It’s not surprising, really. All of a sudden, you and your partner become more like a tag team as you navigate nappy changes, night feeds and, well, the general day-to-day logistics of keeping a baby alive.
On top of that, hormones are all over the place, sleep deprivation is giving you the serious grumps and one of you might have to go back to work sooner than you’d hoped for, leaving the other parent footing most of the childcare responsibilities.
Aaron Steinberg, a relationship coach and co-founder of Grow Together, knows how difficult it can be in those first few years after having children, which is why he runs Babyproofing Your Relationship online courses with couples who are wading through the thick mud of early parenthood.
Here, he tells HuffPost UK the top three marriage problems he sees after couples become parents, as well as possible ways to work through them.
1. Unequal workload
“Beyond the workload and mental load imbalances that are unfortunately still the norm in parenthood (childcare, meal planning and execution, cleaning, scheduling doctor visits, etc.), there is an emotional basis for our resentment and scorekeeping as well,” says Steinberg.
He acknowledges that as parents, we’re going to be suffering “at least some of the time” – and when that happens, we’ll try to figure out why so we can fix it.
Most of the time we’ll come up with the answer that the person who’s supposed to be helping out is “falling short”, adds the coach, “and we’ll start assessing who is doing what to support the family.”
Cue the resentment starting to build up.
What can you do about it?
“One powerful solution is to ensure that both parents develop a completely safe and competent relationship with the child(ren) from the very beginning. If one person cannot get space, there is no way to create any sense of fairness,” he suggests.
Instead of becoming obsessive about splitting each specific responsibility 50/50 – “which is likely impossible,” adds Steinberg – it might help to look at the division of roles as an overall system that creates the most wellbeing for everyone in the family and can be adjusted over time as needed.
The relationship coach also recommends setting aside time to “really get into each other’s worlds” so you can both understand what is working and not working, and offer lots of appreciation for each other.
2. Lack of sex and intimacy
This is another big issue – when you barely have time to brush your teeth and shower each day, sex and intimacy can end up on the back burner. What’s more, you might still be healing from birth, or your hormones or sleep deprivation might be leaving you feeling far from in the mood.
“Sex and intimacy is so hard in parenthood. Being exhausted, possibly disheveled, having your attention constantly on someone else’s wellbeing – and also having that tiny someone in close proximity to you at all times – is not the sexiest setup for being intimate or feeling desire,” says Steinberg.
“Because your sex life has certainly been interrupted and changed by becoming parents, it can make the times you do try to engage intimately feel like too much pressure.”
It can definitely feel like you’re starting from scratch and that having sex doesn’t feel as smooth as it did before. One or both of you might even be disappointed after, which leads to a lack of desire to do it again.
What can you do about it?
The relationship coach suggests parents need to do two things that often require “emotional stretching” from both partners.
Firstly, he suggests parents need to make their intimate life a priority, and secondly, change their definitions and expectations of what intimacy means.
“For many of us, sex and intimacy is a binary; we’re either having sex or we’re not,” he explains. “We have to expand beyond this simple view and understand intimacy doesn’t just mean the main event – it’s holding hands, touching, kissing, cuddling, talking, sharing appreciation, flirting, making out, and so on.
“If the options are nothing or sex, a lot of the time the answer for one partner will be nothing. But if the options are much broader, then you’ll want to connect more and feel the sense of intimacy growing.”
3. Parenting differences
“Whether we’re aware of it or not, parenting is very personal,” says Steinberg.
“Each of us has values that we took from our own childhood and many, if not most, of them are based on trying to recreate what we feel worked for us or rebel against what we feel did not.”
Everybody is different and because we have different values and backgrounds, the way we make sense of what is best for our child is going to differ between parents.
“Being a planner and well-organised leads to good outcomes, but so does being spontaneous. Doing what is safe leads to good outcomes, but so does taking risks,” explains the coach.
“Each human value has balancing ones that are equally important.”
He suggests this values disconnect is the basis of many parenting disagreements.
What can you do about it?
To get through parenting differences we need to look at it as a “values-based decision” and either include both sets of values or focus on each at different times, he suggests.
“For example, safety might be the right choice when arguing about taking your kid white water rafting, but perhaps risk-taking is better when considering enrolling them into a group version of an activity they love at home but are afraid to do with others,” says Steinberg.
“We want kids to be responsive and able to access different capacities when needed. Parents tend to overemphasise the singular value that they think is best because it worked for them or it was cultivated by them as a rebellion against their upbringing, but in reality this leads to kids that cannot adjust to the world very well.
“To create the most wellbeing for your kid, you need to make sure they can be both safe and risk-takers, both organised and spontaneous.”