Therapist Has Crucial Advice For New Dads Worried About Their Relationships

First of all, you're definitely not alone.
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Becoming a parent for the first-time is a magical experience for lots of people – but boy can it also be hard. And one thing that inevitably suffers as you adjust to life with a newborn is your romantic relationship.

A lot of research in this area has focused on mums after the birth of their first child, which is why researchers have now looked at the impact on first-time dads.

A new study, published in the journal Plos One, found first-time fathers seem to experience a bigger decline in relationship satisfaction in the first two years after having a baby than second-time fathers.

There was a glimmer of good news though, as second-time dads appear to recover lost relationship satisfaction by the time their second child is 14 months old.

What else did the study find?

Researchers analysed survey data from 500 first-time fathers and 106 second-time fathers, collected between 2017 and 2020, who were asked about relationship satisfaction at various points after the birth of their child.

Having a child was associated with a decline in relationship satisfaction for both first- and second-time fathers.

However, first-time fathers showed a higher level of relationship satisfaction before birth, and a steeper decline in satisfaction after birth.

At eight weeks postpartum, first-time fathers tended to report higher relationship satisfaction than second-time fathers, but satisfaction continued to decline for first-time fathers up until 14 months postpartum.

In contrast, second-time fathers tended to report an increase in relationship satisfaction by 14 months that continued through the two year check-in.

Researchers from Technische Universität Dresden, Germany, concluded that men becoming parents for the first time should be prepared for changes in their relationship.

But also that, should they choose to have another child, the changes a newborn brings will likely be easier to weather.

They concluded: “The transition to parenthood can negatively affect the relationship satisfaction of fathers, more so for first than for second-time fathers, however, this can recover over time. Preparation and anticipation may be key.”

What to do if you’re struggling

“It is not uncommon for relationships to face some struggles during this period of time, as they transition into this new phase of parenting,” says therapist and Counselling Directory member Rosalind Miles.

In fact, it’s something she had to grapple with herself. Below are her tips for dads who are worried about their relationship.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

For fathers who are struggling with the transition to parenthood, she says communicating with your partner is key.

“It is easy to keep quiet as tiredness arrives with a bump and takes over! However, talking about your feelings, concerns, and expectations can help you to understand each other’s frame of reference,” she tells HuffPost UK.

Be patient

It’s also important to be patient and understanding with yourself and your partner during this time – even though it can be hard to do, as you’re both going through some major changes and are probably going to be feeling pretty grumpy and irritated with each other at various points.

“Lack of sleep, added responsibilities, and hormonal shifts can all contribute to heightened emotions,” she continues. “Patience and empathy go a long way in maintaining a strong connection!”

Work together as a team

Approaching parenting as a team effort can help strengthen your bond, as can collaborating on tasks and decisions.

“Try to recognise each other’s contributions. Working together can help ease
the burden and create a sense of unity. It also halves the workload and
can take some of the pressure off each other,” she says.

Make time for each other

Easier said than done with a newborn or even an older baby – believe us, we know – but it’s really important to set aside some quality time to spend with your partner.

“Can you ask a family member or friend to help for a few hours?” Miles asks. “A lot of the time, everyone is keen to be with a new baby. The novelty of their arrival is still high!

“Even small moments of connection, like grabbing a quick coffee or taking a walk, can help maintain your bond.”

Celebrate small wins

It’s also super important to acknowledge and celebrate the small victories in your parenting journey – and yes, even loading the dishwasher counts.

Miles explains: “Whether it’s successfully burping the baby, putting the nappy on well or tackling the overdue hoovering, recognising these achievements can boost your confidence and mood, as well as that feeling that you are successfully contributing to the ‘team’!”

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help

Sometimes things can pile up on top of us and feel suffocating. If life becomes overwhelming, definitely consider seeking expert help or guidance – either from your GP, a therapist or local support group.

Online groups like The New Fatherhood have also been pivotal in helping dads struggling with their mental health after having a baby.

“Professional support can provide you with tools or signpost you, depending on the area you live,” says Miles.

And remember, the post-baby period is just one phase in your relationship journey.

“By communicating openly, showing understanding, and actively working together, you can overcome challenges and build an even stronger bond as you navigate parenthood together,” she concludes.

Here’s to that!