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Do couples fight more after a baby?

Having a baby is one of the most profound experiences a couple can go through. The addition of a new family member brings joy but also challenges that can test even the strongest relationships. It’s no secret that lack of sleep, changing responsibilities, and shifting priorities can lead to more arguments and conflicts between parents. But is it true that couples fight more after having a baby? Let’s take a closer look at what the research and experts have to say.

Reasons for Increased Conflict

There are several reasons why couples may experience more disagreements after having a child:

Sleep deprivation

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Babies wake up multiple times a night for feedings and comfort, leading to long stretches of sleep deprivation for parents. This fatigue and irritability definitely fuels fights. One study found that couples lost an average of 200-700 hours of sleep in their child’s first year. Sleep deprivation has been linked to moodiness, impatience, and difficulty regulating emotions – prime conditions for arguments.

Role strain

The arrival of a baby fundamentally changes a couple’s roles and responsibilities. Women often take on more of the childcare and household duties, even when working full-time. Men may feel uncertain about their role or reluctant to give up their independence. Resentment can build, sparking conflict. Sorting through changing gender roles and identities can be a pain point.

Financial stress

Babies are expensive! Costs like childcare, medical bills, baby gear, and loss of income can create economic strain on families. One estimate puts the average cost of raising a child at $12,980 per year. Financial worries and disagreements over money management are a prime source of arguments for new parents.

Lack of time together

Taking care of a baby leaves little time for couples to focus on their relationship. The constant demands of parenting often crowd out intimacy, fun, and chances to connect. Partners who don’t make couple time a priority are more prone to growing distant and frustrated with each other.

Unmet expectations

Both moms and dads often feel overwhelmed and underestimate how much work a baby entails. When reality doesn’t match their expectations, resentments can build. Partners may accuse each other of not pulling their weight or providing enough support. The letdown of unmet expectations fuels conflict.

How Much More Fighting Occurs?

Now that we know why couples frequently clash more post-baby, let’s look at some numbers:

67% of couples report more conflict

In a poll conducted by Today, 67% of parents said they argued more after having children. Only 15% said they argued less, and the remainder saw no change.

2x as likely to argue frequently

One study compared conflict in couples with babies to similar childless couples. Parents were more than twice as likely to report frequent quarrels and arguments.

Conflict peaks around 4-5 months in

Multiple studies reveal that couple conflict tends to peak around 4-5 months postpartum and then improve over the next year. Those early months of major sleep deprivation and adjustment are the hardest.

8.5 out of 10 couples report more stress

In a survey of new parents, 83% said having a baby caused more stress and anxiety in their relationship. Only 17% said a baby reduced their stress levels.

Study Findings on Post-Baby Conflict Parents Poll 67% of couples argue more after having a baby
Journal of Family Psychology Parents 2x more likely to report frequent arguments vs. childless couples
Journal of Marriage and Family Couple conflict peaks around 4-5 months postpartum
Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System 83% of couples say a baby increases relationship stress

Does Having a Baby Doom Relationships?

The data makes it clear that couples often struggle more after welcoming a new baby. But that doesn’t mean their relationships are doomed. Here’s a more nuanced look at how this major life change impacts couples:

Most couples eventually adjust

While the first year with a new baby is notoriously difficult, most studies find that relationship satisfaction starts to rebound after that. Couples slowly adapt to their new normal and can focus again on their partnership. One study found that 6 years after having a child, parents were no more likely to be unhappy in their marriage than childless pairs.

Some couples grow stronger

Around 15-20% of couples report that having a child brought them closer together and improved their relationship. Navigating parenthood as a team and sharing the joys of raising a baby can deepen bonds for some.

High-risk relationships are most vulnerable

Couples who already had significant issues or conflicts are most at risk for deterioration after having a child. Babies tend to amplify existing cracks and dysfunctions rather than create brand new ones in solid partnerships.

Every couple responds differently

There are always exceptions to trends. Some couples with strong communication skills adjust easily, while more easy-going pairs feel blindsided. Each couple’s dynamic responds differently to this transition.

In summary, having a baby poses real challenges but doesn’t necessarily break happy couples. But it takes work to protect your relationship amidst the chaos of new parenthood.

Protecting Your Relationship After Baby

If you want to defy the odds and come through the post-baby days with your relationship intact, make sure to keep these best practices in mind:

Communicate expectations before baby

Have open and honest conversations about parenting responsibilities, roles, expectations, and division of labor before the birth. Address any fears or concerns early on.

Attend prenatal classes together

Take childbirth classes, breastfeeding courses, and newborn care classes together. They are a chance to get on the same page and feel prepared.

Split childcare duties fairly

Discuss a division of labor that works for both partners. Split childcare, housework, errands, and life admin evenly. Rebalance as needed.

Give each other breaks

Allow each partner regular time off for self-care, socializing, hobbies, and exercise. Taking breaks prevents burnout and resentment.

Prioritize couple time

Carve out regular one-on-one time together, away from the baby. Keep dating and nurturing your relationship.

Seek help when needed

If significant conflicts arise, don’t be afraid to enlist help from a counselor, doctor, or support group. Seek therapy sooner than later.

Express appreciation

Make a point to thank each other for big and small acts of care and support. Validation goes a long way in tough times.

Let go of resentment

Work to forgive each other for moments of exhaustion, impatience, or anger. Choose to move past inevitable bumps in the road.

Focus on teamwork

Frame parenting stresses as something for you to tackle as a team. Say “us and baby against the problem” instead of turning on each other.

Make intimacy a priority

Carve out couple time focused just on each other. Reconnect through cuddling, conversation, sex, or fun outings alone together.

The Bottom Line

While the research confirms that couples often experience more conflict, stress, and disconnection in a baby’s first year, that doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed. With teamwork, communication, and caring for the partnership, most couples find their way back to each other again. There are always challenges during major life changes, but many couples report feeling closer than ever before when they come out the other side – baby in tow.