Ask the Expert: Our baby is thriving, but our marriage is not
Although one person can change a relationship, it works best when two people are on board and working together. Photograph: Thinkstock Images
Q My husband and I have a beautiful eight-month-old baby, but the problem is that my husband and I just seem to be fighting all the time. I feel alone and isolated minding the baby at home and he still expects me to do most of the housework.
I appreciate that he is under a lot of pressure at work and is worried about money but a year ago we were much more together dealing with problems.
He also complains that we have no time for each other and no time for sex. I agree with him but I feel too exhausted and certainly not up for it after a row. I know he still loves me and he is great with the baby. I just don’t want things to slip any farther between us.
A While couples often have the romantic idea that the birth of a baby will bring them closer together, the reverse is often true. In fact, research shows that the arrival of a new baby generally puts a great deal of stress on the parents’ relationship.
The baby comes with a huge list of extra tasks that have to be shared between the two parents who are often sleep-deprived and may be dealing with individual pressures, such as balancing work, feeling the baby blues, and so on.
There can be little time for many of the enjoyable things that kept couples close together, such as sex, affection and long, intimate conversations. Instead, these enjoyable activities can be replaced by daily domestic conflicts about the demands of the new baby.
So, the first thing to realise is that you are not alone. Most couples go through this adjustment, and the good news is that, if handled correctly, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Make sure to prioritise your marriage,
for your baby’s sake
Most couples neglect their relationship when the baby arrives. Understandably, the needs of the baby become the number- one priority and everything else is in second place. However, be careful of doing this long term, and not just for your own sake but also for the benefit of your baby.
Babies and children do best in the long term when the relationship between their parents is affectionate, strong and supportive.
In practical terms, children who see their parents being affectionate, kind and loving towards one another also feel loved and secure.
Also, parents whose own needs for intimacy and love are met are more available to their children and can be more attentive to their needs. There are lots of simple, practical steps that you can take that will make a difference in your relationship (even if you don’t initially feel like doing them) such as:
nHaving a daily routine of sharing news about each other’s day.
n Organising a babysitter one evening/ afternoon a week.
n Making sure to hug each evening before sleep and just before you get up.
n Scheduling sex at an agreed time.
nSitting and talking when the baby is asleep (rather than doing jobs).
Learn to fight ‘constructively’
Sharing your life with someone invariably brings you into conflict with them and these conflicts increase once a baby arrives. Frequently, as you have experienced, these conflicts explode into rows which, if unchecked, can become daily and erode the relationship.
Though I don’t wish them on anyone, one good thing about rows is that they bring the basic conflict out into the open. This is preferable to the situation where conflicts are always repressed and the couple begin to disengage from each other, and, perhaps, start to give up on the relationship.
If you listen carefully during rows, you can get a sense of what is truly important to your husband and, if he does the same, he can get a sense of what is truly important to you.
Rows represent an opportunity to understand one another but you must learn to “fight” constructively rather than destructively.
nLearning to be softer and more gentle when you raise issues
n Trying to listen first rather than just express your own view
n Being open to change your view rather than being defensive
n Taking responsibility for your part of the problem rather than just blaming your partner
n Going along with what your partner wants and not only getting your own way
Tuning into what is important
to your partner
Essentially, good relationships are all about being tuned in to what is important to your partner as well as yourself, and then working hard to make sure you both get what you want and need. This is, of course, much easier when you have time for long conversations and you do lots of fun things together, and harder when you are stressed with a baby and busy with other pressures. However, it remains the crucial challenge of remaining a happy couple after children have arrived.
Reading your short email, it strikes me that you and your husband have a relatively common conflict. You feel very burdened with housework and the demands of the baby, and your husband deeply misses the sexual side of your relationship.
Though easier said than done, the key to moving forward is to try to find a way to rekindle the affection and sexual side of your relationship while working to ensure that all the work is shared in a way that suits you both.
Taking the next step together
Although one person can change a relationship, it works best when two people are on board and working together. I would suggest you share this article with your husband, and talk about the issues and what you are going to do.
Try to keep the conversation light as well as serious, as rekindling fun is an essential part of moving forward.
There are two excellent and practical books that I would recommend you read together. Babyproofing your Marriage (Cockrell, O’Neill & Stone) and Baby Makes Three ( Gottman).
I also have a series of relationship articles on my website below that contain some practical tips. If things continue to remain stuck for you, do consider marriage counselling (see accord.ie and relationshipsireland.com).
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and founder of the Parents Plus charity.