If you’re a new father who has stumbled upon this article in desperate search of help, take a deep breath.
Allow yourself a moment to congratulate yourself and your partner on your latest accomplishment. Making it through pregnancy is no small task, and you likely remember (perhaps with some reluctance) the challenges you faced and overcame together throughout those harrowing nine months.
We’ll be frank: starting a family with your partner is going to change the nature of your relationship. However, the change doesn’t have to be a negative one. Instead, the ups and downs of raising a child (or children) with your loved one can be seen as a way to strengthen a relationship rather than undermine it, as long as you know the right way to transition to parenthood.
Here, we’ve gathered some advice from experts, sprinkled with a healthy dose of encouragement and information to help you identify and overcome some of the most common challenges new parents face.
Challenge #1: Tackling the Baby Blues
According to the American Pregnancy Association, roughly 7 or 8 out of every 10 new mothers will experience some level of sadness, negativity, or mood swings after their child is born. We’ll spare you the science of why this happens—the cause is contended even among experts. Suffice it to say that scientists suspect the baby blues to be related to the hormonal changes which occur both during pregnancy and immediately after birth.
Lack of sleep, plus the emotional jubilation and turmoil associated with a new baby, may also be factors.
Typically, the baby blues should taper off a couple of weeks after delivery, but symptoms like impatience, irritability, mood changes, and anxiety can make it difficult for new dads to cope appropriately.
How to Help
If your partner is one of the many new mothers who experience these mood swings, understand how important it is that you serve as a rock of support and stand by her no matter how bad her symptoms are. Change your mindset about these baby blues—instead of criticizing your partner for her behavior, ask how you can help.
Research the baby blues together, and encourage your partner to be open about her feelings via journaling and healthy conversation. Take on some extra housework to allow her additional time with the baby—this bonding experience will result in an endorphin rush leading her to happiness and confidence.
In some instances, new mothers experience a more severe form of the baby blues called “postpartum depression.” In even rarer cases, this may become “postpartum psychosis.” If the baby blues seem a bit too severe to just be the blues, or if symptoms don’t go away after a few weeks, keep an extra eye on your partner and talk to her doctor.
Dads Are Also at Risk
Mayo Clinic reminds us that, as new fathers, we aren’t immune to postpartum depression. Typically called paternal postpartum depression, the symptoms are very similar to those experienced by new mothers with the same complication. Young dads or new fathers with a history of depression may be at greater risk.
If you suspect that either you or your partner is struggling with postpartum depression, the best way you can help is to talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional.
Challenge #2: Disrupted Intimacy
You have your first child, and suddenly the opportunities for sex and intimacy aren’t at all what they used to be. Some new dads may fear that this is the end of their sex lives, particularly when the start of their family is accompanied by a recommendation from doctors to avoid having sex for 4 to 6 weeks after delivery, but this isn’t the end of the line.
In some cases, your partner’s libido may be lessened for some time after delivery. New mothers can also experience pain, dryness, and tenderness with sex, and the fear of this pain may cause additional anxiety surrounding sexual activity.
Whatever you do, do not pressure her into having sex or make her feel guilty for the changes that come with having a baby. Instead, take things slow, focus on extra foreplay, and keep a safe, water-based lubricant on hand. Understand that these changes have nothing to do with her attraction to you.
If you’re having trouble carving out spontaneous times for sex—one of you is too tired, or there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get it done—don’t be afraid to get a little old school. There’s nothing wrong with “scheduling” sex, and you can still keep the spontaneity alive by planning surprises or trying something new during your planned time together.
Challenge #3: Money Management
We won’t pretend that adding a third to your budget management is an easy task, but many parents-to-be underestimate just how much money matters after tossing a new baby into the mix. Dr. Gayle Peterson, a family therapist, tells Parents magazine that money is a major cause of stress for new parents, particularly those who have recently purchased or are planning to purchase a house—a common adjustment made when starting a family.
“You’re not going to take out your anxiety about money on your baby,” she points out, “so you lash out at your spouse.”
These concerns may be further compounded if you or your partner want to take some extra time off work while you adjust to the art of child-rearing. Peterson also advises that, even with two incomes, couples are rarely going to feel completely secure in their finances immediately after having a baby. There’s some good news, at least! Whatever fears you and your partner are feeling are perfectly normal!
Overcoming Monetary Fears
When finances are tighter, you’ll undoubtedly make occasional purchases your partner deems “frivolous,” and the other way around. These kinds of disagreements are what start financial arguments, only compounding the pressure you’re already feeling, so it’s critical to work as a unit when you’re planning financial strategy.
Work together on a budget or, if you’re having a tough time finding a moment to sit down together and hash out the details, at least present a proposed budget plan to your partner and wait for her approval before assuming it’s law. Welcome her suggestions rather than taking control, and emphasize her importance as a financial contributor.
Take some initiative to save money, too, even if it means leaving your comfort zone. For example, take up grocery shopping and cooking, even if these have typically been tasks your partner’s taken point on. Not only will she appreciate the homemade meal, but you’ll both appreciate the money you’ll save on takeout.
Challenge #4: Clashing Parenting Styles
Just like personalities, parenting strategies and styles are as diverse as the number of parents in the world. Sure, they say that opposites attract when it comes to romance, but this may not bode so well when you and your partner are settling into your individual parenting roles.
Marriage and family therapist David Silverman states that many parents don’t discuss this aspect of their new lives prior to having their baby, so rapidly developing parenting styles that don’t agree with one another can quickly become a point of contention.
For example, it may be that you favor a more relaxed parenting style, while your partner tends toward a stricter or more disciplinary attitude. You may not agree with every parenting decision she makes, and she may not agree with yours, but this doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork
“The most important part of being a good parent is that the two of you work as a team together,” says Silverman. If you do or say one thing and your partner does another, your child may only end up confused or stressed.
Set aside meaningful time to plan your parenting strategies, and be gentle with your partner if she does something differently than you might. Avoid accusatory behaviors. Instead, ask her about the motivations behind her actions. You might learn something.
While these challenges are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the trials and tribulations of maintaining a relationship while starting a family, conquering these four relationship changers will put you on a solid path toward future success.
Before you get back to changing diapers or picking up a seemingly infinite number of Legos from your living room floor, let us leave you with one final piece of advice.
Fighting the Stigma Surrounding Couples Therapy
There’s a stigma surrounding marriage counseling and couples therapy. Attendance of sessions like these is one of those things often spoken in hushed tones around gatherings, a topic of gossip or shame associated with a failing relationship.
It’s absolute nonsense.
We’ve already covered the baby blues and postpartum depression, but there’s a more general, documented relationship between relationship troubles and psychological troubles. Few life changes are more stressful than starting a family, meaning that you may notice an exacerbation of depression or anxiety symptoms as you struggle through the challenging adjustments to your relationship.
Not only is couples therapy one of the most effective things you can do with your partner to overcome looming depression or other psychological troubles, but these counseling sessions offer regularly scheduled moments to solve minor hiccups in your relationship before they become damaging.
In fact, we’re huge fans of attending therapy with your partner before you even notice problems arise, because nothing beats prevention.
Whatever you choose to do, work together. Make communication a priority. Most of all, just do your best. Starting a family is no easy task, but with the right attitude, you and your partner’s bond can become stronger than ever.