Tales of sleep-deprivation, no time for each other and disagreements over housework don’t necessarily sound like a huge problem, but once you’re ‘in it’, you realise how much of a toll this can take on even the strongest relationship.
This isn’t helped by the picture-perfect portrayals of parenting on social media, which can make us feel that we’re the only ones squabbling over whose turn it is to take the bins out, while everyone else is #makingmemories.
parental arguments are normal
However, it’s important to remember that relationship struggles post-parenthood do not mean you’re a bad couple, or bad parents and you’re definitely not the only ones to experience them. You’ve suddenly got this huge new responsibility to navigate, and it’s not surprising if that changes the dynamic in even the most solid relationship.
We spoke to three parents about how they made it through the tricky times and came out stronger the other side.
recognize your differences
“We were a really strong couple, had been together a decade and both totally wanted this baby. So I couldn’t believe how much we argued in that first year – I genuinely thought we would break up more than once.”
“Having relationship struggles after the baby arrives was mentioned in our antenatal classes a lot, but I pretty much ignored them,” says Jess, mom to three-year-old Jackson. “We were a really strong couple, had been together a decade and both totally wanted this baby. So I couldn’t believe how much we argued in that first year – I genuinely thought we would break up more than once,” she continues. “I’d say it took until Jackson was about eleven-months-old before I realized it was our different ways of communicating that was causing the most problems. I’m very vocal about my feelings while my husband, Tom, isn’t and while it’s never been a huge issue before, now it was breaking us apart. I was criticizing him all the time and he was miserable and passive aggressive. It felt so sad that we’d created this awesome little human that we both loved so much, but yet there was hardly any affection between the two of us anymore.
Once we realized this, things got a lot better. I put more effort into staying calm and thinking before I criticized Tom, while he became a little better at saying what was bothering him and how he felt, without worrying he was going to upset me. It wasn’t a quick fix but I’d say by the time Jackson was just over a year, things got a lot better and, while it is a cliché, I’d definitely say we’re a better couple having been through it.”
While there’s no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to relationships, I would say this has really made us feel like much more of a team
competitive parenting: you are not in opposition
I was listening to the radio one day when Zoe was a baby, and the term ‘competitive parenting’ was mentioned. I hadn’t heard it before but was a total ‘lightbulb’ moment,” says Zoe’s Dad, Javier.
“My wife, Christine and I had really tried to have an equal hand in raising Zoe from day one, but because we had different priorities and approaches, we seemed to be at each other’s throats all the time. Christine’s complaint was that when I was in charge of the baby, I didn’t keep on top of things around the house, which was unfair on her, but I felt her criticisms were harsh, given that when she was alone with the baby, I never pressured her to ‘do’ anything more and actually was often asking how she was, if I could help etc. It got to the point that we’d both end up listing everything we’d done - I’d point out I’d washed up, while she would tell me how many times she’d been up feeding during the night and so on. Once we recognized this as ‘competitiveness’, it was a massive help. We agreed to focus more on how well the other was parenting, rather than how they could improve and, while there’s no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to relationships, I would say this has really made us feel like much more of a team.”
change your environment
“It’s sounds so dull to moan about household chores but they’re a real sticking point in our relationship and I know they are in a lot of my friends’ too,” says Katherine, mom to Lewis, four and partner to Sian. “They have to be done to keep a household running but when you both work, there’s constant arguments about who should have done what and it just grinds you down.
What we found helped was getting out of the house as much as possible. This includes ‘date nights’ where just Sian and I go for dinner or to the cinema, but I’d also say getting away just the three of us has had a great effect on our relationship. Watching our little boy grow and have fun, without worrying about drop-offs, pick-ups, fixing leaks and paying bills, even just for a long weekend, has been crucial to keeping us happy, relaxed and feeling positive.”
All relationships come up against difficulties and they're often surmountable, but if you feel you and your partner could benefit from professional relationship guidance, you may want to try the help of a family therapist. Search online, or ask your healthcare practitioner for local recommendations.