Everyone you know has “helpful tips” about how you should feed, sleep-train and raise your baby. But very rarely does anyone talk about the strain a new baby puts on your relationship with your partner. Couple that with the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic and months of lockdown? Yeah, you’re going to need to put in some work to get your relationship back where it used to be.
As if the postpartum period isn’t difficult enough, living through Covid-19 during the 4th trimester has brought our relationship challenges to new heights. And now that we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the Coronavirus-tunnel, we can get to work focusing on fixing that relationship with our partner.
To get a head start on relationship remedies, we called on the help of Elizabeth Baron, a licensed mental health counselor and psychotherapist with The Motherhood Center. Elizabeth is a new mother herself, and understands the type of frustrations and strains marriages and partnerships go through during the postpartum period both first-hand, and through her work at a maternal mental health provider.
The Pandemic Effect
“Becoming a mom and becoming parents is super hard in normal times, but even more so during this time in history,” Elizabeth told us. “In terms of new challenges, couples may have expected to receive more support, both emotional and tangible.”
Elizabeth says partners may feel sad or heartbroken that they’re not able to share their new life with loved ones. New parents probably imagined this time to be filled with comfort, togetherness and joy -- but instead they’re isolated and forced to weigh the Covid risks each time they have to run to the store for diapers. It’s stressful and frustrating.
The life they expected to have with their new baby just didn’t happen.
“The mourning and grieving for their pictured life is real,” She said. But there is hope. “We want to make space for parents to feel the negative feelings without pushing them away, and to experience the grief together, rather than alone, as this is already such an isolating time for new parents.”
Recognize Relationship Stress
Mourning “what could have been” is just the tip of the iceberg, though, Elizabeth says. The postpartum period really amplifies any challenges your relationship may have already been experiencing -- whether you’re feeling resentful of your partner in some way, jealous or having a hard time communicating. Whatever your problems were: they’re now tenfold.
Adding the stress of a new baby, a lockdown and poor communication is a recipe for disaster. That’s why Elizabeth says, once you realize your relationship is on the rocks, calling in a professional is essential.
“After your baby arrives, it’s even harder to communicate clearly, thoughtfully and calmly when you’re facing less sleep, physical recovery, more responsibility, and the anxiety of caring for a newborn. Then, add a global pandemic into that already-difficult equation!,” she said. “When you have less time devoted to one another plus the stress is mounting in your home, it can make it more challenging to communicate.”
Learn Your Partner’s Love Language
Elizabeth says doing some homework with your partner will go a long way. She recommends focusing on the Five Love Languages -- learning how both you and your partner show and receive love. Once you know that, you’ll be able to recognize when your partner is trying to help and be supportive of you and you’ll also be able to do the same for them in a more effective way.
Talking it out is key, because your love languages may have changed during this weird and uncertain time.
“No one planned to be home 24/7 for almost an entire year at this point,” Elizabeth said. “The receiving gifts love language includes giving and receiving thoughtful gifts and gestures. This might have made your spouse feel loved and appreciated pre-pandemic and pre-baby, but maybe now, what’s more important for them is to have quality time with you.
Using “I” statements are another great way to communicate your feelings without making your partner feel attacked. Instead of saying, “you never wake up with the baby overnight,” try saying, “I feel resentment when I am the only one waking up with the baby overnight -- could you take a turn?”
If you’re home together with no childcare, find a way to reconnect with your partner after baby’s bedtime, or put baby down (we recommend the bloom coco go 3-in-1 bouncer or coco lounger!). Consider signing up for a virtual class: cooking, wine tasting, yoga. Set up a “no phone” rule after hours so you can focus on each other instead of scrolling.
This, Too, Shall Pass
And one thing to remember is this stage isn’t going to last forever. Vaccines are out and they work and soon enough, we’ll be able to get one. Then babysitters, happy hours and dinner dates will be back… and our sanity along with them.
“It’s normal to go through periods in the postpartum of not feeling as connected with your partner as you once had and more like ships passing in the night, from shift to shift,” Elizabeth says. “Know this, have compassion for yourself and for your partner, and have faith that if you both recognize this and put the effort in for the long term, you’ll be able to find space again for one another as a couple.”
Hanna Nakano is a Washington, D.C. based writer and photographer, and mother of two.