Does having a baby change your relationship with your partner?
Updated: Feb 4
Pregnancy initiates major change - from your morphing body and growing belly to the type of Google searches and purchases you now make. Expecting a baby can be a sweet time full of excitement and wonder. It can also bring forth a lot of anxieties and worries. You may be swinging between different emotions from moment to moment. The ups and downs can all be a normal part of any pregnancy journey.
When I was pregnant a quarter of a century ago (I can’t believe I can write that - my oldest is 24), I think it was a bit easier to shift into the happier parts of pregnancy. The major difference between then and now is the advent of technological advances that introduced the internet and social media. The technological age brings us wonderful sources of information and communication. It also complicates matters because you can suffer from information overload and experience a whole host of negative influences. For example, you may come across loads of photos and posts of pregnant life and new motherhood through social media and blogs and sometimes feel you do not measure up to these images of how you are supposed to be, feel and behave because what’s being presented is just a one-sided, curated view. You want to do your best and sometimes it just feels impossible. On the other hand, sometimes these sources can also fill your head with other worries hinting at the potential doom that is starting to loom large like a tsunami about to wipe out your current life.
One of the messages I notice that our society and the media sends out is that having kids gets in the way of many adult privileges and established priorities. Messaging hints loudly that having a baby is a potential threat both to your relationship and to the way of life you both have cultivated up to this point. Sometimes these ideas hide under the guise of humor (such as "Baby-proof your marriage"), but the warning is still there and can stir the pot of anxious thoughts. And, some of the couples I work with trust me enough to share the burgeoning fears building in their hearts and minds.
Let me reassure you that having some fears and worries is totally normal. I’m not sure how anyone could go through such a major shift and not have any. You are going through a lot of changes and this is a step into the unknown. You’ve never been here before and don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It is important to think about where exactly your concerns are coming from. Is this something that can be discussed with your partner (or a friend) and be prepared for? Or are your worries being stoked by fear mongering and inflammatory messaging?
I find that negative messaging about life with a baby through social media and other avenues is not very helpful and can often be harmful. Messages like “Baby-proof your marriage!” (while kind of funny) feed the machine of competitive consumerism and individualism - it’s designed to elicit reactions and clicks or promote the purchasing of a product, rather than being a true communal expression of support by helping us engage in our own knowing and personal power. Rather than creating and building a sense of togetherness as a family, this type of messaging promotes a defensive stance right from the outset by warning you to be on guard thereby potentially undermining our experience of love.
So, here’s the thing. I’m not going to lie. Bringing a child into your life is a radical shift. Becoming a parent absolutely requires a system’s upgrade in responsibility and behavior. There are times that are going to be challenging and that require you and your partner to dig deep into your inner resources. There’s going to be a shifting and changing of roles and responsibilities. It’s going to take negotiation. It’s going to take communication. Sometimes it will be really hard. If you thought you were “adulting” before, bringing a new baby into your life is going to catapult you into a whole new level of the “adult experience”.
But - and this is a big but - it’s also a time of radical transformation in a positive way. In a way that you cannot anticipate or truly understand except by actually going through the experience of bringing your child into the world and committing to their care and well-being. This is about going deeper in our own human development, expanding our capacity to love and testing our commitment to each other.
You get to choose where you place your energy and commitment. Do you value family and love? There are always compromises and sacrifices that we need to make for each other. We do need to be aware of each other’s needs - especially our child’s needs - and look out for each other. That is the nature of mature love. Bringing a child into the world is inviting you to deep love, not superficial love.
When my children were young, I remember a mom acquaintance sharing with me that she and her husband didn’t have enough of the “good times” with each other before their children came and that made a difference in their relationship. I listened and nodded my head. Yet inside, I thought of my own life and what I had been through with my husband - the first ten years of our lives together before we got married were filled with a number of difficult and some tragic situations. It wasn’t all idealistic young romantic love. Most people would have broken up. What made a difference was our commitment to each other. To see it through. It was not always easy or effortless. It’s the process of moving through those challenging times that builds depth and a strong foundation in your relationship, not any fancy trips or fantasies of what a perfect relationship is supposed to look like.
I’ve been with my husband for 35 years. I love him more now than ever. There were definitely moments in those first years of parenthood that were extremely stressful not only because we didn’t have enough external support structures, like helpful extended family or the means to hire help, but also because we were doing something (caring for our children) that took a lot of resources – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. But we gave each other the chance to rise to the occasion. And let there be grace and understanding when our human failings emerged and we let each other down.
I admire my husband so much - he is an amazing human being and a wonderful father. Did I feel that way every moment over the last two decades of raising children? Uh, no. Was every moment peachy? Did it look like a Hallmark movie? No. There were some real challenges. There are some times I really wouldn’t want to repeat. But, this is real life, not a Hallmark movie or a romance novel. There are always obstacles in life. That’s what makes a story interesting. How do you go about that challenge? How do you approach it?
When thinking about relationships, especially with our partner, I really love the ideas from The MindBody Code by Dr. Mario Martinez, a neuropsychologist. In this book he talks about the archetypal wounds that we receive from experiencing betrayal, shame and abandonment in our lives and the ways of healing these wounds through honor, love and commitment. Chapter Four focuses on relationships - it’s called “Guardians of the Heart.” In this beautiful passage he writes, “If you commit to protecting your partner’s heart, and you trust your partner to protect yours, you achieve the two objectives of the covenant of safety: trust and dignity. (p. 67)” We don’t need to be perfect as partners, but our commitment to each other is essential. Dr. Martinez also writes, “We learn our most valuable lessons under turbulent conditions.” Each difficult moment is an opportunity and a chance at growth together - in whatever timeline it unfolds and at whatever pace each partner is able to do it.
So, whether you have been through a lot together as a couple, or if bringing a baby into the world is the first major shift you are going through together, what matters is your commitment to each other and your family. To understand that you are not contracting, you are expanding. Your child is not competing with your relationship. Your relationship is a base upon which your family grows. You truly have the capacity to handle all of this and in the end love each even more deeply (even if there are moments when it doesn’t feel that way). That’s okay. Everything evolves and changes – and it can absolutely be for the better.