Family turmoil can follow the birth of your first child – so here are eight steps to safeguard your relationship

Two become three and life as you know it changes forever. Research shows that first-time parents argue 40 per cent more after their child is born. And 50 per cent of parents who separate do so within two years of having a child.

So what can new mums and dads do to babyproof their relationship?

RUTH HARRISON hears from three experts on how to survive the problems of the first year, while one couple reveals the ups-and-downs of first-time parenting.

1. Spark starting to fizzle out

Relationship expert Kate Taylor says: “Sex keeps the fun and affection in relationships, even during the most mundane and domestic years.

“It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, even a grabbed snog between night feeds can keep you feeling closer.

“Find ways to let each other know you’re in the mood.For example, write naughty messages on the fridge magnets, text each other filth, or whisper sweet, X-rated nothings to each other through the baby monitor. If time is short, maximise your quickies.

“Turn them into a game. Set a timer for 15 minutes and make it your mission to finish before the bell. If you’re still recovering from the birth, don’t rush into having full nookie. Keep close by enjoying a bath together or massages.”

2. How to keep communication

Kate says: “Those first few months can be a minefield, as competitive-tiredness and resentment creep in.

“Every time your partner leaves the house — even just to empty the bin — you hate his freedom. But when he suggests you go out for the day with your friends, you assume the baby will have a tragic accident.

“These are not the months to instigate any deep, loaded conversations about life or love. In the beginning, keep talking by focusing on fun, light-hearted conversations like on your early dates. It ensures neither of you closes up after one too many deep conversations have veered into an argument.”

3. Will the relationship ever be the same?

Kate says: “No. But you don’t want it to be. Having children together can bond you like nothing else.

“You’ll never have someone who’s as madly in love with your child as your partner is. Rebuild your relationship, with your baby in the centre. Ignore advice that says to go out on dates and not talk about your child — talk about them! Their crazy habits, how advanced they are, how much cuter they seem than any other child. Revel in your connection.

“Grab every chance you can to share the great bits of parenthood, marriage, and your new life.”

4. Our parenting styles clash

Former health visitor and author of parenting guide Happy Baby, Happy Family, Sarah Beeson, says: “It can be frustrating when you have different approaches to caring for your new baby.

“Having a conversation about this rarely goes well when you are feeling angry.

“When you’re both calm, try to have a non-accusatory discussion about where your priorities are and recognise the contribution each of you makes. When your partner is caring for the baby, try not to be too critical as it can lead to them opting out completely.

“Being responsible for your little one 24 hours a day is a huge responsibility – give yourself credit for all you’re both doing.”

5. Nothing has changed for him

Sarah says: “I often speak to women who feel they’re run off their feet and doing all the caring, while their partner’s life remains more or less the same.

“Many mothers have times when they feel alone during maternity leave. If you’re feeling resentful and that all the work is largely on your shoulders it may help to describe how the situation feels, then ask your partner what they think.

“If you want to get him more involved create opportunities for him to play his part. Some men don’t always know what to do, so suggest a task to help him find his new role as a dad. More couples are sharing the responsibilities and are happier for it.”

6. Husband is not bonding with baby

Sarah says: “Bonding is the beginning of attachment. Not everyone, male and female, has overwhelming feelings of love instantly for their baby, for some it takes time.

“Men do not have the physical changes but many will feel protective and anxious about the responsibilities of fatherhood. Encourage your partner to have one-on-one time with the baby to discover his way of doing things. Your baby feels secure in strong hands and if you’re breastfeeding, Dad has the advantage of not smelling of milk.

“Dads sometimes take a little longer to change nappies and perfect bathing but not worrying about the mess or wonky nappies encourages them to play their part.”

7. I don't look the same any more

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, says: “A woman’s body goes through some big physical changes and for some, this can impact self confidence, especially if your expectation is to ‘bounce back’ to your pre-pregnancy size. Low body confidence affects intimacy. In more extreme cases, women can be deterred from appearing in public with their partner due to low self-esteem, which can cause friction.

“Rather than letting fear hold you back, use it as a positive, motivating force.

“Embrace your shape, it’s created a new life. This could help put your worries in perspective.

“Be proactive about exercising to build your confidence.

“Your physical wellbeing will improve, while naturally occurring brain chemicals will boost your mood, too.

“Focus on the parts of your body you love. Crucially, remember your partner loves you for who you are as a person.”

8. Stop yourself keeping scores

Mark says: “If you’re an exhausted parent, the demands of a newborn baby can leave you feeling more sensitive than usual.

“Lack of sleep will only amplify these feelings. If you bite your tongue, resentment can build but, if approached in the wrong way, arguments may ensue. Avoid throwing passive aggressive insults such as, ‘I’m more tired than you’.

“Your partner isn’t necessarily trying to shirk parenting duties. They may feel helpless if your baby always cries in their arms, especially if you can settle them. Work with your partner to develop routines with your baby.”

'I got as far as packing his bags one time'

Rebecca Douglas, 37, and partner Emyr Rowlands, 35, have a 16-month-old daughter called Mia. They have been together for nearly three years and live near Huntingdon, Cambs. Rebecca, who runs a marketing company, says:

"WHEN I first gave birth to Mia, my hormones were all over the place and the slightest look or silly comment would wind me up.Little things like not putting away the dishes or not offering to change a nappy would annoy me – and I’d let them build up.

Soon I’d have a list of ten things Emyr had done wrong and we’d have a huge argument.Our blow-ups were ridiculous but felt so important because I was sleep-deprived and frustrated that Emyr never woke-up during the nights while I was breastfeeding. One night after a huge row, I threw our dinner of fishcakes on to the floor and went to bed, leaving him to clean up the mess.

I remember threatening to throw him out on occasions – and I’m sure I got as far as packing his bags. Adjusting to life as a new mum is a huge change.
Sometimes all my day would involve was four nappy changes and I felt resentful of Emyr being able to go off to work.With no time or energy for romance, our relationship became more like a military operation.

But now, we know how important it is to make time for one another, whether that means watching a new box set or asking my parents to babysit.If we are upset with one another, we’re honest. If we argue, we move on. We’re still learning how to be parents – but we’re a team."

Assistant payroll director Emyr says: “I MISSED Rebecca when Mia was first born.I felt isolated, a bit like a spare part. I’d think I was doing the best for our little girl – but Becca would have other ideas about her routine and we’d clash.

It was a huge change not to be able to do things I wanted at the drop of a hat and I found it difficult to adjust to the lack of sleep. Our arguments were always about little things that we’d let build up but we’re more open now and we try not to take things to heart.”

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