Relationship Crisis After the First Child: What to Do?

The arrival of the first child is a transformation of life as a couple that can lead to a breakup. However, it's possible to face this crisis by applying some guidelines and tips that we'll tell you here.
Relationship Crisis After the First Child: What to Do?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 13 January, 2023

It does not happen in all cases, but there is a large percentage of couples who experience a crisis when they become parents for the first time. Sometimes, this is experienced in the form of constant arguments and, in other cases, it leads to a great emotional distance. So, if you are going through this situation, we’re going to tell you more about the couple’s crisis after the first child.

For many of these couples, recovering from the crisis is complicated, takes years, and involves great suffering. Others simply cannot adapt to the change and end up separating for good. However, this does not have to be the case. By understanding the life stage you are going through and making some adjustments, it’s even possible to emerge from parenthood stronger as a couple.

Causes of couple crisis after the first child

crisis after the first child
A lack of sleep and emotional changes are often the cause of couple problems after the birth of a baby.

It’s no coincidence that so many relationships falter precisely at this time; in fact, having a child brings with it great and profound transformations that are not always well managed.

From the moment of birth, priorities, schedules, and routines change. There are no longer two of you, but three, and the baby becomes the center of everyday life. For the same reason, time together decreases drastically; there are hardly any moments alone to enjoy, have fun, share or simply talk about something other than the child. Both emotional and sexual intimacy is reduced and the couple may suffer.

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On the other hand, both experience intense emotions on an individual level that if not shared can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentment. The mother may feel alone and overwhelmed in her role as she deals with the heavy responsibility of caring for her young child while undergoing strong emotional and bodily changes.

The father, on the other hand, may feel alienated and displaced, and not find himself in his new role. His wife now focuses all her attention on the baby, with the couple taking a back seat; but he may also feel that this close mother-child relationship prevents him from being as involved with the child as he would like to be.

All these factors are compounded by significant sleep deprivation. During the first months of a child’s life, parents experience insufficient and fragmented sleep, (especially the mother), which can profoundly affect their mood. Physical and mental exhaustion, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed can lead to a deterioration of the romantic bond.

How to deal with a crisis after the first child?

Here are some guidelines that can help you cope with this complex moment and prevent the relationship from deteriorating. Get out a paper and pen and take notes!

crisis after the first child
Empathy is essential to solving couple conflicts and creating a happy family.

Prevention is key

As far as possible, it’s important to prevent the crisis from occurring, and for this, it’s very positive to discuss some basic points before the arrival of the baby. Don’t hide behind phrases like “it won’t happen to us” and talk to your partner about what might happen, how you might both feel, and how you might manage it if it does.

Being prepared for emotional changes is essential. This way, you will not be caught by surprise and you will be able to interpret them properly and make good decisions. If you do not expect them, you may magnify situations and not react in the best way.

Express yourself clearly and open up emotionally

Communication is now more necessary than ever. It needs to be regular, fluid, and honest. No matter how busy you are, it’s imperative that you find a moment each day to share with your partner how you are feeling.

If there’s stress, fear, anguish, sadness, or resentment, talking about it openly is the best option. Sometimes it is embarrassing to have these feelings at such a seemingly idyllic time as the beginning of parenthood, but you need to exercise courage and vulnerability and express them.

This way, the other person will be able to better understand your reactions, offer support and make changes. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to make requests; if you want your partner to collaborate more with the baby or to be more affectionate with you, express that need before the lack you feel turns into resentment.

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Be empathetic and tolerant

Just as you’re facing big challenges and undergoing major transformations, so is your partner and you should not lose sight of this. Try not to focus only on yourself and try to understand the challenges the other is facing, be tolerant of their actions and reactions, and don’t take it personally. Listen, validate, and support your partner.

Teamwork

You are now parents, but you are still a couple and a team. Stress can lead to perceiving the other as an enemy because they don’t meet your expectations, but remember that you are allies. Avoid getting into power struggles and reproaches, and opt for cooperation and negotiation.

Lift your partner up when he/she gets down and ask for support when you need it. Talk openly about the organization of tasks and come to clear agreements. This will prevent you from overloading each other with responsibilities and driving an emotional wedge between the two of you.

Ask for help

Raising a baby is a complex and exhausting task, and you don’t have to be able to handle it alone. It is legitimate to ask for help, not only from your partner, but also from family members or close friends. Having this outside support will allow you to find moments to relax alone and others to nurture the bond that unites you.

Some parents feel selfish for delegating or leaving the child in the care of others for a few hours; however, this can be an excellent decision. What a child needs most of all is for his or her parents to be well as individuals and as a couple, because only then will they be able to offer the best care.

The relationship crisis after the first child will not last forever

First of all, it is important to remember that this is only a transitional stage and that it will not last forever. In a few months, the baby’s sleeping habits will become regular and you will be able to rest better. You will adapt to the new routines and find a way to function as a family.

As the little one grows, you will be able to enjoy time together as a couple again and these conflicts that now seem insurmountable will fade away. Keep in mind that facing so many physical, emotional, and social changes abruptly is not easy for anyone; therefore, be patient and empathetic and remember the love that unites you.

If the situation causes great discomfort and it’s not possible to reach agreements and solutions, it’s important to seek professional help. Couples therapy can be very useful at this time to learn to communicate, organize yourselves, and work together. Therefore, do not hesitate to seek support.

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  • Valencia, D. L., & Ospina, M. (2016). Crisis en el ciclo vital de la pareja y sus principales implicaciones en los niños y adolescentes. Revista Páginas, 145-156.
  • Richter, D., Krämer, M. D., Tang, N. K., Montgomery-Downs, H. E., & Lemola, S. (2019). Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers. Sleep42(4).

The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.