7 Marriage Problems After Baby and How To Solve Them

Marriage after baby can be tough. Here's how to get your relationship back on track.

Making the leap from coupledom to baby-makes-three is exciting, exhilarating, and wonderful. It's also exhausting, exasperating, and worrisome—a combination that can be toxic to the romantic relationship that made you parents in the first place.

The bad news first: marriage after baby can be tough. Maintaining a marriage post-baby takes a lot of time and energy, exactly what you've got the least of right now. Now the encouraging news: Working on your relationship pays off in spades. Without all that energy expended (read: wasted) growing resentful of each other, you'll have more to spend enjoying one another.

Here's advice from experts and couples on why this transition is so hard and what you can do to smooth out your marriage after baby. In the end, you'll learn how to overcome seven common marriage issues.

1. Domestic Duties Double, and So Does Your Bickering

There was still laundry, dishes, and other loathsome household tasks before there was a baby. But there were never so many things that had to be done so quickly. You can't procrastinate on chores once you have an infant. And now you and your partner both feel like the other's not pulling their share of the load.

"Laundry had to be washed or it stank, and the baby needed to be fed or he would cry like crazy," says Brooke Patrick of Seattle, recalling the first year with her son. "So my husband and I started keeping score: Well, I did that, so you do this."

As long as things are getting done, this tit-for-tat system may not be so bad, but the constant background buzz of nagging can cause resentment to build up over time. "There was an incredible amount of tension," agrees Patrick.

How to handle it

One strategy to decrease fighting: Post a list of daily chores on the fridge and switch responsibilities each week. Everyone will know what they need to do. Discussion over.

Ken Fine, dad to 18-month-old Henry in San Francisco, approaches the housework dilemma philosophically. "The way I figure it, there's about 180% of stuff that needs to be done. So if you think that you're always doing 90% of everything, you probably are. Just remember, so is your spouse."

Nevertheless, if you feel like you're carrying the whole load, ask for what you need instead of storming around folding laundry, says Carol Ummel Lindquist, Ph.D., author of Happily Married with Kids. Opt for direct requests over simply stating what needs to be taken care of and hoping your partner will volunteer or chip in.

Also, make it a habit to thank your partner after they've completed a task. Acknowledgment and gratitude may make your partner more receptive to future requests. And niceties breed a less combative atmosphere. Moreover, it might be catching!

2. Your Parenting Styles Cancel Each Other Out

It's nice to think you'd share child-rearing philosophies, but it's often hard to predict how you'll feel about sleep, food, and discipline until you're smack in the middle of your fourth night up with the baby. This isn't the ideal time to discover that while you favor a sleep-training method that lets your child cry, your partner really can't deal with tears for any amount of time. You may also find that your parenting styles clash as you reach for the pacifier at the first sign of distress, while your partner says no sternly when the baby starts to drum with spoons on the high-chair tray.

Tina and Tim Anson discovered that they differed on just about everything regarding the baby. "Tim is just much more laid-back than I am," says Tina. "He gets on the floor and plays wherever our son happens to be, even if it means overturning the laundry basket. And he lets naps happen anywhere, anytime, too. I'd come home to see Jake sleeping in the middle of a circle of toys on the living room floor at dinnertime!"

Tina, meanwhile, wanted to set up play stations rather than have toys strewn around the house, as well as make sure things were put back where they belonged to get Jake in the right habit. Ditto for scheduled naps. "We were resentful and snapping at each other all the time," she says.

How to handle it

What worked for Tina and Tim was letting the other deal with the consequences of their method. When Tim had to stay up with the baby until all hours after an unscheduled evening nap, he conceded that keeping to a scheduled, earlier nap in the crib might not be a bad idea. Similarly, the day Tina attempted unsuccessfully to play with Jake at his play stations while also doing some housework, she realized that having the baby play in the laundry room may be a small price to pay for actually getting the clothes washed.

On more serious issues, such as sleeping or feeding, there are ways to compromise, too. For certain things—such as when to start solids—you should follow set guidelines. Talk to your pediatrician about what's recommended. For issues like sleep (i.e., co-sleeping vs. sleep training), look at parenting books and articles together that support the different sides. Then discuss what's best for the entire family.

3. You Have Sex Half As Often, and It's Twice the Hassle

"I like sex, I really do," sighs Allison Nelson of Portland, Oregon. "I just like sleeping more." You're tired, you're covered in slobber, and your partner has suddenly transformed from Sexy Babe to Superparent. Of course, you're in love, you're just not in the mood for getting naked under the covers.

How to handle it

Step one, says Dr. Lindquist, is to get in the mood. And the best way is to plan time for having sex. Sure, people joke about making dates for sex, but remember: "When you were dating, you did plan when you were going to have sex. You got ready for a night out and thought about it beforehand." Just because you might be married doesn't mean you can't make a hot date.

As for increasing the frequency of sex on non-date nights, experienced parents recommend making sure your bedroom is baby-free at bedtime. "There's nothing like rolling on top of a toy caterpillar that starts to play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' to kill the mood," points out Nelson.

4. Couple Time Is Now Family Time

You're always together but no longer alone. Whether you've been together for years or just met and wanted to have a baby quickly, jumping from a grownup twosome to a family is challenging.

"When we dated and were first married, we each still had fairly separate lives," says Andrea Frank of New York City. "He would go out with the guys and I had my girlfriends. And we both worked a lot and went to the gym on our own. Now we're glued to each other and to Carly, but we also don't feel like we ever have any time together."

How to handle it

There are two parts to the solution here. First, you need to schedule time together, says Dr. Lindquist. But besides dates, plan brief meetings where you can bring up household and baby-care issues such as an upcoming doctor's appointment or which stroller to buy. (My husband and I end our household discussions with an ice cream fest to avoid feeling too burdened by it all.) In this way, your dates won't be overtaken by baby talk, and you can share the stuff you used to: idle neighborhood gossip, who's likely to win the presidential election, whatever.

The second part of the solution is to allow for solo time for yourselves. "Don't look at time away from your family as a bad thing," says Dr. Lindquist. "Look at it as a gift to them because you're returning refreshed and happy."

This goes both ways: Yes, you should continue your three book clubs if that makes you happy, but then you should also indulge your partner when they want to train for the marathon. "It's easier to ask a favor of my husband if he's just come back from an hour of running, biking, or doing his thing, than if he's been going nuts at the playground missing his morning run," says Julie Green of Montclair, New Jersey.

5. You Get No Time Off on Your Own

Caring for an infant is such an all-consuming task that in your free time, you're lucky to make it to the supermarket. Doing something purely for yourself can feel like an outrageous indulgence. But when you deny yourself or your partner R & R, you're likely to start resenting each other.

How to handle it

Pick the one activity critical to your sanity or identity and make it happen.

"Hand in your martyr badge," says Cathy O'Neill, an Austin, Texas, mother of three and a co-author of Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows. "Assert yourself, and say, 'This is what I need.'" Set the schedule in writing, and make sure it's equitable so your partner gets the same opportunities.

Also, lower your expectations. Three-hour bike rides aren't going to happen. For the first three months, you're both going to be treading water. "In the middle of month three, you can start reclaiming some of your own life," O'Neill says. Still, don't try to relive the past. "It's over," O'Neill says. "Surrender to the chaos and wonder of parenthood, and embrace it wholeheartedly."

6. The Grandparents Want a Lot of Time With the Baby

"Watching my husband change into a daddy has been great," says Sarah Meyer of Brooklyn, New York. "But watching my in-laws morph into my child's grandparents has been completely overwhelming because now they think they should have access to our home and lives 24 hours a day."

How to handle it

The solution here is boundaries. You have a right to say no, no matter how generous they've been with gifts or babysitting time. Be kind but firm: "Sophie is so lucky to have you as grandparents, but we're all a little overtired now and need to spend some more time by ourselves."

More important, you have the right to ask your partner to speak to their parents, says Gayle Peterson, Ph.D., a family therapist in Berkeley, California, and author of Making Healthy Families.

"Grandparents can feel threatened by a daughter-in-law and may respond better to their own child," says Dr. Peterson.

That was the case for Meyer. "When I finally told my husband that I couldn't take it anymore, he said something to his mom. He made it sound like we thought they were being too generous with their time. Now, as long as we check in fairly regularly with updates on the baby, they call first before stopping by," says Meyer.

Another sanity-saving strategy is to choose specific times during the week for when they can come by that is preferable for you. If your parents feel like you're making time for them, they'll be less pushy. And you can deflect an invitation guilt-free by saying, "I need to check my calendar."

7. Money Matters More Than You Thought

"I had always worked and made more money than my husband," says Lauren Newman. "Then, after the baby, I took some time off to stay home and finish my degree. We were paying for child care, and I wasn't bringing anything in. I felt guilty and thought I should take on most of the housework—which meant I wasn't writing—and Jim got resentful."

No doubt, money is a huge stressor for new parents, says Dr. Peterson. "People believe they don't have enough money to raise a family, and they just freak out," she says. Dr. Peterson adds that new parents, who may be new homeowners or considering purchasing a house, are often overwhelmed by finances. "You're not going to take out your anxiety about money on your baby, so you lash out at your spouse."

How to handle it

Dr. Peterson advises couples to take a step back and talk frankly about what they really want for the family or for themselves.

"Often there's a spouse who really wants to stay home for a year instead of working, but is afraid of the cost. But there are a lot of solutions to financial problems," she says. One idea is to try living on one salary for six months when you're both working. Open a separate account for the paycheck you'll be saving.

After the trial period, you'll know how you like eating casseroles instead of takeout (you may be surprised) and how to live on a tight budget. You'll also have nice savings in case of an emergency for when you do stay home. Realize, too, Dr. Peterson says, that even with two incomes, it's highly unlikely you're going to feel totally financially secure when you've just had a baby.

Of course, you also have to consider the real facts of your finances, and you may have to make some choices: the big house or the school district? A fancy jogging stroller or a weekend in Florida? Whatever your choices, decide together. And keep in mind that you're probably spending less money in some areas than you used to—such as on movies, eating out, clothes, and vacations.

Tips To Strengthen Your Marriage After Baby

What if, despite your best intentions, your relationship becomes a never-ending snarkfest? Put the following tips into action, says psychologist Tina Tessina, Ph.D.:

  • Ask for specific changes in behavior rather than make sweeping character indictments. Instead of, "You never do anything around here," try saying, "Please buy more baby wipes when you notice we're getting low."
  • Apologize ASAP after a nasty zinger or false accusation.
  • Don't try to read minds; instead, ask, "How do you feel?"
  • Paraphrase what your partner says. For instance: "You're angry because you think I don't watch the baby enough on weekends. Is that right?"
  • Limit your statements to two or three sentences, and give your partner a chance to respond.
  • Avoid going tit for tat. Instead of, "You think I left the kitchen a mess? You left it worse yesterday," focus on how you can solve the problem.
  • Hold hands and look at each other, hard as this may be in the middle of a fight.
  • Let go of the past, and solve one problem at a time.
  • Take a 20-minute break if a fight becomes too heated.
  • Finish with, "Is there anything else we need to discuss?"
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