When a couple first sees their new baby, they will usually be overcome with love and awe, both for the baby and for each other for having created this beautiful being. Fast forward a few days or weeks and it might be a different story. The baby is still a source of wonderment and joy, but they find themselves snapping at each other and feeling resentful.
I had no idea our relationship would change so much. We are now like co-carers who live together. We discuss the needs of our little one and try to organise sleeping, feeding and changing, fairly and without bickering.
Part of the problem is due to the fact that the baby, despite being the cause of all this friction, is completely oblivious to it and everything else, excepting food, warmth and comfort and therefore cannot be blamed. You are both exhausted and no doubt have had your fair share of anxieties already over the baby’s welfare. In short, you will be spending all your hours tending to the infant and not yourselves. The mother has been through a huge physical and emotional battering and will undoubtedly be taking it out on her partner to some extent, who may feel helpless and sidelined.
So, what to do? Let’s address the main problem. The exhaustion caused by several nights of broken sleep takes its toll on everyone. Sometimes the opinion is aired that the relationship is ‘in trouble’ if the father sleeps in a different room occasionally, as if he has been ousted by the baby. I would argue that two exhausted parents is far more likely to cause trouble for the family. So, my first tip would be to make sure you both maximize the potential for sleep, perhaps by dividing the night into shifts and putting a bed into another room. It won’t be forever, but it will help you through the beginning stages.
Secondly, empathise with the other’s feelings and anxieties and try to understand you both want the best for your baby. To the father, it may look like his partner is nagging and criticising, but she is just trying to make sense of this new world she is in. To the mother, the father might appear to have just rushed back to ‘his work’, with no thought as to how hard she is working at home. He is probably feeling the added responsibility of having to provide for his family and wants to do his best by them.
Leading on from this, appreciate what each of you brings to the family and feel grateful for it. It is very difficult to acknowledge someone else’s hard work, when you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you look for and focus on the good in each other, those positive traits will be enhanced and act as a reminder of your emotional connection. This will help if you do need to air a grievance, which is also important to do. Bottling things up is never a good idea, so be honest with each other about expectations and resentments, broaching topics with the words ‘I feel…’ rather than ‘You make me feel….’ It is important to take ownership of your emotions.
If there have been angry words, take some time out so you can both calm down and reflect on why either of you might have over-reacted. Remember the earlier point about you both wanting the best for your family and try and forgive what might have been said in the heat of the moment.
Lastly, don’t forget to show your appreciation for each other physically. Bedroom aerobics will be off the agenda for a while, but cuddles, strokes, massage, and holding hands all help keep the connection between you strong and healthy.