Parenting Highs And Relationship Lows
Although having children can be a beautiful, magical experience for many, it can also take its toll on a couples’ relationship, perhaps now more than ever thanks to unrealistic expectations set by celebrities and others on TV and social media. Often, we see a picture of how glamorous and fulfilling parenting is. And whilst some now speak out about the challenges, the reality of how dissatisfied it can leave couples is nearly always omitted. As a relationship coach, however, that’s something I do see.
So if you want to have children, or you’ve had them and are now struggling in your romantic relationship, or your personal well-being, recent research sheds a light on some red flags that your transition to parenthood may result in relationship satisfaction decline.
Red Flags That Parenthood May Reduce Relationship Satisfaction
Researchers used data from the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) which collected data from participants from all over Norway from 1999 to 2008.  For their study, they extracted a sample of 43,517 mothers who were first time mothers and lived with the father of their baby.
These mothers had reported on relationship satisfaction at six points in time: 17 weeks gestation; 30 weeks gestation; six months postpartum; 18 months postpartum; 36 months postpartum; and five years postpartum. They rated the following five statements on a six-point scale from ‘agree completely’ to ‘disagree completely’:
- ‘I am very happy with our relationship’;
- ‘My partner is generally understanding’;
- ‘I am satisfied with my relationship with my partner’;
- ‘my partner and I have problems in our relationship’;
- ‘we agree on how our child should be raised’.
The researchers also looked at a whole range of other data to uncover correlations between the stress and pressures of life, the mothers’ habits and social network support, and the relationship between coparents during different time frames. As a result, they uncovered several factors that predicted relationship satisfaction decline due to the transition to parenthood, including:
- unplanned pregnancy,
- maternal social support,
- maternal history of depression,
- maternal history of abuse,
- postnatal depression,
- financial stress,
- sexual satisfaction,
- and child’s negative emotionality.
8 Red Flags That Parenthood Transition May Affect Your Relationship
The above predictors are essentially red flags that signal that you are at risk for declining relationship satisfaction as your life transforms during pregnancy and the early years of parenthood.
I’ll address each one so you can either resolve these issues before getting pregnant, or if you’re already pregnant or already parents, you can deal with these issues head on and hopefully get your marriage/relationship back on track for yours and your child/children’s sake.
Having a child should, overall, be a wonderful, happy, exciting time that you enjoy together as husband and wife, so let’s jump into these pre- and post-parenthood red flags and pinpoint some of the solutions you can embark upon with life-changing, positive results.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #1 – Unplanned Pregnancy
Unplanned pregnancies can bring a great deal of stress because having a child brings so many changes and challenges that you may feel unprepared for. Maybe you want larger savings, a more stable job, to live in a different area, a better relationship with your partner…or maybe you don’t see a future with this partner and so don’t want a child with them. There could be many reasons.
Prioritise taking action on the things that do need to change, e.g. being more frugal, and give yourself a break about the nice-to-haves but not must-haves, e.g. moving house immediately.
And if you don’t want a child with this partner, then that’s a concern that needs serious attention.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #2 – Lack Of Maternal Social Support
A lack of social support from others outside the romantic relationship was also found to be associated with low or falling relationship satisfaction. This is unsurprising given the degree of change and stress that comes with pregnancy and parenting, from a changing body and self-image, to disrupted sleep patterns, to difficulties with the new arrival and a whole new way of life to navigate.
Consider mending relationships with family members that may have become strained if you think they will bring more joy than stress to your life.
Additionally, or instead, seek out support groups for new mums and join activity classes for babies, toddlers and young children so that you can discuss your challenges with other parents of young children and seek advice, or at least empathy and compassion, from others in similar situations.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #3 – Maternal History Of Depression
A history of depression may predispose you (the mother) to declining relationship satisfaction for a number of reasons. For example, depression is associated with a reduced hippocampus so if not fully regrown/reversed since, this could pose a risk for poorer emotion regulation in the future. A history of depression might also indicate lower psychological resilience to stress and challenges in general. Finally, you may have an issue in your life that is unresolved that significantly depresses your mood again once you become a parent, for example, pre-existing marital problems.
You could seek out coaching if you have issues that you want and need to resolve. Doing so could also provide you with ways to increase the size of your hippocampus again so that you are better able to deal with stress, regulate your emotions, and face future challenges with greater confidence.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #4 – Maternal History Of Abuse
A history of abuse, not necessarily with the current partner, was associated with low or declining relationship satisfaction.
If your current partner has been abusive towards you, do you want to have a child with this partner? What would make you believe they are sincerely remorseful and won’t do it again?
If an ex-partner was abusive and now you’re in a loving relationship, then it may be time for some coaching/therapy to help you to process your horrific past and rebuild your inner self back to who you were before anyone mistreated you that way.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #5 – Postnatal Depression
Post-natal depression is a very understandable experience for new parents and of course it will inevitably affect your romantic relationship. Feeling overwhelmed, seeing your body change and not recognising your new life, or self, can be scary. But step-by-step you can get your life, and your sense of self, back on track.
Start doing small things, consistently, that make you feel like you again. Just because some things have changed doesn’t mean everything has changed. Take control of the things you can.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #6 – Financial Stress
An increase in expenditure is inevitable when you become a parent and financial stress is one of the biggest hindrances to a happy relationship. But maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Stop watching narcissistic social media accounts that make you feel crap about the resources you have for your family.
Budget yourself and shop in stores that sell both big named brands as well as unknown brands at low prices, buy what’s necessary and what you can afford, and do not buy to impress anyone else. Your happiness equals your spouse’s happiness  and affects your baby’s happiness so focus on what really matters; money in the bank and less stress is so much more important than showing off.
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #7 – Sexual Satisfaction
Attempts at sexual intimacy have many positive repercussions for your relationship, from creating more relationship satisfaction, improving couple communication, reducing couple conflict , and much more. You’ve got to keep that spark alive, especially as you’re the only people who can provide that for one other.
Remind yourselves that being a good partner is just as important for the success of a happy family unit as being good parents.
Ask yourselves questions like, ‘How can we prioritise each other in and amongst caring for our child?’ and ‘What would make me feel more confident in the bedroom?’ and ‘What would keep things between us fun and novel?’
Parenthood Transition Red Flag #8 – Child’s Negative Emotionality
A baby, toddler or child with a lot of negative emotions is going to understandably be stressful, worrying and fatiguing. But there are likely changes that you can make that will change how your child is feeling.
Think about simple, safe changes you can make that may result in a happier, calmer child, for example, getting them to sleep longer, a change of diet, maybe more activity to release their tension and fatigue them more for a longer sleep at night, or perhaps socialising with other children more.
Seek out solutions from other parents as well as reassurance from them. It may be that your child is picking up on your stress and anxiety and reacting to that so also remember to address your own wellbeing for the sake of your child and your romantic relationship and thus, your relationship satisfaction.
Set Yourself Up For Success Rather Than Failure
Whatever you’re going through, there will be solutions, and remember that your thoughts and actions affect the outcomes you’re getting. So think thoughts that help, try new things, seek help from others, and learn and adapt what you’re doing.
Parenting, and life in general, is often about trial and error, so keep working to prevent and/or stop any of these 8 red flag issues from affecting the health and wellbeing of your romantic relationship and yourselves.
Make this a journey of joy and fulfillment, as you’d hoped it would be.
1. Kingsbury, M., Clayborne, Z., Nilsen, W., Torvik, F. A., Gustavson, K., & Colman, I. (2022). Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction Across the Transition to Parenthood: Results from the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Journal of Family Issues, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X221113850
2. Hoppmann, C. A., Gerstorf, D., Willis,S. L., & Schaie, K. W. (2011). Spousal interrelations in happiness in the Seattle Longitudinal Study: Considerable similarities in levels and change over time. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 1-8.
3. Leavitt, C. E. and Willoughby, B. J. (2015). Associations Between Attempts at Physical Intimacy and Relational Outcomes Among Cohabiting and Married Couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(2): 241–62.