Fighting with your partner after baby is almost a certainty, but there are ways to ease the hate.
I asked Elana Sures, a Vancouver-based clinical counsellor in private practice, about this Google search. When she stopped laughing, she said that, yes, this is very, very normal (phew). “Having a child is one of the first times people find themselves in the middle of a radically different embodied experience from their partner,” she says, adding that having kids can also highlight major differences in values (like one partner wants to sleep train while the other thinks it’s tantamount to child abuse).
Perhaps it’s not surprising (although it is a little depressing) that relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman found that about two-thirds of couples struggle during the first three years of parenthood, experiencing a noticeable decline in “relationship satisfaction.” In the first few months with a new baby, both partners tend to feel unappreciated, intimacy drops off and conflict increases. Although these studies looked only at opposite-sex couples, other research shows that same-sex couples experience similar strains.
So, yes, it’s pretty normal to want to kill your spouse (figuratively speaking, obviously!). But I still wondered: How should new parents—who, despite having zero bandwidth left to focus on their relationship, love each other and want to be happy—reduce conflict? Sures recommends framing your frustration around your own needs rather than on what you feel your partner did wrong. So instead of saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t start dinner!” you say, “I’m so exhausted, I just need to know you’ve got my back. When you start dinner, I feel really taken care of.”
This seems easier said than done—especially when you’ve been up since 4 a.m., you’re covered in spit-up and your partner spent 20 minutes hiding in the bathroom checking fantasy football instead of chopping vegetables. But tuning in to your partner’s emotional needs in those fraught early days is actually pretty important; numerous studies have found that both practical support (like chopping those vegetables) and emotional support (like listening empathically) are important for both partners’ mental health in the postpartum period. When things are really rough, remember—it gets easier with time.