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Man and woman upset on park bench

Relationship struggles after having a baby

Man and woman upset on park bench2

March 3, 2020

By Nicole Arzt, LMFT

While pregnancy and childbirth can undoubtedly be an exciting time for couples, research indicates that many couples experience a sharp decline in postpartum relationship functioning. In fact, renowned couples psychologist, John Gottman, found that 67% of new parents reported a complete plummeting in marital satisfaction.

What are the most common issues? How can couples receive the support and guidance they need during this transition? Let’s get into what you need to know.

Why is there added stress to a relationship after a new baby?

When the baby arrives, everything changes. As a result, both partners must adapt and assimilate to their new tasks as parents. These new tasks are relentless; because newborns are completely dependent on their caretakers, the work is both physically and emotionally demanding.

Both parents tend to experience dramatic emotional and mental health fluctuations during this time. Research shows that at least 20% of new mothers experience postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety after the birth of their new child. Moreover, anywhere between 2-25% of new fathers experience these conditions as well.

Other significant stressors that can impact the relationship include:

  • Changes or stressors related to employment
  • Medical complications in either the baby or mother or both
  • Financial insecurity and stress
  • A decline in sex and intimacy
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Conflicts about caretaking expectations
  • Problems associated with the division of labor in the household
  • Interpersonal stressors related to extended family being involved in caretaking
  • Limited or no time spent together as a couple
  • Both partners experiencing a loss of independence or freedom

How do I bring it up?

You may feel apprehensive about sharing your concerns with your partner. After all, many people accept that relationship problems are simply their “new normal.” However, if unaddressed, these problems can worsen with time, and it can impact the well-being of your child.

Aim to share your concerns with both compassion and assertiveness. Broach the topic at a neutral time (not after a heated argument!). Remember that the goal isn’t to attack or criticize your partner. Instead, the goal is to convey how much your partner means to you and how important it is for you to feel close to each other during this vulnerable time.

Emphasize the importance of feeling connected and close with your partner. You want to be united because it’s essential for your relationship and for your baby’s development. Moreover, you want to be able to lean on each other and navigate these new changes with optimism and companionship.

What can I do on my own?

As a new mother, you’ll be tested in so many ways. You may tap into a maternal love you never knew existed, but that love often comes at a steep cost. You need to be comfortable with recognizing that you have limitations. Many women place enormous pressure on themselves to be a “super-mom.” This strategy often backfires and leads to burnout, resentment, and significant relationship distress. On your own, you can focus on:

  • Self-care: Remember to take showers and eat regularly! Carve out time to be alone a few minutes each day if possible.
  • Accept help: Many loved ones want to help after the birth of a baby. Take advantage of generosity when it’s offered.
  • Reach out for professional support: If you are struggling with your mental health or experiencing intense feelings of guilt, shame, or regret, consider attending individual or group therapy.
  • Connect with other mothers: Whether you reach out to friends or join a Mommy & Me group, companionship with like-minded individuals can be invaluable for new mothers.

What is couples therapy like?

Couples therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for clients to better understand each other. Most therapists start sessions by discussing the presenting issues and obtaining relevant background about the couple.

Couples therapy isn’t about placing blame; it’s not about the therapist choosing sides and determining who’s right in a particular argument. Instead, this process is about learning how to cultivate relational strengths to come together.

Couples therapy goals vary depending on the couple, but they may include:

  • Providing psychoeducation on common reactions and behaviors to this transition
  • Learning how to communicate efficiently and respectfully
  • Increasing emotional and physical intimacy
  • Strengthening the sense of confidence and competence as new parents
  • Identifying and implementing boundaries
  • Utilizing healthy and effective conflict resolution skills

Couples therapy entails a combination of sharing your needs and feelings, engaging in active listening, and receiving feedback from your therapist. You may also be encouraged to practice new skills or complete homework between your sessions.

How do I get my partner on board?

After highlighting your concerns about your relationship, ask if your partner is willing to attend an initial consultation with you. If they refuse, ask if they’re willing to provide a reason for this refusal. Determine if they would prefer to find the therapist themselves. Sometimes, partners simply want to feel involved in the process.

Be honest and forthcoming with your feelings. Emphasize that you love your partner. Express that you’re scared about losing footing together as new parents. Let him or her know you are prioritizing everyone’s happiness. After all, therapy isn’t about dredging up every problem you’ve ever had; it’s about collaborating to find solutions that benefit you both.


Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly a decade of experience treating women's issues related to parenting and family dynamics, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. She is the proud mama of her newborn son.

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