Relationship earthquake: the birth of your first child

Whether we are prepared for it or not (and let’s face it, most of us have little experience of the realities of parenthood) the arrival of a baby is a massive shock. Here are some things to expect, and how to deal with them

Even after a text-book pregnancy and straightforward delivery, the arrival of a first, much-wanted baby creates seismic change in any relationship.

Whether we are prepared for it or not (and let’s face it most of us have little experience of the realities) the arrival of a baby is a massive shock. Amid the cards, congratulations and high levels of excitement, there are many fears and worries that lurk unvoiced.

Three’s a crowd

First, and foremost, what was a couple is now a trio – and for many, three certainly is a crowd! Whereas the couple may have been able to nurture and care for each other without interruption, the new visitor will certainly now be at the top of the pecking order.

Baby's demands for food or comfort take priority, and it's inevitable that new fathers often feel pushed out in those very early days. They're not allowed to complain either and must bury their grievances away from the cooing public for fear of appearing selfish.

Sadly many affairs start around about this time (for men) as a search for this lost admiration and care takes place. The betrayal experienced by the partner will be doubly hard as she feels less valued by her partner, and the extended family becomes involved.

What can we do about it?

The important thing to remember is that it is essential to find some way to reconnect as a couple once the baby arrives, and to be able to voice the darker, more worrying aspects of being parents. 

Address your partner’s issues If you think he’s feeling left out, don’t belittle your partner but talk about it, taking time to recognise how he feels (even if in practise there’s not much you can change). 

Get your partner more involved From mobilising the troops to just changing a nappy, working as a team wherever possible will help you feel less stressed and him feel wanted and needed. 

Organise a babysitter Invest time into your relationship at least once a month by putting a date night in the calendar. This will allow you to remember how much you enjoy each other's company away from the stresses and tedium of constant childcare. 

Talk to someone If the going gets difficult it may mean talking with an experienced person about some of the more worrying aspects of the new role.

Sleep deprivation + hormonal changes = anxiety

New mothers will be exhausted, and hormonal changes can increase any tension at home leaving them feel alienated from their partners. Using all her efforts to pacify a largely ungrateful baby are mentally draining.

The anxieties of being a new parent can arouse disappointment or rejection. It is often difficult to share these feelings and the chasm can widen. Often the urge to right all the wrongs of our own upbringing can bring overwhelming feelings of despair.

For some, childbirth can bring up more haunting worries. Responsibilities can trigger real panic. Long-forgotten jealousy of a sibling can resurface as the feeling of being unloved or excluded returns. Often, these more deep-rooted anxieties are unconscious and cannot be expressed to each other and a couple can feel they have disconnected and even become hostile.

What can we do about it? 

Renegotiate your relationship Who does what and when is now subject to more pressure than ever before. For the couple who have never sat down to consider their roles and expectations, the pressure can be truly daunting. The Step Up Step Back technique is a great tool to balance your new duties inside and outside your home.

Stay calm Resentment can escalate and tiredness can add to the problems, and might cause unnecessary outburst you later regret. Take time out before you explode. 

Good preparation is the secret to success

It is important to look at the expectations you have of each other now baby has arrived. Are they shared, are they realistic?

What can we do about it?

Things you can look at, preferably before the birth, are:

  • The practical changes in your daily routine - who does what
  • The impact of tiredness or health worries 
  • The loss of one wage 
  • Change in status from worker outside the home to parent at home 
  • Loss of special time together – including sex

Be patient and don’t be too hard on yourselves. Babies grow and relationships can deepen, but you must trust your feelings: if you feel you are at a critical point in your relationship, it may help to meet up with a certificated Couple Counsellor who will have a wider perspective on these issues and help you tackle any personal worries.

Related links

Search for a counsellor using the Counselling Directory.

Share the household chores with the Step Up, Step Back technique

Make sure you know each other's worries and expectations, with theSame Page technique

Even your toddler can start to help around the house: win the chore wars!

A good Family Routine is another great building block towards a more harmonious household.

Related Advice