July 31, 2018

This Isn’t What We Expected: Identifying and Overcoming Conflicts in Parenting an Infant

This week, I am so excited to introduce you to Jamie Kreiter. Jamie and I recently connected, and I was so inspired by the work that she is doing in the women's health sector that I knew I had to have her on. Jamie will be doing a three part series on how to make sure your relationship survives a baby. This week, she shares five major changes couples experience when they become parents.


You have read What to Expect When Expecting, you have tracked the size of your baby (by fruit) week-after-week, your registry has been reviewed and approved by all of your mom-friends, parenthood—you’ve got this!

The expectations and reality of having a newborn baby is often very different. If your or your partner is suffering from depression or anxiety after the birth of a baby, the postpartum period can have a devastating impact on your marriage and family. Even in the best of circumstances, with substantial support and resources, having a baby can be a challenge, an adjustment and a strain on your relationship.*

It is well researched that there is a high degree of distress during the transition to parenthood. Many couples report a decrease in marital satisfaction during the first year postpartum. According to the Gottman Institute, 67% of couples report decreased marital happiness within the first three-years of their baby’s life.

There are five major changes that couples experience when they become parents that lead to conflict:

1. Less quality time

With more time and energy focused on the new baby, priorities shift and so there is less time for you to spend with your partner. When there is time, your day-to-day interactions and communication may be focused on the baby. Many couples miss the connection, friendship and passion that used to exist with their partner. 

Couples that continue to nurture their friendship after a baby maintain greater marital satisfaction. You must stay attuned to the routine details of your partner’s life (“How did your meeting go? Did you meet anyone new at the park?”) Asking questions and listening to the response ensures that you and your partner feel cared for and stay connected, despite the pervasive needs of the baby.

Try to resume some normalcy in your relationship. If prior to the baby, you used to go on weekly dates, keep this a priority by scheduling a babysitter once a week. If you used to check-in with your partner throughout the day keep this going, even if phone calls have to be brief.

2. Conforming to traditional gender roles 

Caring for an infant adds an additional 30-50 hours of “work” per week and a whole new to-do list for families. Tensions over the division of labor can lead to marital dissatisfaction—especially if one partner is not contributing equally to the household responsibilities and childcare.

It is common for mothers to take on more of these new parenting responsibilities. Nighttime feedings often fall on the mother, especially if she is nursing or on maternity leave. Finding the right balance can be a challenge.

Research shows you’re more likely to remain happy after the birth a new baby, if you can learn to effectively negotiate your new demands and not rely on stereotyped gender roles. When dads take on their share of household and childcare responsibilities, it is reported that moms feel more satisfied in their relationships. This is not about blaming or keeping score of who has does what. Rather adopt a “we’re in this together” attitude and create a plan that gives both parents needed respite. That means taking turns letting your partner sleep-in or having the working partner take more shifts on the weekends to compensate for the other person’s loss of sleep. Set clear expectations around responsibilities and ask for help when needed.

To stay on top of everyday chores, try to sit down with your partner each week to coordinate schedules, share parenting duties and keep the house clean for the baby. During this discussion, you might decide that if your partner cooks dinner, than you’ll do the dishes. Voicing any concerns in a respectful and non-blaming way will help you to resolve issues together.

3. Clash in parenting style

Different styles in parenting can be a cause of conflict in a marriage. Perhaps your partner is in favor of a stricter parenting routine. Maybe you disagree on whether to sleep train the baby. Whatever the issue, inevitably you will have some diverse views in parenting. Sometimes these issues are discussed and resolved prior to planning for a family, while other times these issues arise once the baby is born.

When you and your partner disagree on a parenting style, it’s a sign that you both feel strongly about what is best for the baby, this actually a positive thing. Accept the inevitability of parenting conflicts—you and your partner are unlikely to agree on everything and that is okay. If there is a sense of connectedness and respect for one another’s differences these conflicts can be resolved. Learning how to cope with stress and conflict effectively is important to understand your partner.

Couples should openly discuss their parenting differences. Couples who are willing to communicate, negotiate and compromise are better able to defuse conflict.

4. Decreased disposal income

Raising a child is expensive. According to a report from the USDA, it will cost a middle-income family $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 through the age of 17. The high cost to raise a child can often reduce your disposal income and put a lot of strain on your relationship, especially if you and your partner have different values about money.

Financial planning is a skill. Start by sitting down with your partner to create a financial plan. Are you living on a budget? If you are not, start now. Include in your monthly budget groceries, clothes, bills, utilities, medical expenses and other essentials. In addition, start a savings: plan for college, family vacations, and larger purchases. Check-in and discuss your finances at the same time every month to stay on top of things and make adjustments as needed.

5. Decreased intimacy and frequency of sex

The bitter truth about a new baby is that nobody’s getting much sleep and nobody is getting much sex. Couples are coping with physical exhaustion and low sex drive; additionally moms are dealing with hormonal shifts, body changes, and recovery from childbirth. If and when, the mood strikes, the competing demands of a new baby leaves little opportunities for sex.  

Intimacy is an essential part of your connection to your partner. Start by engaging in an open dialogue about sex—what are your expectations for physical touch, affection and sex as a new parent. Discuss honestly, without judgment and without taking a denied request for sex personally as intercourse can feel vulnerable and painful for a woman after childbirth. But there are other ways to express intimacy with your partner in the absence of sex, like cuddling, loving touch or massage, and kind words. Be opened to a new closeness that you may have with your partner when you see them acting as a loving and attentive parent.

While it’s understandable and expected that sex will take a back seat in the months following the birth of a new baby, it is important that you put effort into making sex apart of your life again. Be understanding and kind to one another. Your sex life may look a little different than it did before the baby, but you will overcome the post-baby dry spell eventually.

Read Part 2: How Postpartum Depression Impacts a Marriage


Jamie Kreiter, LCSW is the founder and owner of Jamie Kreiter Therapy, a Chicago-based psychotherapy practice, offering in-office and teletherapy based services. She is women’s health therapist specializing in maternal mental health and perinatal depression and anxiety.

Jamie has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago: School of Social Service Administration. Jamie has a great passion for working with mothers and their families. She has extensive training and experience in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Jamie is a Chicago-native and has a private practice offering counseling, education and support located in Chicago, Illinois.

Instagram: @jamie_kreiter_therapy

If you are experiencing stress related to pregnancy and/or parenting, please call (847-363-0628) or email jamie@jamiekreitertherapy.com to set up a free phone consultation.  


CNPP Office of Nutrition Marketing and Promotion. (2017). Families projected to spend an average of $233,610 raising a child born in 2015. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/expenditures_on_children_by_families/2015CRCPressRelease.pdf

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* We recognize and celebrate diversity in families. All families, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, culture, race or religious beliefs should be treated with equality and respect. For the purposes of the piece, “partner” can be used to describe “mother” or “father”. “Mother” refers to the partner who birthed the baby. Please be aware that the topics discussed impact same-sex couples and couples who are married or not married.

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