The real reason why couples break up after having a baby
When planning for baby, there’s no shortage of things you can, and arguably should, do to prepare. From taking prenatal supplements to choosing a health-care provider to getting tested for gestational diabetes, you’ll want to keep an eye on your — and your baby’s — health during those vital nine months. You’ll also want to prepare a space in your home for your expected newborn and come up with a plan for labor and delivery. Parents Magazine advises getting most of the prep work out of the way by your final month. “As your baby’s due date approaches, find a comfy chair, put your hand on your stomach, and enjoy the calm before the storm,” the site recommended.
But, what happens once the “storm” arrives? Despite the joy many parents experience immediately after having a baby, a great deal of moms and dads will struggle during the subsequent months. This adjustment period can be especially taxing on relationships. Here’s why so many couples break up not long after welcoming home their bundle of joy.
It's a big adjustment
Although you and your partner may have decorated the nursery, printed out a detailed birth plan, and come up with solutions for every little thing imaginable, your newborn probably isn’t going to care about your best-laid plans. And, despite all your research, you might not have realized just how much your life was going to change with the addition of a third person. Relationship expert Andrea Syrtash confirmed to Bravo, saying, “New parents may not realize the adjustment that less sleep, and giving much of your attention to a new person, takes for a couple.” So, is all hope lost? Not necessarily, but, for some couples, this adjustment may prove to be too much.
“It’s important to set expectations before baby arrives, so you remember you’re in it together,” Syrtash advised. After all, you are. You’ll both be learning how to parent in real time, so understanding that this adjustment period is going to happen — and that it’s not going to be perfect — will be beneficial to your relationship.
Lots and lots of stress
According to Statistics Sweden (via Sahlgrenska Academy), 30 percent of parents of young children in Sweden separate. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg further studied factors that contributed to the dissolution of many parents’ relationships. One contributing factor, the researchers discovered, was “stressful conditions.” Ask any new parent and they’ll tell you that having a baby can be wonderful, yes, but also all kinds of stressful.
A study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany found that new moms and dads experience a huge “drop in life satisfaction” during baby’s first year — one that is even greater than losing a job, divorcing, or experiencing the death of a partner. So, yes, caring for a baby is certainly taxing. Still, there are ways for you and your partner to cope with the stress of parenthood together. Shoshana Bennett, a clinical psychologist and author of Postpartum Depression for Dummies, recommends scheduling a date with your partner every other week — even if that’s the last thing on both your minds.
Not enough support
Infants need to be cared for, of course, but your needs aren’t so different just because you’re an adult. “It is easy to feel overwhelmed and neglected, sleep-deprived and needy,” Mindy Schiffman, a clinical psychologist, told Bravo. It’s not just your newborn who’s going through those emotions. “Everyone needs more support and help when there is a new baby, and it is not always easy to figure out how to get what you need,” the expert explained. Yet and still, it can be done.
Schiffman said parents will need to “tag-[team],” let the little things go, and improve their communication. “This is just to take care of each member of the couple,” she clarified, “and then you still have to take care of the baby.” It may not be easy to give (and perhaps even harder to accept) support as a new parent, but it is most certainly beneficial to the entire family. But you don’t need to wait until you’re overwhelmed to ask for support. Tammy Gold, psychotherapist and a certified parenting coach in New York, recommends coming up with parenting plan before “chronic sleep deprivation and physical and emotional exhaustion set in.”
Clinical Psychologist Mindy Schiffman has good reason to preach the values of good communication. Researchers in Sweden discovered that “insufficient communication” was one of the factors that contributed to a 30-percent divorce rate among new parents. Nevertheless, the study’s lead researcher, Malin Hansson, and Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist and author of The 30-Day Love Detox, supplied some tips to help new parents improve their communication.
“It’s very normal to have a temporary downturn in relationships when the kids are young. Commenting on it and being aware of it is key,” Walsh told Yahoo. Additionally, Hansson recommended direct communication and using “I-messages” when bringing up a specific need. No, she’s not talking about sending text messages to your partner. Using “I-messages” means that you’ll avoid starting a sentence with “You never…” and try saying something like, “I’d love if it we could…” or “I appreciate when…” instead. Clear, concise communication is always important, but perhaps never so much as when you’re first adjusting to parenthood.
Not as much intimacy
Just as it’s normal for communication to wind down after baby, the same happens with another important part of your relationship. Therapist Jason Eric Ross told Bravo that “intimacy lowers automatically” after the birth of a child. “The emotional and physical energy normally devoted to the partners now goes to the baby.” A “lack of intimacy” was also cited by Swedish researchers as an indicator of separation and divorce. With all the needs of a new baby, it can be all too easy to put your own, and your partner’s, physical needs on the back burner. And, let’s be honest, there’s a good chance you’re just not in the mood to get it on with your partner after the birth of your little one.
The Swedish study’s lead researcher, Malin Hansson, told Yahoo the secret to reviving intimacy. “The key is sensuality in everyday life, a lot of hugs, kisses, and physical contact. Sensuality leads to intimacy, which in turn leads to a sense of belonging and trust.”
Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, admitted that she and her husband were on the brink of separating when she decided to seek out the opinions of marriage counselors, psychologists, time management professionals, and other experts. Through her research, she realized she had been nitpicking her husband’s interactions with their new baby.
“This stemmed from a behavior psychologists call ‘maternal gatekeeping,’ where a mother can open the gate to encourage her partner’s participation, or firmly swing it shut,” the author wrote in an article for Self. “Once I was mindful of this behavior, I saw that I was doing it all the time,” she confessed. When her husband would start to change the baby’s diaper, she’d interject to correct him. When he would get the baby dressed, she’d roll her eyes.
“As a hesitant father, this put him off — and who isn’t hesitant at first?” she revealed. Eventually, Dunn backed down and let her husband care for their child how he wanted to and not how she thought was best — all to the betterment of their relationship.
"Strains from parenthood"
One indicator of separation and divorce among new parents, as discovered by Swedish researchers, may just surprise you. Although it’s perhaps impossible to avoid, “strains from parenthood” was cited as a contributing factor. While every first-time parent is going to feel the pressure of their new responsibility, many of the “strains” caused by parenthood are not actually caused by just having a child. It comes from feeling alone in their journey — despite being in a relationship. The study’s lead researcher Malin Hansson explained to Yahoo that splitting up tasks can reduce some of this pressure.
“Studies show that the relationship lasts longer and the couple is in better harmony when both partners take an active share of responsibility,” the researcher revealed to the site. While this will mean that both parents will experience an equal share of the “strains from parenthood,” it will help to prevent one parent from becoming unduly overwhelmed by their new responsibilities of child-rearing.
An "inequitable workload"
When one parent is almost solely responsible for raising the couple’s children, that parent certainly feels more of what Malin Hansson and other researchers dubbed the “strains from parenthood.” Of course, even the lesser-involved parent will likely feel some of the stress that comes with welcoming home a new member of the family. Nevertheless, the majority of these strains frequently fall on women. All too often, women in heterosexual relationships are expected to bear the brunt of caring for the home and raising children as reported by Evidence Based Midwifery (via The Royal Collage of Midwives).
“Women generally perform more household and child-caring tasks than their partners, even when in full-time employment, and express displeasure with this inequitable workload,” the article explained. Although evidence cited in the publication revealed that most couples felt household and childcare tasks should be divided up equally before having a child, this shifted after bringing home baby. Moms, don’t feel guilty doling out half of those parenting and housekeeping duties to Dad.
The "balancing act"
While it’s not unfair to expect dads to have an equal share in raising children, Evidence Based Midwifery (via The Royal Collage of Midwives) also stated, “Men have argued that this ‘balancing act’ is difficult especially when combining employment with household tasks and this leads to conflict and tension and ultimately marital dissatisfaction.” But, if this “balancing act” could lead to a breakup — and the “inequitable workload” could also lead to a breakup — how is the relationship expected to survive?
According to Psychiatrist Michael Ascher, it’s not that fathers need fewer tasks. Rather, they should to be involved with such tasks from the get-go. “As a dad, it’s good to get involved from the start in day-to-day parenting activities,” the expert revealed in an article for Psychology Today. “That’s how you get to know your kids from the ground floor up.” Ascher also admonished dads to “honor the role that feminism and gender equality continue to play in allowing you to become this kind of dad.” The psychiatrist assured new fathers further, saying, “Your children will absorb this and appreciate the attitude of respect and carry it with them as they develop into healthy adults.”
A "chaotic" lifestyle
You might find that becoming a new parent is challenging, exciting, frustrating, and wonderful all at the same time. But if you were to describe your life as “chaotic” after the arrival of your first child, watch out. According to a study on declining marital satisfaction after having a baby, researchers discovered that husbands and wives who “described their lives as chaotic” went on to experience a decline in martial satisfaction once baby came into the picture.
“When it comes to descriptions of chaos, what couples typically say is they are experiencing big life changes with things they feel they have no control over,” the study’s lead author, Alyson Fearnley Shapiro, clarified when speaking with the University of Washington. She continued, saying, “If there is a tendency to see early problems as being out of control, imagine how the couple will respond to the big life changes they will experience with a baby when there is no way of predicting when the infant will cry or wake up in the middle of the night.”
Depression in both moms and dads
Sadly, depression has been found to put strain on a couple’s marriage and thus increases marital dissatisfaction. Although postpartum depression, a mood disorder that affects some women after giving birth, has become increasingly recognized, men can also experience a form of pregnancy-related depression. One study found that this condition, sometimes referred to as paternal or paternal postnatal depression, affects about 10 percent of men beginning in their partner’s first trimester through to the sixth month, as well as after the birth of the child. In fact, nearly 26 percent of men will experience this kind of depression when their child is between three and six months old.
“That’s more than twice the rate of depression we usually see in men,” James F. Paulson, psychologist and lead author of the study, revealed to parents.com. “The fact that so many expecting and new dads go through it makes it a significant public-health concern — one that physicians and mental-health providers have largely overlooked.” Just as a woman with postpartum should seek help, so, too, should men suffering from paternal depression.
Failure to adjust to "new roles and responsibilities"
“Parents commonly argue over whose way is right, because both partners are adjusting to their new roles and responsibilities,” Joyce Marter, licensed clinical professional counselor and owner of Urban Balance LLC, a psychotherapy practice in Chicago, Illinois, revealed to Parents.com. This can lead to what author Jancee Dunn described as “maternal gatekeeping,” but this arguing can also stem from a lack of preparation on dad’s part. Psychiatrist Michael Ascher said dads should “get involved from the start in day-to-day parenting activities,” but dads can, and really should, actually become involved even sooner.
Why not read books together to prepare for baby’s arrival or attend prenatal classes so you both know what to expect. Parents.com even recommended Boot Camp for New Dads. The sooner fathers are involved, the sooner — and easier — they’ll be able to adjust to all of the “new roles and responsibilities” that come along with parenthood.
A "transactional relationship"
Based on her experience working with parents of young children, Rachel Sussman, a New York City-based relationship expert and marriage counselor, told Business Insider that such couples sometimes struggle to find the time to connect with each other. At times, the counselor said they feel as though “their relationship has become very transactional.” Despite being common, this is probably not the kind of relationship you desire to have with your partner.
Alyson Fearnley Shapiro, lead author of a comprehensive study on declining marital satisfaction after having a baby, revealed three steps couples can take to avoid this kind of “transactional” relationship. To start, “building fondness and affection for your partner” will go a long way. “Being aware of what is going on in your spouse’s life and being responsive to it” as well as “approaching problems as something you and your partner can control and solve together as a couple” will help to drastically improve your marriage post-baby.
Problems were present before baby
Choosing to have a baby when your relationship is already on the rocks is a surefire way to create additional strain on your relationship. Of course, some couples experience a surprise pregnancy. And, at that time, the relationship may not be struggling — but is it solid? “Too often children are conceived well before partners truly know each other well enough, or have enough of their own development,” therapist Jason Eric Ross told Bravo. “Having a child exposed the rift.” Those couples may go on to break up because, according to Ross, “People don’t feel as obligated to stay these days.”
“A baby highlights the way each of you approach things — for better or for worse,” relationship expert Andrea Syrtash added. She revealed that couples who end up breaking up after the birth of their child would probably still end up splitting if that life change was replaced with a different challenge. In other words, don’t blame the baby.
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