Marriage After Baby

Having a baby can be a wonderful experience and something many couples work toward with great effort.  However, the marital relationship often changes after baby arrives in ways that couples do not anticipate.

couple arguing

Jim and Tina’s story:

Jim and Tina sought marital therapy when they found they constantly argued about little things and no longer expressed much affection toward one another.

Jim expressed frustration as he said:

  • “I feel invisible.”
  • “She doesn’t show me any affection anymore.”
  • “Everything I do seems to be wrong.”
  • “It feels like she doesn’t care about me.”

Tina shared her feelings of sadness as she explained:

  • “There’s no time to have fun together, it’s all work.”
  • “I feel like he takes me for granted.”
  • “He doesn’t seem to even like me these days.”
  • “I feel like I’m alone.”

As I asked the couple about the history of their relationship, they described being good friends in the early days. But the changes seemed to start when they had their son 3 years ago and only got worse when they had their daughter 9 months ago.  While they described different concerns, at the root of it both were feeling very lonely in their marriage now.

Jim’s view of how parenthood affected their marriage:

After the baby arrived, Jim felt like he lost his wife.  She seemed consumed with caring for the baby and had no time or attention left for him.  He would try to be involved, but he felt like everything he did was wrong.  He felt constantly criticized by Tina.  So he gave her some space.  He got more involved in his work and hobbies.

Tina’s view of how parenthood affected their marriage:

Tina felt overwhelmed with the baby, lack of sleep, and the sense that she was in over her head.  She felt isolated from her friends, and part of her wanted to go back to work.  She didn’t feel like she could talk to Jim about any of this because she didn’t want to stress him.

Interestingly, they both felt abandoned.

I began working with this couple to view their situation as a time of growth and change for their relationship rather than a crisis.  I reassured them that they are not alone in their struggles.  Marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman points out that 67% of couples report a decrease in marital satisfaction during the first 3 years of parenthood.

Therapy focused on rebuilding their friendship and facing these challenges as a team rather than adversaries.  Each learned to express appreciation for the others efforts and to support one another to reduce stress.  They learned how to manage conflict differently, focusing on understanding one another rather than being right or defending a position.

By the end of 5 sessions, they reported:

  • Feeling more hope about their relationship
  • Collaborating more with household chores and expectations
  • Working together to manage stress and conflict
  • Greater passion and pleasure with each other

Couples who remain connected and supportive of one another through the challenges of parenthood also become better parents.  As Dr. Gottman says, “A good marital relationship is the best gift you can give your child.”

Written by Dr. Suzanne Smith with principles from the Gottman Institute. For strategies to help you and your partner weather the stress of parenthood and remain close friends as well as passionate partners, schedule a consultation with Dr. Smith at Linden BP.  440/250-9880