When you’re parents: how relationships might change
Most couples experience relationship changes when they become parents.
For many people the birth of a child brings positive changes in their relationship. For example, you and your partner might feel a new and different level of connection. But you might also experience some strains, even if these weren’t part of your relationship before becoming parents.
Less sleep, less time to talk, less time to spend together – these things can all take their toll on your relationship while you care for your new baby.
These changes and strains might mean you disagree more often or that things don’t feel quite right. Also, you might not have the energy to sort out problems when they arise.
Open communication helps keep things on track and helps you both come to terms with these changes. It can nurture and strengthen a healthy relationship with your partner, as well as with friends and relatives.
Listening to each other
Good listening is the most important communication skill you have for keeping your relationship healthy.
That’s because good listening helps you understand things from your partner’s point of view and puts you in touch with your partner’s feelings. If you want your partner to listen to you, you need to be prepared to hear issues from your partner’s point of view.
You can show you’re really listening by stopping what you’re doing when your partner wants to talk, and by paying full attention to your partner’s words and body language.
It’s important to encourage your partner to talk by asking open-ended questions. These questions can encourage more discussion. You can also check whether you’ve understood by restating your partner’s comments in your own words.
And remember – if you’re thinking about what to say next, you’re not really listening. Instead, try to focus your attention on what your partner is saying.
For more information, you might like to read our article on listening and why it’s important.
Talking about your relationship
When you talk about your frustrations and fears, your happiness and joys, it makes it easier for your partner to know what you’re going through.
‘I’ statements are easier to listen to than ‘you’ statements, which can seem like criticisms. So when you talk, you could say things like ‘I feel a bit lonely when we spend less time together’. This might be better than ‘You don’t make any time for us anymore’.
It can be hard to slot in discussions between nappy changes – you might find it helps to set aside time to talk.
You can find more information and tips in our article on talking and why it’s important.
Accepting relationship changes
You can look at your relationship as being in a new phase, rather than off track. It’s good to talk about what the new phase means to you both and how you can manage it.
If you’re finding it difficult to spend time together in this new phase, try a new approach – for example, planning time together.
Managing conflict in your relationship
Differences in opinion will come up as you go through changes – talking about these can help you both understand each other’s perspective. It’s OK to disagree.
It can help to relieve tension if you accept different points of view while explaining your own. You can use the tips on listening above to find out what your partner means rather than arguing your viewpoint, which can make things worse.
When you’re making decisions together, aim for ones that are OK for both of you – especially decisions about raising your children. Agreeing on things like routines, discipline and bedtimes is important, but it sometimes takes teamwork.
Staying close as a couple
Simple things like asking your partner about the day (‘What was good?’, ‘What wasn’t so good?’) can help you feel connected.
Small gestures that show your partner that you care can also help. This might just be making your partner a cup of tea or offering them a sleep-in.
Making time to spend together as a couple can give you both an opportunity to talk, reconnect, enjoy each other’s company and nurture your relationship.
Here are ideas for when you’re ready:
- Organise a babysitter and go out somewhere you both enjoy – it could be for a meal, a walk or a movie.
- Make time to do something special together at home – for example, a special evening snack or a TV show after your children have gone to bed.
- Think about what you liked to do before you became parents and work out how you could make it happen again – even if you do it a bit differently now.
If you plan ahead for these activities, they’re more likely to happen. It also gives you something to look forward to.
Your sexual relationship
Most couples do get their sexual relationship back on track eventually. Putting more time into talking and spending time together can make you feel closer, and this helps your sex life.
If you’re feeling too tired or too distracted to even think about sex, try talking to your partner about how you feel. Just like time together, sex might also need a bit of scheduling.
You might like to read our article on having sex again for ideas and information about how to re-establish intimacy after your baby arrives.
When and where to get professional help for your relationship
Relationship changes in early parenting are natural. But if you’re arguing with your partner more than usual, avoiding discussion or feeling angry or disconnected, it’s a good idea to get some professional help to work things out together:
- Call Relationships Australia in your state or territory on 1300 364 277.
- Call Family Relationships Online on 1800 050 321.
- See your GP to talk things through and get a referral to a psychologist or relationship or family counselling service.
- Find a psychologist or counselling service through the Australian Psychology Society, Australian Counselling Association or Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.
- Call Lifeline on 131 114, MensLine on 1300 789 978 or QLife (LGBTQ+ peer support) on 1800 184 527.
- Contact a LGBTIQ+ support service.
If your partner doesn’t want to go to counselling with you, it’s still worth seeking help by yourself.
If there are problems in your relationship, including family violence, you can get support by calling the National Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Family violence is not OK. It’s never justified by feelings or family circumstances.