Julie Watts, Clinical Psychologist

The birth of your first child will bring changes to every aspect of your life. One of the most challenging may be the impact it has on your relationship with your partner. It can present enormous changes, as you will need to negotiate differences that may have not arisen prior. Some of these many include:

Finances: Many couple are used to each earning money and having control over how and what they spend their money on. For some couple this may be the first time they have done joint finances and the person no earning (typically the woman for at least some period) may find it difficult to have to ask for money or feel she has to justify what she is spending.

Sex: For many couples this will have already been affected during pregnancy. Some women may lose interest in sex whilst others may find their libido increases. For some it may be medical reasons that mean they are not able to have sex. Some men also find it difficult to feel the same towards their partner. This may be because of changes in the way they now perceive her as a “mum” which can feel incompatible with still seeing her as a ‘sexual being.”

Social Life: Again this may already change in pregnancy particularly if the woman has had a difficult pregnancy or is very sick or tired she may already have cut back her social life significantly which partners may find difficult. There will also be changes after the baby arrives especially if you do not have friends with young children, other friends may find it hard to recognise how you much your life has altered and still expect you to continue on as before.

Differences in parenting: There will also be many times you have different ideas about what is the “right” way to do things. This may be based on differences you each had in the way things were done in your family when you were growing up or be influenced by what your own parents are telling you know about how it should be done. Cultural and / or religious differences may also be highlighted as you have different beliefs that will influence how you want to raise your child.

Woman often comment that it can feel as if nothing has changes for her partner, he still goes to work, exercises, socialises etc and she feels her whole life has changes. Couple can become competitive about who deserves a break more which often leads to conflict and resentment. Recognise that although you are in very different roles at the moment they both bring their own demands and challenges and you each need time out. Negotiate how and when this can happen and you may will need to modify what you did previously as least in the early months, eg, going to the driving range for ½ hr rather than playing 9 holes of golf.

Learning how to discuss these areas of difference and change will be vital in your ability to negotiate these upheavals without it causing relationship distress. Important guidelines can be to specify the behaviour you are concerned about rather than make statements about the person’s character, eg, I would really appreciate it if you could let me know when you are going to be home later than planned rather than “you are so selfish you never think about me.” Acknowledge your partners efforts even if they are not exactly as you would like them to be. Try to choose a time when you are both not exhausted (which can be a challenge in the early months), preferably not at the end of the day or just before bed to discuss important concerns.

For some couple they will have ready access to support from family others may not have any and you may need to investigate other options such as getting a paid babysitter you can trust or swapping babysitting with a friend. It is important to be able to get a break and have some time out together as a couple to nurture your relationship. This may just be a walk and coffee rather than dinner out at least when the baby in very young and you are both tired.

If you have further concerns about how your relationship is being affected ask your GP for a referral to a counsellor or psychologist who specialises in relationship issues, or contact services such as Relationships Australia or Kinway.