Becoming a new dad is a life-changing event. It can also test the strength of your relationship with your partner. If this is your first baby, you’re shifting from being partners to becoming parents together. If you already have children, you’re adjusting to caring for another baby in a busy household. Add sleep deprivation to the mix, and even the strongest relationships can feel the strain.
You might be noticing unexpected differences in how you each want to care for your baby. Or you might have different ideas about managing paid work and unpaid parenting and household duties. If you’ve never discussed these issues before, bringing them up now can sometimes cause conflict and tension.
If other issues are in the mix, such as financial stress, problems at work, social or physical isolation, or extended family concerns, your relationship can be affected by all the extra layers of stress. Advance awareness of potential problems and being open to ways of managing your way through these can help keep your relationship in good shape.
Relationship challenges for new dads
As a new dad, you may be dealing with many of the concerns listed above. If you or your partner experience changes to your mental health as well, like symptoms of anxiety or depression, there may be added pressure on your relationship.
Changes in your partner’s mood and behaviour
This can come as a surprise or shock. You may be feeling confused, sad, stressed, or worried about your partner’s mental health and emotional wellbeing - or your own.
Support is available if you notice any changes in your partner’s mental health or your own and you’re feeling concerned.
Increased stress, including support person fatigue
If you or your partner are unwell (eg, emotional, mental, or physical health issues during pregnancy or after your baby is born) then one of you may have taken on the majority share of household and family duties.
If you’re working, cooking, cleaning, looking after your partner and baby – often when sleep deprived – it can be a huge emotional and mental load for expecting and dads.
PANDA’s factsheet on caring for your partner has some helpful tips about supporting your partner, managing competing demands, and looking after yourself in the mix.
One of the most common issues couples talk about when they call PANDA is changes to their sex life, including less affection in their relationship.
When your partner is pregnant or you’re both busy juggling work and parenthood commitments, it can leave very little time for you to connect with each other, including time for sexual connection and affection.
We speak to dads who tell us they’re so stressed and tired, they’re rarely in the mood for sex. This can have a huge impact on other forms of intimacy as well, like physical touch and verbal affection.
We also speak to mums who feel so ‘touched out’ and tired after a full day of cuddles, settling, feeding, and caring for children that they’re not in the mood for more physical touch from their partner. This type of affection fatigue is common in the early days and weeks of parenthood. It can take a temporary toll on intimacy in adult relationships,and be challenging to manage as a couple.
Mental health changes during pregnancy and as a new parent can have a major impact on desire for emotional connection, and libido (desire for sex and intimacy).
We speak to many parents who are concerned about their relationship and mismatched libidos, where one partner desires more (or less) intimacy than the other, or affection at different times.
If it’s your partner who is withdrawing and showing less desire for intimacy, it can be hard not to take it personally and feel hurt or rejected. If it’s you who’s feeling emotionally disconnected or experiencing a drop in libido, it can feel confronting and be difficult to talk about with your partner.
Feeling differently about visitors when you have a new baby
We often hear from new dads' who’ve just had a baby and are concerned their partner doesn’t feel ready for visitors like close family and friends. This can be hard to hear when loved ones are excited to come over and meet your new baby, especially when you want to share the joy and celebrate too.
If your partner is experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, social withdrawal is common in the early stages of parenthood. It’s important to give your partner the space and time they need to look after themselves and your baby, and not pressure them into having visitors before they feel ready.
Relationship tips for new dads
Talk to each other
Sex and emotional connection
Visitors and socialising
Early parenthood is a time of joy and celebration, but it can also be stressful, exhausting, and overwhelming. Hold off, if you can, on making any big life decisions right now - like changes to your relationship, career, or home.
Give yourself permission to simply focus on looking after your partner, your baby, and yourself for the moment.
Reach out and ask for help if you need it – whether that’s family and friends, your employer, or a trusted health professional. All new parents need support, and PANDA is here for you if you want to chat about ways to manage competing demands in your relationships.
Mental health checklist
How are you going?
Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be reason to seek help.