New parents with a baby

Relationship conflict in new parents: what’s really going on?

Conflict in new parents

⁠Even really happy, long-standing relationships typically go through a rough patch when their baby comes along. Why is that? The simple answer is that this period can create a prime opportunity for relationship issues to intensify: there is more stress in a multitude of areas, and you have less capacity to deal with it, because you are tired, overwhelmed learning on the job, and adjusting to your new roles as parents.

If you are a new parent, you may be finding that you are fighting and arguing more than usual; maybe you are wondering what’s REALLY going on underneath those complaints and arguments.  ⁠

Most couples report arguing more after a baby arrives

Many new parents find that arguments can ramp up very quickly and cause a lot of hurt feelings. And this makes sense — it’s a vulnerable time when we are not at our best or most regulated selves (hint: it may have something to do with sleep deprivation and high amounts of stress…)⁠🥱😤

Dr. John Gottman’s foundational research tells us that 67% of new parents experience a relationship decline in the transition to parenthood. That’s 2/3 of new parents – not a small number.

🤔Take a moment now to think about your current frustrations with your partner. ⁠Maybe you are just thinking these things, or complaining about him or her to a friend. Or you could be so angry or hurt that you are saying them directly to your partner, causing a big fight.

If you are struggling and not sure where to start, you may want to consider our online crash course or e-book, designed for new parents just like you. It is concise, practical, and most importantly will give you the tools you need to get back on track!

Click to learn more about how to get your relationship back on track here: New Parents Relationship SOS!

⁠Read on to learn more about the 3 core factors often at play under disagreements.


The Root causes of conflict

According to Dr. Howard Markman, under the surface, most relationship issues on some level can be boiled down to one of 3 core issues:⁠⁠

  1. Power & Control⁠
  2. Care & Closeness⁠
  3. Respect & Recognition⁠

⁠And these make COMPLETE sense, as they are pretty much what every human wants to feel in their life:




When these are threatened, we move quickly into attack or defend mode (fight or flight) and arguments follow. Below we will go through each core issue, how this may show up, and tips on how to reframe these complaints.


Power & control in new parents

Power and control issues may sound like: “we are fighting about the stupidest things!” or ” I am constantly being bossed around!”. If you feel like you are struggling to have your voice heard,  not feeling like a valued member of the team, as well as wanting things to feel more equal, there are probably power and control issues going on in some way. This is so common in new parents, as we struggle to figure out our new roles.


Care & closeness in new parents

Care and closeness issues may sound like: “he feels more like a roommate than a partner” or “the baby gets all of her attention, and I get none”.  If you feel like you want to be more connected to your partner, have more time with them, and generally miss being their main focus, then the issues are likely rooted in care and closeness. Given the amount of time and attention that a baby requires from their primary caregiver(s), of course there is going to be less available for each other. It’s the simple math of postpartum life.


Respect & recognition in new parents

Respect and recognition issues may sound like: “my partner doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for me to be at home with the baby” or “he/she’s expecting me to be supermom/superdad…” or “I don’t have any more left to give.” Underneath these complaints are usually feelings that your contributions are going unnoticed, feeling criticized by the job you’re doing, or even thoughts that something must be wrong with you if you can’t seem to handle this.  If these ring true, there may be respect and recognition issues at the heart of the matter. 

Finding the need under the complaint

Usually under the complaints above, are unspoken feelings and needs; if we can figure out what these are, then we can understand the problem better and reframe it in a different way.

More constructive ways of framing relationship problems in new parents

Power & control

You may find that your current way of framing the problem is just causing resentment and leading to further conflict with your partner. Try challenging yourself to think about the issue in a different way, such as: “we are having a hard time figuring out our parenting roles and seeing our approaches as complementary, rather than in competition.” This is a much more objective, useful, and accurate statement, which takes the blame away. It also makes the issue a shared problem that helps to normalize your struggle.

Care & closeness

For challenges related to care and closeness, see what happens using the following perspective:  “our relationship has changed since having a baby. I miss how much time we used to have together — but I also know it’s not meant to be the same as it was.”

Respect & recognition

Finally, with issues of respect & recognition, you may try reframing in a way that acknowledges both partners, like this:  “we seem to be stuck in a pattern where we compare who has the harder job. We’re both left feeling hard done by and that the other person doesn’t care.”

From this reframed perspective, then you can move on to problem-solving and making changes that are going to help interrupt the current cycle.

Steps for improving the conflict in your relationship

Although the next steps you take are going to be specific to your situation and issue, the following are great places to start:

How to manage issues of power & control in relationships

  • Speak to each other about your parental roles – what’s working for you so far, and what’s not.
  • If you are the more “controlling” partner, choose a daily task that you can give away!
  • Get in the habit of soliciting each other’s input, and respectfully listening, even if you don’t agree.

How to manage issues of care & closeness in relationships

  • Normalize that there is only so much of you both to go around. Make sure you are taking care of yourself as best you can.
  • Lead by example: ask your partner what the #1 most caring gesture would be for them – and then do it.
  • Find intentional moments of connection through touch or eye contact.

How to manage issues of respect & recognition in relationships

  • Develop a daily habit of sharing one appreciation with your partner
  • Share the impact it would have if your contributions were validated more directly. Remember it’s ok to make requests.
  • Reflect on your expectations of yourself and of your partner. Ask yourself if they are realistic. 

Note: often these issues will coincide and overlap, so know that it’s normal if you are experiencing relationship problems in all three of the above categories! Just start with one thing at a time that seems doable for you. And if you’re having a hard time sorting through it all, this is where a counsellor who works with new parents can come in.

Looking for the shortcut to get your relationship back on track?

You’ll love our online course or e-book, New Parents Relationship SOS

Connect with a counsellor

If you are ready to dive deeper and focus on improving your relationship at this important time of your life, you may benefit from working through this with one of our counsellors. To book a session, click here.

If you’re not sure what kind of support you need, we’ll be happy to match you with a counsellor who can help.

You might also like...