Becoming a new mom is one of the most life-changing transitions. It’s also one of the hardest stages for couples to navigate together and often, you can feel disappointed in your husband once the baby comes.
Many women feel angry with their husbands after having a baby. In fact, sixty-six percent of couples report a decline in relationship satisfaction for up to three years after having a baby. Setting healthy boundaries, planning logistics, and accepting that things won’t go perfectly can help you sustain the connection.
I know that sounds like a pretty bleak statistic, but the upside is that you’re not alone in this. Feeling disappointed in your husband, or even like you hate him, is understandable. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or wife if you’re experiencing it.
Have a Newborn and Mad at Your Husband?
I tell my clients that having a baby means a decrease in all resources: time, money, sleep, emotions – the baby will use all of them. Inevitably, this places a strain on you and your relationship, and it’s easy to feel alone as you transition into life as a new mom.
Don’t forget, though, thirty-four percent of couples navigated new parenthood without a decline in relationship satisfaction. How?
In these couples, both partners were involved in the transition, and they worked as a team.
9 Ways to NOT Resent Your Husband
Of course, the first step in this process is recognizing that new motherhood is a transition. It’s your first time. And it’s your husband’s first time. So if you don’t feel like you’ve got it all figured out, that’s ok. Here are nine mental shifts that will help you stay connected to your husband once the baby arrives:
1. Accept That Motherhood is Hard – It’s Not Just You
Finding motherhood hard doesn’t make you a bad mom, and being disappointed in your husband after the baby comes doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
I can so clearly remember one particular night when I sat up late with my first child. We’d struggled with infertility, and now that I was finally sitting there, rocking my baby, I thought the only thing I should feel was joy and happiness…
… Instead, I sat there crying silently.
I was overwhelmed by all the changes this tiny human had brought into our lives.
Would I ever sleep again?
Would my husband and I ever be able to go on a spontaneous date together?
We used to love going to the local theater, but when would we ever get to see another play?
Instead of the overflow of joy I expected, I felt resentment combined with a sense of loss: loss of closeness with my husband, loss of romance, loss of freedom. And I resented my husband for not pitching in more, for not sharing in more of the hard parts of new parenthood.
Of course, then I felt guilty for feeling that way – as if not finding new-motherhood idyllic made me a bad mother.
2. Recognize Effing First Times
Brené Brown, a researcher who studies emotions like vulnerability, courage, and shame, talks about how the experience of doing something for the first time elicits a distinct vulnerability in us. As she puts it, these are “effing first times,” or FFTs.
Having a baby is an enormous FFT for both partners. And the stakes feel particularly high, since society sends the message that if you don’t do things exactly right, you’re endangering your baby and are a terrible parent.
So, no pressure…
Building on Brené Brown’s work, I help my clients manage the vulnerability that comes with doing something for the first time. I use a three-pronged approach that helps new moms feel less disappointed and resentful of their partners:
Recognize that having a baby is new. And it’s normal not to know what to do. Sure, you may have babysat before or been the favorite aunt, but having your own child, one that you’re solely responsible for – this is new.
You can even break it down into smaller pieces…
- Breastfeeding is new.
- Preparing a bottle that’s just the right temperature is new.
- Loading your own car seat is new.
- Clipping teeny tiny fingernails is new.
Understanding that this is all new allows you to accept help and give yourself a break. It also allows you to extend grace to your husband since this is all new for him too.
This state is temporary – it’s only ever your first time once.
The feeling of intense vulnerability – of feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing and don’t want people to find out you’re a fraud – that feeling will pass. You’ll learn new ways to enrich your relationship, to go on dates again, to have a good night’s sleep.
Reality-Check Your Expectations.
Parenting is not going to look like a fairy tale.
You don’t have to have perfectly coordinated outfits or a baby that never spits up in public. After all, it’s your first time! You’re learning as you go, and next time it’ll go more smoothly. Or it won’t, but it’ll seem less like the end of the world.
3. Let Go of the “Right Way” to Parent
One of the things I see the most with clients is the idea that there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to parent. This is absolutely a losing strategy.
With you and your husband, there are two valid perspectives of how to do something, whether it’s feeding the baby or getting him or her to sleep at night. But the bottom line is that if the child is safe and loved, then all is well.
I remember when my kids were two and three years old, I went to visit my best childhood friend out of town. My husband was in charge of the kids and he took them camping for three days. He showed me pictures of their trip, and it slowly dawned on me that the kids were in the same pair of pajamas in every single picture, day or night. And it was a three-day trip!
When I asked about it, he said he accidentally left their little suitcase at home. They had clean diapers on, and were well-fed. The pictures said it all – they had a blast and smiled through all of it! Was it the way I would do it? No. Was it fine? Yes.
Kids learn to be flexible if things are done a little differently by each parent. When it comes to major values and overall parenting strategies, it’s important to be on the same page. But when it comes to the details, a little variety never hurts.
Your kids will learn there’s no one right way to do things, and it can help them be more flexible and accepting in their own lives as they grow older.
4. Stop Competing for the “Busiest Parent” Award
Besides thinking there’s only one right way to do things, the other most common issue I see with new parents is trying to compete for who’s got the most on their plate.
I see this a lot, and maybe you’ll recognize it too: a new mom says, “I do everything around here.” Her husband gets defensive or simply shuts down and stonewalls. The wife then interprets this as the husband not caring. In reality, the husband does care, he simply doesn’t know what to do – it feels like everything he does is wrong.
I often talk with clients about “the dance” that couples do in their relationships – a term I learned from Terry Real, a well-respected therapist.
With new parents, the two most common dances I see are:
- The more one partner attacks, the more the other defends.
- The more one over-functions, the more the other under-functions.
5. End the Attack/Defend Cycle
In this particular dance, you might have conversations like this:
Partner 1 (Attacks): “Do you think you could get up and help me for once in the middle of the night?”
Partner 2 (Defends): “Some of us actually have a job that requires getting up in the morning.”
Both partners are unhappy and nothing gets resolved…
When it comes to changing the attack/defend cycle, I point my clients to what I call “Couples Communication 101.”
Instead of criticizing your partner, give feedback using three parts:
- When ____ happened,
- I felt _____.
- Request _____.
- When the baby cried last night and you didn’t get up to help,
- I felt taken for granted, unsupported, and exhausted.
- Would you be willing to split evenings with me?
- When you tell me I’m feeding the baby wrong,
- I feel stupid and useless.
- Would you be willing to let me try to figure things out on my own and let me ask you for help if I need it?
This communication method still allows for each partner to ask for help and be heard, without getting stuck in the attack/defend cycle. When you get out of this cycle, you’ll listen to your husband better and he’ll listen to you. This will help alleviate the resentment you feel around the increase in chores that happens once a baby enters the picture.
6. Try Functioning Less!
I often see moms who think they have the market on the “right way” to change a diaper, make a bath, feed the baby, or do tummy time. Many new moms either criticize their husbands or just take control.
The husband is then left thinking, “She must think I’m an idiot! I can prepare tax documents, write engineering code, run a business, but I can’t change a diaper?”
The husbands get exasperated and finally settle for the attitude of, “Well, if you’re so good at it then do it yourself!” Or they shut down and believe they just don’t know how to be a good dad.
As odd as it may sound, if this is the cycle you find yourself in, try functioning less. Ask your spouse to help and let him or her do it their way without criticism. Allow places for the other person to shine and build confidence. Remember as long as your baby is safe and loved, it’s ok to do things differently.
So often, new moms I work with are surprised by how willing their husbands are to help – how much they WANT to help. The moms just need to stop criticizing their spouses and instead, help them feel like part of the team. If your husband feels like part of the team, he’ll help out more and your feelings of disappointment or resentment will be replaced by feelings of satisfaction and even gratitude.
7. Set Healthy Boundaries
One thing that’s often overlooked in these conversations is the topic of boundaries and autonomy.
No one likes to be told what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, or what to do. Instead of dictating how your husband should interact with the baby, try making requests or suggestions. (Read my blog on how to fix your relationship through negotiation.)
Instead of saying, “You need to hold the baby this way,” try, “I know he’s crying a lot – sometimes it helps to hold him a different way. Would you like me to show you what’s worked for me?”
And if your partner replies with, “No, I’ve got it,” then so be it. Unless the baby is in danger, it will all work itself out.
8. Plan the Logistics Ahead of Time
As much work as couples put into the preparation stage (setting a birth plan, painting the nursery, getting just the right blankets), often the actual logistics go untalked about. It’s easy to think the details of new parenthood will just unfold easily, or that you’re obviously on the same page as your partner.
It can feel taboo or over-the-top to approach something that’s “supposed” to be so easy and natural with all the planning of a military coup. But believe me, it pays off!
Sure, these conversations are easier to have before the baby comes – when you’re not sleep-deprived and overwhelmed. But, as we talked about, it’s likely that even if you make a watertight plan, nothing’s going to go quite like you imagined. So, it’s important to be able to check in with your partner about how things are going.
Share expectations and negotiate ahead of time. Renegotiate if needed. If you’re not sure where to even begin, here’s a short list of ideas:
- Who’s going to do the nighttime feeding?
- Who will drive the baby to and from daycare?
- What kind of parenting styles do you like?
- Where will the baby sleep?
- Will you sleep-train?
- What will you do to recognize postpartum depression? And how will you handle it if it comes up?
- What kind of help do you want from family (your parents, siblings, etc.)?
Admittedly, these aren’t always the most fun conversations, but they’ll save you and your husband a lot of frustration and disappointment.
9. Use Kindness to Sustain Your Connection
Finally – and I know this sounds cliché – be kind to each other. Remember, you used to be the center of your husband’s world, and he’s seeing all this attention go to someone else. Just as you’re adjusting to the new dynamic of your relationship, so is your husband.
Talking about how you’re both feeling, and what you’re dealing with as a result of having a new baby is one of the most powerful ways to sustain your connection. As your husband talks, try to listen with empathy, and without judgment.
Still Mad at Your Husband?
If you’re interested in learning more about how to avoid feeling disappointed in your husband and instead embrace parenting as a team, the renowned couples therapists John and Julia Gottman have both a workshop and a book I highly recommend. Use the links below to find out more.
Book: And Baby Makes Three
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