Fourth trimester and the couple's relationship

Magnus Sjöström

ByMagnus Sjöström

Psychotherapist, couple and family therapist

Having a child is psychologically a major change for any couple's relationship. It is one of the major challenges a couple can face, both when it comes to one’s own identity and role in the relationship, as well as the dynamic with your partner. Even the relationship with friends, parents and your partner’s extended family will change.

Pregnancy hormones can make you feel a variety of emotional highs and lows and make you more vulnerable. You may also have trouble coping with physical and emotional demands of a newborn or even suffer from postpartum complications which can cause extra stress. A positive relationship can make you feel loved and supported, and more able to deal with these situations. A poor relationship can make you feel bad about yourself, or cause anxiety or depression.

Many questions can arise

Having a child sets two questions in motion - one in relation to your own history and the family you’ve been raised in, this is true for any partner as well. The other question is in relation to moving forward as a new family.

What kind of family will this become? What boundaries will you set to define your new family from your extended families? How involved should you and your partner’s respected parents be in this new family unit? Will your family share the same kind of life as your friends? How should you share responsibilities in raising your children? What will become of the romantic relationship between you and your partner? When will you have time to be alone now that a child will consume much of the love and attention that you have?

Couples counseling is normal

During my clinical work as a counselor for couples, I have found that it is very common for couples to seek me out in this stressful time. On top of all the expectant joy of having a child, mountains of challenges are gathering in the relationship. It can be about a lack of sex and nearness between partners, other issues can be new patterns in the relationship that one of you, or both are unhappy with and has become a problem. It can also be about troubling experiences in your own childhood and family that have resurfaced as you begin parenting your child.

Creating your family means, among other things, redistributing your resources and for a long time it can seem like a parent, you will get less of everything. Less freedom, less communication, less sleep, less money, less touch, and less time. Things usually calm down and stabilize after a while and you will find a balance again in your relationship with your partner and as well as to the surrounding world. Problems do arise and sometimes support can be helpful.

Creating your family does lead to great opportunities to discuss how to raise your children and the life you want to live. What boundaries do we need in our relationship and in relation to our respective extended families? To make sure that the new family gets the best start it is important to discuss these things together. Everyone has different relationships with their parents and sometimes it is given that they should have a part in the new family as the grandparents. Other times it is equally given that they should not.

It is important to care for your relationship (togetherness)

Another question is; how do we set a good example of love for our children? While we direct our love and attention towards the child we also need to remember to care for the relationship between partners. From the perspective of the child, it is also important that the parents care for each other and nurture their love life. It has been shown that if parents early on in the creation of the new family nurture their relationship they will manage to remain close even during trying times. Sometimes parents drift apart, almost without noticing, in all the things that need to be done in the new family constellation. This is why it is such a good idea to consciously nurture the relationship, love is something that needs attention.

Something to be aware of is even though there have been difficult experiences in your own childhood, they need not repeat themselves in the new family you are creating. New and close relationships, both towards your partner and your children can help you experience love in new and more meaningful ways.

Revised by Mitra M. Davis, Midwife.