Inside: Having a baby is MAJOR (and permanent) change. Feeling unhappy in marriage after baby is one hundred percent normal, but the earlier you address those feelings, the easier it is to repair your marriage. Use these nine ideas to fix your marriage and adjust to post-baby life.
Are you feeling unhappy in your marriage after having a baby? You aren’t alone.
Many spouses report increased stress on their relationship which arises soon after the birth of their first (or subsequent) child.
You spent nine(ish) months being pregnant, went through a crazy labor and delivery, and are now taking care of a newborn.
You and your spouse have a beautiful bundle of joy, the promised prize at the end of a difficult forty weeks…so why does it feel like your marriage is going through a blender?
Why You Might Be Unhappy in Marriage After Baby: 5 Possible Causes
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So much has changed since you saw those two pink lines on the pee test, hasn’t it? Even more has changed since you first met your spouse.
Here are some of the biggest changes you might not have even realized were contributing to your current marriage woes:
1. Physical Changes
Hormones are the biggest culprit here. They’re the ones responsible for your increased awareness of everything baby, night sweats, acne, and most relevant- your moodiness.
Beyond hormones however, there’s also the pregnancy, labor, and delivery you’re recovering from (whether it was vaginal or cesarean). There’s bodily fluids everywhere too (blood, milk, tears, etc) and they might be sticking around for a while.
The biggest one, however, might be your lack of sleep. Even the sleepiest babies still need tending to multiple times a night, sometimes for months.
Even if only one partner is taking the night shift, the crying can wake both, causing disruptions for both partners. That lack of a solid block of sleep is enough to stress anyone out.
Put two sleep-deprived people trying to, you know, function in real life – do things like work, pay the bills, keep a tiny human alive? It can be a recipe for disaster.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Were you thinking parenthood would be full of blissful snuggles, playdates, and feeling like a ‘real’ family?
Or perhaps you didn’t think much would change at all.
Or maybe you were one of the people who expected motherhood to be nothing but awful misery.
Regardless of your preconceived notions, you likely were off the mark in a lot of areas. Your spouse probably was, too.
Parenthood has this weird ability to surprise all of us. Wrong expectations can be tough, because it requires an adjustment when reality hits.
3. Lack of Communication
When there’s a new person in the house who’s 100% dependent on you both, it’s hard to find time to talk like you used to.
Increasingly, more and more spouses are taking opposite shifts of work and childcare in order to avoid paying for daycare or a nanny. That doesn’t leave much time to connect, and even then, how do you say what you’re really thinking and feeling?
Instead, there might be more snapping and sullen silences as you both work through your individual emotions, without much time to process them with each other.
4. Increased Stress
Babies might be the cutest stress-inducing creatures on the planet. They require a ton of time and attention, lots of carrying around, and many new items that cost money. And that’s when they don’t have special needs or medical conditions that require additional care.
All of a sudden, you have no free time, no space to yourself, and no (or at least much less) disposable income.
All of these things can majorly stress individuals and relationships.
Additionally, parenthood can be very triggering for people with a history of trauma. Once your baby is born, you or your spouse might be feeling much more anxious, alert, or withdrawn, and you might not even fully understand why.
Also, studies have shown that giving birth changes the structure of a mother’s brain. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and stress upon hearing her baby’s cries. Having a baby with colic or extreme fussiness can compound this problem.
So if you’re already existing with a heightened baseline of stress, it’s no wonder your other relationships are struggling, too.
5. Lack of Intimacy
Unfortunately, one of the things that helped bond you and your spouse most before your baby came along might feel out of reach. You might not physically feel ready yet, at first.
After you’ve healed however, there still is exhaustion, low libido, and body image to contend with.
The lack of intimacy in your marriage can lead to feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and guilt that can sour the relationship if it continues to be difficult.
How to Fix Your Marriage After Baby (& Rediscover Happiness)
Some of these things you might laugh at, or say, “Yeah, right! That’s never going to happen!” (splitting housework – cough cough).
But truly, implementing and addressing these ten things can be game-changers. When resentment builds in any of these areas, it only fuels unhappiness.
Open and honest communication is essential for almost all of these. If that feels impossible for either spouse, work on that first – with a counselor, or research books and materials on your own.
1. Lower expectations across the board.
One side effect of our Instagram culture is a warped sense of reality.
You might feel like everyone else can breastfeed without issues, or do one load of laundry a week, or still make homemade meals every night with a five-week-old.
Your spouse might also have expectations that all moms can care for children while keeping up a spotless house and still be randy after the baby goes to bed.
Instead of stressing yourself out while trying to be Wonder Woman, realize that you’re in a ‘slow’ season of your life. With a baby taking up a large bulk of your time, you won’t be able to do everything else the way you used to.
Focus on one or two places you and your spouse really want to have high expectations. Maybe you guys choose to really make time for intimacy, even if it means scheduling it and getting a babysitter for a few hours. Maybe you love making one home-cooked meal a week because it’s comforting to eat and you love cooking. It’s your call!
But once you know the one or two things that will really strengthen your marriage, give yourself permission to let the rest slide for a few months at least.
2. Avoid overusing substances.
If you already feel like your marriage is on fire, make sure you don’t pour any additional gasoline on it.
While small amounts of substances like alcohol are o.k., drinking or smoking too much can really damage an already fragile relationship.
If you or your spouse ever feel like you ‘need’ to have a glass of wine to get through the rest of your day (mom “wino” culture is pretty toxic), it’s time to take a closer look at your substance use.
3. Be religious about date nights.
Easier said than done, I know. But sometimes it just takes putting it on the calendar every week or every other week, making it a non-negotiable part of life.
These dates might look different from the ones you went on as lovebirds years ago, but that’s o.k.! It can be something as simple as going for a walk with your spouse while the baby sleeps at Grandma’s.
No money for babysitting? No worries – you can have at-home date nights, like movie nights, picnics, and board games if you aren’t comfortable leaving the baby with a sitter yet.
The only rule? No baby talk!
Date nights are SO important because they remind both of you of who you are outside your role as parents. They also rekindle the spark that made you choose to have a baby in the first place.
4. Make time for a “weekly meeting”.
You and your spouse are both going through a lot right now, and you need to lean on each other to get through this stressful time.
Separate from date nights, try scheduling a regular time to air grievances and brainstorm solutions to common problems, to address things like finances or work scheduling conflicts. This takes the pressure off other interactions and prevents them from becoming full-blown fights.
Just remember that while it’s o.k. to disagree with your spouse, you need to fight fair. The biggest rule is no name calling or making direct attacks.
After that, make sure you’re using “I statements” (I feel hurt when you…. I get frustrated if…) instead of “you statements” (you always do… you never can….). Finally, if you’re worried about your conversations escalating, try having your talk somewhere public to keep you both even-keeled.
5. Check for postpartum depression and/or birth trauma.
One of the simplest ways to repair a marriage can be to check for underlying, clinical conditions. This isn’t the only underlying condition that could be causing problems, but it’s a common one after birth – and dads can actually experience PPD, too.
Postpartum depression is very common and most of the time, very treatable with therapy, medication, or some combination of the two.
If you’ve been feeling apathetic, withdrawn, anxious, uninterested in things you once loved, or are having thoughts of harming you or your baby, make an appointment with your primary care doctor to get checked out.
Birth trauma is also very real, and on its own can be extremely difficult to recover from. Again, this can apply to BOTH spouses.
If you had a traumatic birth, you also may have PTSD. Processing that trauma with a doctor or counselor can get you the help you need to move forward.
6. Reach out for support.
While we’re talking about how you’re not Wonder Woman, let me remind you: you do not have to ‘do it all.’
Thousands of years ago, babies and children were raised in tribes with more than one alloparent to support new moms and dads. The idea that as moms, we’re supposed to do all the things AND take care of a baby on our own is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s downright crippling.
If the messy house is really stressing you out, ask for a ‘one hour of cleaning help’ coupon in your Christmas stocking. (Or a gift certificate for professional housecleaning.)
If you don’t ever have the energy to cook, enlist Costco Freezer and Prepared Foods Sections or Door Dash’s help for the next few weeks.
Or tell your friends how you’re struggling, and ask if anyone would be willing to bring you a meal or two, or hold a baby for an hour while you sleep*.
Yes, this can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to asking for help or believe it makes you look weak. But the alternative- having your friends support you in an increasingly rocky marriage- isn’t easy either.
*Editor’s Note: If when you reach out, your friends say that they cannot help, try not to get discouraged. They may be struggling themselves…or it may be time later on to reevaluate your friendship. Either way, don’t give up on finding support overall, and keep trying to find other options.
7. Learn each other’s love languages.
If you’re not already familiar with the book The Five Love Languages, it’s worth learning about.
The idea is that everyone has particular ways they feel most loved, and problems arise when two people who love each other are misaligned in the ways they try to show that love.
Once you know your and your spouse’s primary love language, try to be intentional about loving your spouse in they way they want to be loved. And be honest with your spouse about how you desire to be loved, too.
If you love acts of service, ask for your spouse to do one of your chores sometimes. If your spouse loves quality time, consider setting an hour aside to be with them one-on-one.
Feel free to get creative with your requests.
8. Split housework equitably.
Learning to co-manage a home can be a challenge even before you throw kids into the mix.
But once you add diaper changes 10x/day, plus feeding, plus getting to sleep, plus changing and bathing, it’s like cranking up the difficulty.
Sit down with your spouse and make a list of all the non-baby things that need to get done in a typical week: laundry, cooking, dishes, vacuuming, bathrooms, etc. Take into account your preferences and stress load; then, divvy up the work equitably.
If you are the stay-at-home parent, that doesn’t mean you need to be doing all the work at home.
On the other hand, however, if you are home full-time and your spouse is working full-time or more, it might make sense for you to take on a little more if you’re at home.
If you’re both working, it definitely makes sense to split things as evenly as possible.
Whatever you decide, just make sure both of you are satisfied with the arrangement.
If your spouse refuses to do his/her share of the work, make sure they understand the need to pay for outside help or support, whether that be a house cleaner, babysitter or regular take-out.
Setting boundaries around home management is essential for a healthy, happy marriage.
Related: How to Manage Housework With a Baby
9. Reevaluate work situations.
There’s no getting around it- going to work is essential for most families to live happy and healthy lives. But what worked for you pre-baby might not continue working once you bring them home from the hospital.
Maybe you’re staying at home and miss work. Maybe it’s the other way around.
Maybe your spouse is working from home or not home enough. Take a close look at the major stressors in your marriage, and consider if a shift in your careers or current job placement might help bring back the balance.
And remember- the decision doesn’t have to be permanent! You might choose to function with these modified work schedules for a few months or a few years and then transition back to your former ways if and when you feel willing.
10. Discuss whether your parenting approach is working – for BOTH of you.
Are you trying to get your baby on a schedule, but baby isn’t having it – and is really letting you know it with tons of crying?
Is breastfeeding making you miserable but you feel guilty whenever you think about stopping?
Is your spouse taking nighttime feedings, but he/she does really poorly with interrupted sleep, and it’s affecting EVERYTHING?
If what you’re doing isn’t working – for one or both of you, it might be time to reevaluate.
If you were trying to baby wear almost round the clock, and it’s taking it’s toll, it might be time to consider getting a swing or something that can give you baby-free time.
If you were trying to do a strict schedule and it’s causing extreme stress all around, maybe it’s time to consider attachment parenting.
Disagreements about parenting, even from birth, can create a lot of tension in a marriage. It’s critical you come to some kind of agreement or compromise moving forward.
Learning to compromise on parenting decisions when your child is a baby lays the groundwork for handling more complicated decisions than sleep or potty training.
11. Remember why you fell in love in the first place.
Especially after having a baby, it’s easy to forget why you got married in the first place. Everything is fuzzy, and all you can see are the things that are driving you crazy and causing your unhappiness.
Make a list of at least three things you love – or used to love – about your spouse. Recall the moment you knew you were in love, your favorite memories over the past however many years you’ve been married.
Try to tap back into what made you propose, or say “yes” all those years ago.
Even if you can’t summon those same feelings right now, reminding yourself why you got married can hopefully give you the motivation you need to put in the work to repair your marriage.
If All Else Fails to Improve Your Marriage, Bring in a Neutral Third Party
If you’ve tried everything else and you and your spouse are still struggling, it’s time to get professional help.
Even if it’s just one of you who is unhappy, addressing the issue head on as early as possible gives you the best chance of preserving your marriage and strengthening it for the long-term.
A licensed marriage and family therapist is the best place to start, but in a pinch, you could possibly make do with a trusted elder, or married friends who have already survived the baby years.
Finally, remember that having a baby is a major life-changing event.
It’s perfectly normal to feel unhappy in general with so much stress and change, and then to feel hopeless in that unhappiness because you can’t imagine when things will get easier.
Give yourself – and your partner – grace and time to adjust to something that has turned your whole world upside down. And hold onto hope that it’s possible you will find happiness in your marriage again.
Hillary is a certified doula who loves supporting moms in the birthing process. When not offering support and advice to pregnant mamas, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.