Bringing home a new baby can test the strongest of relationships.

Many studies show marital satisfaction declines with the transition into parenthood.  There are several reasons why this happens.  Growing your family can be stressful financially, emotionally, and physically.  However, having knowledge about this transition can be enormously helpful in understanding what lies ahead and considering how these upcoming changes may impact your relationship.  Here are some of the biggest tests your relationship may face with a new baby in your home:

A profound lack of sleep

Sure, there may be times in your life when you pulled an all-nighter.  Perhaps you worked second or third shift, and this affected your sleep.  You might be thinking you are someone that doesn’t require a lot of sleep to get by.  Or maybe you’re thinking you can make up for too little sleep this weekend.  However, for new parents, a lack of sleep becomes the normal for quite some time and sleep deprivation can have a profound impact on your relationship.

New parents typically experience disruptions in their sleep.  This is especially true in the first year of a baby’s life.  Frequent feedings and baby’s changing sleep patterns are disruptive to getting a good night’s sleep.  You may only catch a few hours of sleep at a time.  After a few days and weeks of this, you might notice some changes in how you’re thinking and feeling.  It’s been well documented that sleep is essential for proper brain and bodily functions.  Some consequences of sleep disruption and deprivation include moodiness, deficits in performance, memory and cognitive deficits, and even health problems.

As partners, this may look like irritability with one another, difficulty keeping track of appointments, forgetting details of day-to-day life, and increased stress responses when things go sideways.  Both of you might be sleep deprived, or one of you might be sleeping more than the other which can lead to arguments about how to get your needs met, and down the road resentment may build.

A new role in your life

Becoming a parent is multi-faceted in that we are both learning how to care for a tiny human while also learning and shaping our role as a parent in that process.  Human babies are incredibly dependent on their caregivers for, well, everything.

Your new born is unable to walk, crawl, or even sit up on their own.  They need to learn how to eat which can be difficult while you or your partner are simultaneously trying to learn how to breast feed.  Or perhaps you’re feeding your baby bottles in which case those bottles need to be made and fed to baby.  And baby eats about every two hours when they are first born.  It can feel like as soon as you’re done with one round of feeding baby, it’s nearly time for another feeding!

The only way baby can communicate with you is to cry when they need something.  There may be times when you’re unsure how to decode baby’s cries.  Does baby need food?  Sleep?  A clean diaper?  Maybe baby’s crying because they want to be held.   Or because  the Amazon delivery driver rang the door bell right after you finally rocked baby to sleep and now they’re awake again.  Ugh.  Learning how to soothe baby can feel overwhelming and confusing at times.

Your role as a parent is evolving

Along with caring for baby, your role and identity as a parent are developing as you take on these new responsibilities.  You’ll be learning what kind of parent you are, what kind of parent you want to be, and all the while trying to maintain your relationship.  What happens if you and your partner aren’t on the same page about parenting?  For example, what if one of you prefers that baby co-sleeps with you while one of you believes baby should sleep in the nursery?  Or one of you is fiercely opposed to having a sitter until baby is a certain age while the other can hardly wait for a date night out?

Many factors influence how we parent.  Having a new child in your home may bring up conflicting views on parenting neither of you anticipated.  Moreover, you and your partner may have different ideas of what your roles should look like.  As time goes on, you may find your relationship challenged by these new roles, responsibilities and decisions.

Sex and Intimacy

With little sleep and new roles, many couples find it difficult to reignite, maintain or establish intimate aspects of their relationship as they navigate caring for baby.  These factors, as well as many others, naturally affect how much of our resources are reserved for our relationship when baby comes home.

Being on the same page about sex can be tricky after baby’s arrival.  Physical considerations, emotional availability, energy level, and interest in sex can be different for partners, making it difficult to know when or how sex will return to your relationship after the transition to parenthood is underway.

With so many of your resources going to baby’s needs, it may be difficult to feel close to your partner at times too.  You may be taking shifts trying to tackle all that needs to be done at home and work.  It may seem as if you hardly see one another.  Or perhaps when you are together, much of the conversation is about the day-to-day business of running a home and raising a family.  Over time, you may begin to feel as if parenting has hijacked romance, intimacy, and sex in your relationship.

New Parents Can Overcome These Challenges Successfully

The first year of baby’s life can especially be challenging for new parents.  Often parents can feel shocked by how difficult this transition can be, even months into baby’s arrival.  It’s no wonder that sleep deprivation, little or no sex, and changing roles may strain your relationship.  However, there are ways to successfully navigate this transition with your relationship intact and strong.  Here are some tips to support your relationship along the way:

Keep communication going between you and about your relationship.

The little things can add up to big results in your relationship.  Talking about what happened in your day is one way to connect and to know what’s happening in one another’s daily life.   Additionally, asking about things you know matter to one another can foster closeness, interest, and help you engage with aspects of your life outside of baby.  Moreover, talk about what you’re learning as a parent and a couple with one another.

Get on the same team.

Sleep deprivation can leave us irritable and cranky, and this may lead to bickering and blaming.  Focus on how you are in this together.  Think about how you can support one another’s efforts to get more sleep.  Maybe it’s a few hours here and there, but knowing you’re trying to help one another goes a long way for your relationship.

Start prioritizing time together, even if in small amounts.

It’s normal for a couple to have little or no sex following baby’s arrival.  However, it’s important to acknowledge this with one another and begin to nurture intimacy and sex in your relationship again.  This requires effort on both your parts to set aside time to reconnect with one another.  There’s not necessarily a perfect time.  Sometimes you just have to jump in and do it, and before you know it, you’ll get back into the swing of things.  So schedule a date night, even if it’s while staying in after baby’s gone to bed.

A strong relationship supports the transition into parenthood. 

Together, you and your partner are creating your special and unique family.  Learning and growing through this transition into parenthood can challenge even the strongest of relationships, and that’s normal.  However, taking steps to communicate with one another and nurture your relationship can be great ways to find your footing again after baby’s arrival.  After all, your relationship is the foundation of your family and will support what you are building in your family.

At Vitality Therapeutic Services, we aim to support couples just like you.  Take a look at the many services we offer couples including Counseling for New Parents, Pre-marital Therapy, and counseling for communication issues in couples.   We also offer therapy for individuals including therapy for life transitions and therapy for women.

Photo credit: Simon Berger on Unsplash