What to Expect in Your Relationship the First YearBy Cindy Hill-Ford, MFT

 

The birth of a baby brings great joy and excitement, but it can also bring stress and strain on the parents’ relationship. Adjusting from a twosome to a threesome can be one of the most difficult times in a relationship.

You read all the pregnancy, birth and child rearing books, but suddenly with the birth of your baby there is no time for yourself, let alone your relationship with your spouse. Feelings get hurt, people feel taken for granted, everyone is tired and emotionally depleted. Without acknowledging the impact on the relationship (in hope that it will just return to "normal") it is the baby’s first birthday and the issues are still there: feelings get hurt, people feel taken for granted, everyone is tired and emotionally depleted.

A major strain during this stage of life comes with the newly formed roles within the family. For women, you go from highly functioning, multi-taskers to feeling completely inadequate and under-appreciated with your new role of mother and wife. Many women have stated that they felt "in control" of their lives before the baby and now struggle with memory loss, energy loss, mood swings, and once easy/quick household chores are now requiring much more effort. In other words, they have moved from being in control over home, work and relationship to questioning their ability to function even in the most minimal household tasks.

For men, there is often confusion over one’s role as a father of a newborn. He may not know what to do. He can see that his wife, the woman that he loves, is struggling and he may feel inadequate about how to help. For problemsolvers there is not an easy solution. Thus, he may work harder at what he is comfortable doing, working at his career and financially providing for his family. However, what his wife may need is the emotional connection, the statement that he understands what she is going through even if she cannot put it into words.

Here lies the core issue of relationship problems during the first year with a baby in the family. Exhaustion certainly adds to the strain and the stress, and it may become difficult to think straight or make time for each other.

Hopefully the following few ideas may provide some relief.

  • Acknowledge that the relationship has undergone a major life transition. The relationship has changed and the previous roles and ways of relating to each other have changed. Old issues may arise due to the strain and stress of adjusting. Problems or disagreements may create a feeling of desperation or even depression. Acknowledging the feelings is a part of the process and it may lower the stress and begin to remedy the isolation each is experiencing.
  • Remember what you love and like about each other. When roles change, people change; it is also easiest to "take things out" on the closest person to you. This is a time for teamwork, not working against each other. If it is difficult to discuss needs and concerns in terms of teamwork, then write a letter describing what you need to work together. However, in order to do this with sensitivity and consideration, you need to remember what you love and like about your spouse. Highlight the strengths which he or she brings to the family.
  • Continue to prioritize your relationship. It is easy to get lost in the baby's world and forget about yourself and your relationship. It will take conscious planning to "schedule in" time for each other. Spontaneous time is gone for a while. If possible, schedule at least 20 minutes a day to be present with one another.
  • Go easy on yourself; you have just become parents. It is quite an adjustment and will take some work to feel comfortable and confident within your new life.
  • Finally, communicate, communicate, communicate. After sharing all of the things the baby has done throughout the day, share how you are feeling and what you need. Also, remember to listen to how his/her day went and his/her needs and feelings.

Yes, this is a very difficult time in the relationship and there is never enough time or energy. As the baby grows and develops the relationship will grow and develop too. You will eventually have time together again, be able to communicate in real sentences again and actually sleep through the night uninterrupted.

If you take nothing else from this article, please acknowledge the role changes in the family and the need to prioritize your relationship. These are challenging times; it will not always be this way and you and your relationship can continue to grow and flourish.

Cindy Hill-Ford, MA, MFT, MOM is a psychotherapist in private practice in Lafayette and Berkeley, California. For questions or comments, please contact her at (925) 210-9964 or hillford@sbcglobal.net.

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