Dads Toolbox : The couple's relationship
Keeping your relationship sweet
From couple to parents
You knew that living with a baby was going to be major, but did you expect your life to be turned upside down and shaken about!?! Becoming a dad is big!
Transitioning from a couple to parents is also another huge change.
A pregnant women is living and breathing with the baby all the time, she will be forming her relationship with the baby well before the birth. For dads, when their first child is born, more often than not they feel surprised.
"You had suspicions you were going to be a dad, you had an idea it was going to happen, and then all of the sudden you really are." - SJD
Show you can be trusted with the baby
If the dad is really on-board with the pregnancy, birth and baby-care, it's good for the couple's relationship and makes the shift into parenthood easier. This means the dad being active about:
Accompanies her to appointments and classes
Seeking out resources and information and discuss these with your partner
Get involved with the tricky stuff: try to calm the baby when they cry, change nappies, put on some washing or make the dinner
Try to imagine the world from her perspective and from that of your baby
Being ready to learn
Asking her how she's doing
Acknowledge the effort she makes
Doing these kinds things of will give your partner reason to trust you with the baby. It also mans that she will know that the baby isn't all up to her, that you are doing this as partners who can depend on each other.
Becoming parents brings stress to all couples
Parenting puts stress on couples, not just you, all couples. But couples who work together feel more satisfied with their relationship. If couples don’t talk and share what's going on for them, they can begin to feel distant from each other.
Things that can help you minimise the stress and keep your relationship solid are:
Being a highly involved dad
Talking things through together
Being nice to each other
Common Stress Points for Couples
You and your partner have different ways of looking at things, all people do. Once you have a child – there might be some differences that you can no longer ignore. That's because the baby is also affected by what both of you do and how you behave.
You may not even be aware that you are thinking quite differently from your partner about some very basic things. Couples can have misunderstandings about:
Knowing that looking after the baby is hard work
Who does what and when
What they spend money on (link to our page on money)
Their sex life (link to our page on sex)
Getting on the same page with these sorts of things will help you get along better as parent and as partners.
How to make it through becoming parents
Behaving well and making her feel that you appreciate, respect and like her is important to her and to your relationship.
One way of showing affection for your partner is through random acts of kindness, like:
Telling your partner that they are doing a good job
Telling your partner what you appreciate and admire about them
Noticing and congratulating them on what they are doing well
Arranging little ways that you can have fun together
Flowers or inexpensive gifts or treats can make your partner feel appreciated
Being kind to your partner is important for the whole family, including the children. Your relationship with your partner is a very big part of your baby’s environment. A New Zealand study found that families, even if they have little money and are doing it hard, if the parents felt warmth for each other, the children were less likely to grow up suffering from emotional trauma. Maintaining as positive as possible atmosphere at home is one way of giving your baby what they need to thrive.
Talking things through
Things that weren’t important in the past might become points of conflict. The way you get through all of this is by talking things through. Keeping silent can lead to one or both of you feeling resentful. Talk to each other.
Communicating is as much about listening as it is about talking. Hearing what is going on for her and explaining what’s going on for you is important. This is about not arguing or scoring points. It’s about understanding each other and getting on the same page. It can help close any gap that may open when it feels like there is too much to do and you are exhausted.
Couples strengthen their relationship by listening to each other. New parents’ lives are constantly changing and talking things through as you go will help you make the adjustments you need to keep up.
Knowing that looking after a baby is work, hard work
If you’re the one who is going off to paid work, you probably have it easier than your partner. Looking after a baby is full-on and takes all a person's time and energy. That's without the tidying, the cleaning and making meals.
Even though paid work might be tiring and stressful, most dads who go out of the house to a job agree that staying at home with the baby is harder. If they didn't, they soon change their mind once they do try looking after the baby on their own for a length of time.
So … if you arrive home from work and the house is a mess, there are dishes in the sink, and she hasn’t thought about dinner… it’s not time to complain or criticise. It’s time to pitch in and do what needs doing. Maybe she just needs to sit or lie down. Without forcing her into making decisions, maybe you can ask her what she needs and what she would like done.
Most men do housework and don’t leave it all to their partner. But you’re probably going to have to do a lot more now you have a baby. A good thing about this is that dads who take a big role in caring for their kids and their share of the housework feel better about themselves and get on better with their partner – and their partner gets on better with them!
Sharing the workload
Many couples are surprised that they find that they have slotted themselves into fairly conventional mum and dad roles once the baby is born. Her breastfeeding and him going to paid work (and many other things) contribute to this.
But rigid, old school roles – where the man thinks all he needs to do is go to work and the woman is supposed to do everything else – is out-dated. Under strict gender roles, the couple’s relationship becomes at risk. There may be cultural elements to this, but these often don’t really stack up in 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand. All babies do better if they get their share of their dad’s loving attention – and their mum isn’t overworked and exhausted.
Mums and dads often use different measures about how much work each of them is doing:
Mum may measure how much her partner does with the baby compared to her
She probably measures the amount of housework he does compared to her
Dad may think he’s doing plenty just because he is doing more than he used to
Mum may see going off to work as ‘time-off’ from the baby
Dad may see his paid work as a key part of him raising the baby
These differences may or not be accurate or even rational – but it’s how couples often view things. What a dad can do is to understand how exhausting it is for a new mum and to take on as much of the load as he can.
What we spend money on Link to the Money page
Sex: remember that? Link over to the Sex page
Not getting isolated
Couples find they don’t do the things they did before the baby – like going to the movies, visiting friends, going out to eat, the pub, playing sport. While your friends will come to see the baby, they soon realise that things have changed and that you’re not able to go out like you did. Friends without kids – or even those with older children – may not mix with the new parents as much.
Not having much contact with your friends can be hard on new mums and dads. Whoever is at-home may get the worst of this because they may not be getting much adult company or diversity in their day. But the at-work parent may feel like there is nothing to life except getting up, going to work, coming home to the baby and an overworked partner, and then going to bed only to be woken up several times during the night. This can make both of you feel isolated. Maybe there should be a follow-up proverb to the African one:
It takes a village to raise a family.
Seeing friends or having people around (even if the house is a mess), or just getting out of the house for a walk together, can help. Arranging someone to babysit (even if for half an hour) can ease the couple feeling trapped or lonely. Spending time as a couple (a walk, the beach, dinner, visiting) may help you feel like there is more to life than your baby.