learning a little bit about postpartum, mental health, depression and anxiety during pregnancy can really help you look out for the signs and be able to have the awareness to overcome these issues. Seek out professional help like premarital counseling or couple’s workshop to help you have these conversations and improve your communication.
Denise shared the Gottman's philosophy of “small things often” and their emotional bank account that “it's in the little things we do every day that really can help us stay connected.” Kind of survey your rituals on how you connect right now. Whether it's how you communicate in the day, how you greet each other, or how you’re going to put the baby down and connect with each other even if it's just for a few minutes.
It's not about solving every pot problem in a relationship, it’s about learning how to compromise. Lowering your expectations in the beginning and seeing the problems that might arise not as personal flaws of your partner but just a response to a lot of factors like stress or sleep deprivation. Having in depth conversations or weekly dates and check in with each other where you can talk a little bit more in depth it just good to have no matter what stage of relationship you’re in. Remember your whys when you were just starting - Why did we have a family? Why are we having this baby? Why are we extending our family? Why is it so important to us? Remembering these things can help you coordinate and get along better with each other so you could make decisions better. You're not going to be able to compromise on your different styles of parenting if you're not if you don’t view your partner with respect and you’re not on the positive perspective or when you think of your partner, you think of all the great stuff about him. A lot of times in the beginning, all the little flaws and things you don't like will come up so the date nights or at least connecting at home and making each other a priority will help you shift back to what it’s supposed to be.
Some of the other resources Denise talked about are:
- And Baby Makes Three, by John Gottman, PhD
- 7 Principles of Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, PhD
- How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn
- Hold Me Tight Retreats and Workshops by Dr. Sue Johnson
- Mom and Mind Podcast: Check out episode 105 on Postpartum Sex
To get more information about Denise’s work and the "Bringing Baby Home" workshop she is hosting, you can check out her website https://www.compassionatewellnesoc.com, or follow her on Instagram @compassionatewellnessoc.
You can also listen to this amazing episode by visiting https://www.thebeyondresiliencelife.com/blog/partner-s-relationship-after-birth.