Relationships after kids

Relationships After Kids

Catherine Topham Sly, founder of Insight & Connection, is a counsellor and speaker who specialises in relationships, and particularly the impact of the transition to parenthood on couples. She lives with her husband and two children in Hove. We asked her what the typical challenges are for relationships when they enter parenthood...


When a couple becomes parents, there is so much focus on the baby, less on the mother, less still on the father, and very little - if any - on their relationship. We need to change this. Because for parents, taking care of you is taking care of them.

One of the hardest things about having a baby is the impact it has on our relationships. But, because we don’t talk about this enough, new parents often worry that relationship troubles mean that they are failing somehow. You’re not. In actual fact two thirds of couples feel less satisfied with their relationships within the first three years after becoming parents.

But this doesn’t have to become your new normal.  Research has found four main trends to the changes that couples go through. Let’s look at what those are, and how you can deal with them so you go on the journey together, feel closer than ever, and thrive in your new roles.

Change 1: The Physical and Psychological

Parents know to expect sleepless nights. Sleep deprivation makes everything harder to cope with, and can be a contributory factor in postnatal anxiety and depression, in both mothers and fathers. Add in recovery from pregnancy and childbirth, learning to feed your baby, a dip in sexual desire (sometimes lasting a year or so), and this is a stressful time. Stress can impact our concentration, irritability, and sleep patterns, as well as triggering the pursuer-distancer pattern.

KiteNest team
KiteNest team

Change 1: The Physical and Psychological

Parents know to expect sleepless nights. Sleep deprivation makes everything harder to cope with, and can be a contributory factor in postnatal anxiety and depression, in both mothers and fathers. Add in recovery from pregnancy and childbirth, learning to feed your baby, a dip in sexual desire (sometimes lasting a year or so), and this is a stressful time. Stress can impact our concentration, irritability, and sleep patterns, as well as triggering the pursuer-distancer pattern.

Coping with the Physical and Psychological Changes

Emotional intimacy is the key, so keep talking and touching - hugs and kisses matter. If you notice yourself feeling closer to your child than your partner, work to redress the balance with words, touch, gestures, and quality time. And finally, remember your self-care. You’re going through a massive adjustment and you need a chance to rest, to move your body, good nutrition, time outside, connection with the people you love, space to yourself, a chance to process all the change, and to have fun!

Change 2: Your Identities, Roles and Values

It’s a big deal to adjust your sense of identity to include being a parent. Relationships with family and friends are likely to change, especially if some have children and some don’t. Time feels different as your routines change and one of you (or someone else) has to take care of the baby for the other to be free to do anything else.

Parents often feel differently about work, money, and family, and sometimes not how they anticipated. Most couples find that they slip into more traditional roles that they expected or planned, which can cause a strain.



Coping With the Changes to your Identities, Roles, and Values

Stay connected by working on your friendship throughout this transition. This means looking for moments of joy and laughter, having fun together, and connecting through your love of your baby. The more you can think of the needs of the family first, the better. Try thinking “we before me” whenever you have a decision to make.

Change 3: Your Relationship

Babies are hard work and conversation and communication tend to decrease and/or become more stressful with one around.

We have to make a lot more decisions, which often leads to more arguments, particularly during the first year.

Plus a decline in sex and intimacy is normal, and this can have an impact on how close and connected we feel.



Change 3: Your Relationship

Babies are hard work and conversation and communication tend to decrease and/or become more stressful with one around.

We have to make a lot more decisions, which often leads to more arguments, particularly during the first year.

Plus a decline in sex and intimacy is normal, and this can have an impact on how close and connected we feel.



Coping with the Changes to your Relationship

Parents suffer so much unnecessary heartache when they don’t know that these changes are normal, and worry that they mean their relationship is in trouble. Try not to panic if you’re talking less, finding it more stressful, arguing more, having less sex, or feeling disconnected. Keep talking about how you feel about your relationship, to each other and more widely (respecting your partner’s boundaries, of course).

If you’re still struggling with these issues months or even years later, finding a couples counsellor you both like and respect can really help.

Change 4: Some Dads Feel Sidelined

Most dads go into fatherhood wanting to be actively involved, but it doesn’t always work out as planned. New mothers often receive support, mostly from other women, which can make some dads feel like they’re not included or needed. The change in responsibility and financial stress can make some dads feel like they need to work more, which can lead to resentment from both sides.

A baby’s arrival brings a significant adjustment for a man, but it can be hard for some men to talk openly about their feelings and experiences. When fathers find it hard to cope, they sometimes withdraw from their partners and kids, especially if the relationship is in a bad place. When this happens, it’s tragic for everyone involved.

Coping if Dad Feels Sidelined

If you ever notice men being sidelined in a world where kids’ stuff is still mostly dominated by women, challenge it, whatever your gender. Keep talking too about how you both feel about your roles.

And finally: never stop questioning the division of labour in your home. Don’t assume that either of you should do anything just because you’re a man or a woman. The happiest couples are those who embrace their freedom to create their own family culture, and question everything together.

Coming Through the Transition Together

If you’re expecting your first child, I hope you feel a bit more prepared. And if you’re already a parent, I hope it is of some comfort to hear how normal all of this is. Remember that you’re in this together. The changes themselves might feel quite different, but you’re both undergoing a massive adjustment. Above all, keep talking to and touching each other, and to taking care of yourselves as well as each other.

You can find Catherine on Instagram and Facebook. She is also available for relationship coaching and couples counselling via phone and Zoom.