If you just welcomed a new baby and feel disconnected from your partner, you're not alone!
A lot of research suggests that most couples are less happy after they become parents, but that doesn't mean your relationship is doomed to fail.
LinnieLou spoke with Dr. Stephen and Erin Mitchell to help new parents navigate this potentially stressful time.
Stephen and Erin have been married for 12 years and have three kids. They offer individual counseling, couples counseling, and counseling for parents as well as two courses.
“We know every couple wants a healthy and secure family. In order to have that, you need a healthy, secure couple relationship,” Erin said.
Keep reading to learn what couples can expect after bringing a new baby home, ways to bolster your relationship before the baby arrives, how to handle conflicts, and when to seek help.
What To Expect After Baby
Erin was quick to note that each couple is different, so their experiences as new parents will be different as well.
That said, she noted a few common themes she’s seen professionally as well as personally. Here’s what you can expect:
- Exhaustion x10
- Stress cycle activation
- Feelings of closeness and disconnection to your partner
- Feelings of unfamiliarity or like you aren’t a good fit with your partner
- A change in libido (this applies to both men and women)
- New insecurities in your physical body (this applies to both men and women)
“We joke about overstating the exhaustion, but it really can’t be overstated, because no one, yes no one, is their best self to themselves or to any other human on the planet when they are exhausted,” Stephen said.
How to Bolster Your Relationship Before a Baby Arrives
Stephen said that while a baby certainly changes your relationship, there are ways to bolster it pre-baby.
“We highly recommend couples … talk about it and approach it with intention,” he said. “Opening up intentional dialogue and working to really understand yourselves and who you are as a couple before the baby comes will be so, so helpful in making it as smooth a transition as possible. Because as exhausting and new as it is, it is also absolutely indescribably wonderful to watch your partner parent.”
How to Heal
If you’re experiencing a particularly difficult time post-baby, Erin said the first step to healing is recognizing the problem.
“Life changes when a new baby is brought into a couple relationship. This applies if it’s your first or second or fifth,” she said. “When change occurs in a relationship, the relationship itself is changed.”
She said that recognizing and accepting the change is the first step in healing.
“Part of the relationship is growing together with one another throughout time. The idea that a couple relationship needs to always be the same or never change, or that your partner needs to be the same person after a baby that they were before the baby, is unrealistic.”
She said that each of these changes can cause conflict and resistance in partner relationships, but instead of fighting the change, she suggests:
Accept that change is to be expected, and
- Be curious about what your partner is thinking or feeling during these changes.
“Acceptance and curiosity in the midst of change can normalize both of your experiences and help you interact rather than react,” Erin said.
Appreciate the Moments
Erin said most couples express not having enough time to connect. After all, date nights are few and far between after the arrival of a new baby.
Her advice? Take the time as it comes.
“Date nights, with showers and fewer distractions, are amazing–don’t get us wrong,” she said. “But so is catching one another’s eyes from across the room while one of you is bouncing your baby back to sleep on the yoga ball for the millionth time that day. Or bringing that yoga ball into the kitchen so you can bounce while your partner is doing the dinner dishes.”
She said the key is to appreciate the moments of connection.
“Carving out a ‘date’ - even if it’s at home after your baby goes to bed - is great and highly advisable. And also, so is being open and accepting of the new ways you and your partner find connection.”
When to Seek Help
Both Erin and Stephen suggest couples seek help, “always and often.”
Stephen said. “That might sound extreme, but we 100 percent practice this ourselves as a couple who goes to therapy for check-ups now and then.”
The couple said that thanks to their years working in the mental health profession, they understand counseling has a bad wrap and something couples only seek out when something is “wrong.”
“But this simply isn’t the case, and in fact, it is tremendously helpful for couples to view courses and counseling as part of maintenance and growth,” Erin said.
Erin and Stephen said couples who struggle after becoming parents are not alone.
“We all want to be seen and known,” Erin said. “All of us. And when we are lonely in our own home–and we are all lonely in our own homes from time to time–we can begin to feel like there is something wrong with us, or our partner, or our relationship.”
However, the pair said all hope is not lost.
“There are tools that can help you! You can find your way towards one another again,” Erin said. “You can even learn ways to connect in your disconnect. We have been in seasons of disconnect ourselves and boy is it cold and lonely and even scary sometimes, but it does not have to define the rest of your life together as a family.”
To Sum it Up
- Dr. Stephen and Erin Mitchell said couples can expect to feel exhausted, disconnected from each other, stressed out, and lower libido after welcoming a new baby.
- Stephen said there are ways to bolster your relationship ahead of your baby’s arrival.
- “Talk about it and approach it with intention,” Stephen said.
- No time to connect? Erin suggested appreciating and taking advantage of small moments.
- When in doubt–seek help from professional counselors early and often.
And for more tips and resources for parents, find us on Instagram at @linnieloubaby.