The thing that catches many new dads by surprise are the changes in their relationship with their partner. It’s pretty common to assume that the baby will arrive and you’ll just carry on with your life – or maybe that the baby will bring you even closer together as a couple. But that’s not always the case.
What makes things tricky is that you’re starting a new type of relationship with your partner – a parenting partnership. This is different to your romantic relationship, and you'll need to negotiate how you’re going to parent together as a team.
Figuring out this new partnership and making it work is an important process because it sets the emotional tone for your home. To take the analogy way too far, it’s like your house has an emotional thermostat based on how well you’re getting along as a couple.
There’s plenty of research to show how this contributes to your baby’s sense of comfort and security, which makes it totally worth the effort.
Welcome to your ‘new normal’
Couples often talk about feeling closer in the days after the birth, and a shared excitement about the baby they’ve created. However, when this ‘babymoon’ period wears off and your ‘new normal’ sets in – exhaustion, broken sleep, chores that are hard to put off – most couples find their stress levels go up.
Both of you probably feel like you’re the one making all the concessions, and this can lead to an increase in arguments and tension.
Some new dads deal with this by staying at work later and later to avoid confrontation and arguments. This won’t resolve the issues – in fact, it’s likely to make them worse as your partner feels less supported.
Your best bet is to talk about what each of you is finding difficult and what you could change to give you both a break. Taking the time to debrief about each other’s day can be a useful coping strategy.
DAD TIP #59
Try to identify the tough moments in the day – like ‘witching hour’ or bath time – and come up with a plan for how you’re going to handle them and what you’re each going to do to support each other.
DAD TIP #28
It can be hard to put feelings into words sometimes, so a short-hand
1-10 code can help. Saying “I’m a 3.5 today” takes a lot less effort than trying to explain exactly how you’re feeling.
Listen more, criticise less
It’s a cliché, but relationships really are all about good communication. This means lots of listening, and trying to understand where the other person is coming from.
Here’s another cliché for you – last one, we promise.
A relationship is a bit like a bank account. Listening and supporting each other is money going in, and criticism or an unwillingness to listen is like your cash flooding out. Depending on how you’ve been communicating, your ‘account’ can have a healthy balance or be massively overdrawn.
Sliding down in the order is one of the toughest things I have found – first one comes along and so you become second in line. You are used to being your partner’s priority and she yours. I’ve had to keep her as my priority but the kids are there for hers. If you are lucky you slide in just before the dog.
Will I ever have sex again?
The short answer is yes – but be prepared for things to be different.
Three things to keep in mind
- You’ll need to renegotiate your sexual relationship together after the birth of your baby.
- This process can be frustrating and takes patience and a genuine interest in how your partner is feeling about sex.
- How you do this will be unique to your relationship.
Changes in sexual desire can arise for many reasons, including as a result of the birth experience, sex becoming painful, or just feeling ‘all touched out’. Not feeling wanted or attractive can be hard for both partners, but understanding what’s behind the lack of sex in your relationship can help take the edge off the hurt.
Though many men talk about the changes in how often (or rarely) they’re having sex, in reality they’re often actually talking about their desire to re-establish closeness in their relationship – both physical and emotional. Get creative about ways to rediscover that closeness that don’t involve sex (this doesn’t mean getting involved in weird stuff, we promise).
DAD TIP #55
Compliments, touching and physical affection (without pressuring for anything more) will help re-build the closeness in your relationship over time. In the meantime, agree on how you’ll each ask for and refuse sex. It’s an awkward but important conversation.
Need another ear?
Many couples experience challenges in their relationship after becoming parents, and it can be hard to figure things out from the inside.
A counsellor can be an objective ear, helping you plan ways to get your relationship back on track if it’s hit a tough spot. Check out Relationships Australia for resources, information and counselling services.