What You'll Learn
- How Having a Baby Can Impact Our Relationship
- Why Conflict in Our Relationship After Baby Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing
- The Difference Between Healthy Conflict and Unhealthy Fighting
- Unproductive Ways We Might Respond to Conflict
- Communication Tips for Your Relationship After a Baby
- The 5-Step Process for Talking Through Tough Situations
- Ways to Reduce Friction in Your Relationship After a Baby
Are you facing more conflict in your relationship after having a baby? Many couples find themselves arguing more after becoming parents. Stress, sleep deprivation, mental health, and additional responsibilities all play a role. But we can learn how to resolve conflict productively, communicate openly, repair, and work through struggles.
Today, I’m joined by mental health counselor Sheina Schochet, founder of Love After Baby, to discuss how to keep your relationship strong after having a baby.
After a Baby, Relationships Can Change
I was prepared for my life to change after having a baby. I even knew that my relationship would adjust. But I never imagined how drastic that change could be.
My husband and I had to work very hard to keep our relationship strong—to build deeper emotional intimacy, to work through conflict, and to give ourselves (and each other) grace as we adjusted to having three boys back-to-back.
Part of this was accepting that there would be disagreements. We were never going to have a flawless, perfect marriage—nobody does! But we have learned how to be respectful, communicate, approach conflict productively, and repair when we forget or make mistakes.
We were never going to have a flawless, perfect marriage—nobody does!
I have heard from so many mom clients who struggle with their relationship after a baby comes along.
When we have a baby, we are thrown into the trenches with our partner. If we haven’t built solid foundational communication skills, we might wonder if our relationship is falling apart.
I was so excited to chat with Sheina about how to keep relationships strong after baby and work through conflict in a healthy way.
How Having a Baby Can Impact Our Relationship
There are so many factors at play after having a baby that can impact our relationship. We’re often coping with sleep deprivation, stress, and the adjustment to parenthood. We might also be experiencing mental health concerns such as postpartum depression and anxiety. Sex and intimacy might have changed. And we might just find it difficult to balance the added mental load.
With all of these factors coming to the surface, it’s no wonder that 67% of couples report a decline in satisfaction with their relationship in the first three years after having a baby.
67% of couples report a decline in satisfaction in the first three years after having a baby.
When couples have never experienced major lows or a lot of conflict, this can be a trying time. We might fall into all-or-nothing thinking and assume this is the beginning of the end.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sheina pointed out that any life transition comes with bumps along the road. She likened it to running a marathon. There might be days when you don’t want to train, body aches, injuries, or other difficulties. But if it’s meaningful, it makes it all worth it.
Our relationship can be the same. Having kids can change our relationship. But if we work with our partner as a team, we can come out stronger.
Why Conflict in Our Relationship After Baby Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing
Sometimes we think that conflict spells out trouble for our relationship. But that isn’t necessarily true. Sheina pointed out that at the Gottman Institute, a therapy training program for relationship counselors, they view conflict as a good thing.
Conflict is what helps you see where your needs are or are not being met, and gives you the chance to communicate that to your partner and be seen, heard, and validated.
The absence of conflict doesn’t mean a relationship is solid. In fact, in my experience as a family therapist, we viewed a lack of disagreement as a red flag. When a couple has no conflict, it’s an indicator that one partner is people-pleasing or sweeping issues under the rug. After all, two different people are never going to see eye-to-eye on everything.
That doesn’t mean you and your partner have to engage in blow-up fights. But it does mean that conflict can, and should be, part of a healthy relationship.
Some couples might overlook things early on in their relationships when they don’t seem like a big deal.
Sheina pointed out that some couples might overlook things early on in their relationships when they don’t seem like a big deal. But over time, as more stressors occur, like having a baby, your relationship might see more conflict come up. If you don’t address those things or share your feelings, they can turn into resentment or deeper conflict.
The key to any conflict is moving through it, repairing it, and remaining open with your communication.
The Difference Between Healthy Conflict and Unhealthy Fighting
Sheina identified a difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy fighting. Fighting occurs on a spectrum, from minor disagreements to screaming matches. The question is, are we fighting fair?
In an unfair fight, we engage with a lack of respect and me-against-you thinking. Instead of trying to find common ground, we’re trying to convince our partner to see things our way.
In a healthy disagreement, we might not see eye-to-eye, but our goal is to validate the other person and find a solution. Both partners feel heard and seen, and both are having their needs met.
In a healthy disagreement, both partners feel heard and seen.
Sheina pointed out that most couples will sometimes slip into unfair fighting—it doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed. This can happen when one person is just having a bad or stressful day. But the beautiful thing is that there is always room for repair.
However, we do want to work to make sure that we aren’t often engaging in unhealthy, invalidating forms of fighting.
Unproductive Ways We Might Respond to Conflict
It’s important to think about how we respond when a conflict does arrive. Sometimes, partners might stonewall or give each other the cold shoulder.
Other times, one partner might brush the conflict under the rug, pretending nothing happened. Sheina pointed out that if a conflict is not addressed, it will pop up again. When it does, instead of starting at zero with our feelings, we start at a 50 or a 60, already experiencing negative emotions because we never resolved the initial conflict.
Partners might walk away as an avoidance tactic as well. Sheina doesn’t support the old “rule” of never going to sleep angry—sometimes we are emotional, flooded, tired, or not in a good place to have a healthy discussion. However, she recommends that partners pick a specific time when they are going to revisit a conversation after everyone is calm.
Often, she finds that one partner feels that they are the more “easygoing” one, and that an argument is just not worth it. But this is the same as sweeping it under the rug. When conflict arises, you need to address it so it doesn’t come up in the same way.
That doesn’t mean we need to pick every single battle—there are little conflicts that might happen that are not clashing with our values or don’t truly matter. We can sometimes let those fall by the wayside. But if something is bothering us, or it occurs over and over, we do need to work through it. Otherwise, resentment might brew beneath the surface.
Communication Tips for Your Relationship After a Baby
So, how do we address differences in a productive way? How do we keep the pressure down and work through our conflict together?
Sheina pointed out that the first step is to avoid particularly unhealthy ways to behave during a conflict—the Gottman’s “4 Horsemen for Divorce”:
- Criticism—placing the blame on the other person
- Defensiveness—not taking responsibility for our part
- Stonewalling—avoiding the conflict or shutting down
- Contempt—insulting or communicating disrespectfully
We can also follow a process for how to talk through conflict after a tough conversation. Sheina pointed out that it’s important to do this when we are calm.
If one partner finds themselves feeling flooded with stress, their brain fight center engages and they aren’t capable of calm and rational communication. This can lead to an unfair fight where they say things they don’t mean. (In fact, this is often where stonewalling comes from).
When this happens, partners should take a 20-minute self-soothing break to do something calming, such as reading a book, watching videos, or going for a walk. Then, when they aren’t activated, they can come back to engage in healthy communication.
The 5-Step Process for Talking Through Tough Situations
Sheina recommended following this 5-step process for talking through a conflict:
Step 1: Each partner shares their feelings. Focus just on how you feel, not on what happened.
Step 2: Describe your reality. Share your viewpoint of what happened (avoiding accusatory words—stay as neutral as possible). Then, take a moment to summarize what you heard your partner say. If you didn’t get it right, ask what you are missing.
Step 3: Know your triggers. Think about, and talk about, why this became such a trigger for you. Was there an underlying sensitivity from another situation? Talk about why you reacted the way you each did.
Step 4: Take responsibility. Each of you should own up to your part in the conflict. This isn’t about who was “more right.” Both of you played a role. Take responsibility for your part.
Step 5: Make a plan together for how to do better next time.
For example, for me and my husband, I know that we are both more likely to be snippy with each other during the mornings when we are stressed out and trying to get the boys ready for school.
If we wanted to work through this process, we might:
- Share how each of us feels stressed and overwhelmed in the mornings.
- Talk about why having so many responsibilities in the morning makes us both prone to stress.
- Take responsibility for our parts.
- Make a plan together, such as setting our alarms earlier or completing more tasks the night before.
The more we practice this communication process, the easier it becomes. Sheina pointed out that even when we have the strategies, we might backtrack. But we can always get back on the right track and work together.
Ways to Reduce Friction in Your Relationship After a Baby
It’s important to remember that you and your partner are a team. Having a baby might bring more stressors, responsibility, and areas of disagreement. But not only can you work through it productively, you can also get ahead of it to reduce friction.
Sheina recommended weekly check-ins, coming together once a week to share what’s going well in the relationship and one thing each partner can work on. You can also take this time to discuss upcoming changes or tasks that need to be handled. (When one partner agrees to a task, they should take the entire task on from beginning to end, including the mental labor involved).
It’s also important to remember that labor in the home will never be divided 50/50.
It’s also important to remember that labor in the home will never be divided 50/50. But we can work together to share the load in a fair way that aligns with our values.
Sheina also recommended having a regular date night, even if it’s just at home after the kids go to sleep. Making time for each other helps you maintain emotional intimacy and connection.
Finally, she also encouraged creating a culture of appreciation. Think of little ways you can acknowledge each other, have fun together, or compliment each other throughout the day. This fills an emotional bank with little deposits. When you get into a conflict, those deposits make it easier for you to appreciate and understand each other.
Sheina said we should aim to have a ratio of 20 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction in all of our relationships during our regular day, and a 5:1 ratio during a conflict. Those little positive interactions make all the difference when conflict arises.
It isn’t easy to see your relationship change after you have a baby. But the changes don’t have to be permanent, and they don’t have to be negative. When you work as a team, you can maintain a strong relationship even after having kids.
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