Your baby’s first year is not just about first smiles and wobbly steps. Your shifting relationship will also need some TLC. Welcome to the new game of (love) life
Your relationship was cruising along nicely – then you had a baby. You thought it was going to be tough, but who knew the outrage you could feel that it’s always you settling your little one at 3am? Or how frustrated he would get that you’ve turned into a massive grump? Two thirds of couples find having a baby prompts relationship friction that didn’t exist before. Your first year will be a series of ups and downs – you’ll never know what’s around the corner, but you can expect a whole series of subtle changes in the way you deal with each other.
So, you’re back home, exhausted but marvelling at your little creation. ‘This is the one time you’re justified in putting your relationship on hold,’ says psychologist Cliff Arnall. Your baby will soon be taking up 90% of your affection and energy, but try to still work closely as a team, dividing up chores and supporting one another.
It may look like he’s standing around like a spare part, but your partner will be feeling protective right now. ‘Men want to help after seeing you go through birth. But it’s hard to know how, so keep telling him what he can do,’ says Cliff. He may also be feeling a little left out, so make sure he gets time with you as a family and alone where you can.
Your partner has gone back to work, leaving you to cope alone. ‘It can soon feel as though he doesn’t understand how difficult your days are,’ says Cathy O’Neill, from babyproofingyourmarriage.com. Keep him in the loop by texting him updates through the day, then he’ll be better equipped to help out when he gets home.
'It's common for a new dad to go into full-on work mode, because he's feeling huge responsibility'
‘A common male reaction to becoming a dad is to go into full-on work mode, because he’s feeling huge responsibility to earn and provide for you both,’ says marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall. This can mean you feel you’re not his priority. But remember, this is his way of contributing to your new family life.
Your baby will be going to bed earlier and you’re getting some sleep (hooray!) But don’t worry if you’re not leaping on chances to have sex. ‘It can take up to 18 months for your hormone levels to return to the point where you spontaneously fancy sex,’ says Andrew. ‘You’ll still enjoy it before then, but aim for quality over quantity if that works better for you.’
Your man is likely to prioritise physical intimacy, but he may not actually mind how this is demonstrated. ‘You don’t always have to have full-blown sex,’ says Andrew. ‘Cuddles and kissing are just as important. Intimacy tells him that you’re still a couple, not just parents.’ Keep touching in whatever ways you can to stay connected.
Your little one should be babysittable, which opens up the potential for date night. ‘This is an important time for enabling you to feel like a partner again, rather than just a mum,’ says Cathy. ‘If you’re worried you won’t know what to talk about outside of nappies, make a mental list of things to chat about beforehand.’
‘Having gone down the pecking order since your baby arrived, your partner will be looking forward to having your attention again,’ says Andrew. ‘But the reality is he’ll still be sharing you.’ This makes a date night away from home great – you focus entirely on each other (while keeping an eye out for babysitter update texts, obvs).
Returning to work can spark tension, especially if you’ll be managing most of the domestic duties, too. ‘It can make you resentful towards your partner, whose career is likely to have carried on as it was pre-baby,’ says Cathy. Could he leave work early or do drops-offs at nursery? Think about what you’d ideally like to do and what is most realistic.
It’s often assumed men prefer their partner to take responsibility for the home, but this isn’t always the case. ‘He wants you to be happy and, if that involves you working, he should take that into account,’ says psychologist Anjula Mutanda. Plus, if you don’t work, financial responsibility for your family rests with him and that can be daunting.
12 Months And Beyond
You know what you’re doing (most of the time) now and you’re more rested (maybe), so it’s time to reprioritise your relationship. ‘Revive flirting,’ says Andrew. ‘Send thoughtful texts and kiss each other goodbye in the mornings – these small gestures say how much you still value one another.’
He may not admit it, but your partner is likely to be relieved that you have more time for each other. But sometimes the kindest thing of all is to give the other one a few hours off. ‘It’s easier to “tag-team parent” now, so one of you can take your baby out for a few hours, giving the other a break,’ says Anjula.
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