Research suggests that the risks of an unhappy marriage after a baby are high, especially due to poor sleep. Luckily, there are ways to save the relationship after parenthood.
Becoming first-time parents is both joyful and stressful. Evidence shows that parenthood can have a negative effect on many relationships.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 25% of couples sleep in separate beds. Even if one partner doesn’t sleep well, the other partner is also more likely to report poorer health and well-being.
One of the causes of an unhappy marriage after a baby is sleep deprivation. When parents become sleep deprived, deeply unpleasant feelings can arise, such as depression, anger, and irritability.
How does poor sleep lead to marital problems?
When 43 couples took part in an Ohio State University study, it was discovered that every couple experienced some form of marital conflict.
Although marital conflicts were universal, how they were handled was not. Some couples dealt with their disputes with kindness, while others with anger and hostility.
The hostile couples were actually suffering from a lack of sleep. The study found that couples were more prone to handing their conflicts in a negative way if they were functioning on less than seven hours of sleep.
Adequate sleep was found to give couples the patience they need to approach a conflict in a constructive way.
In fact, there’s a large body of evidence that supports the findings of this study.
One study found that people who are sleep deprived tend to use more negative words. Another 2014 study concluded that couples who reported poor sleep also reported more marital conflict than those couples who got more hours of sleep.
However, what’s different about the Ohio University study from all other studies is that it also measured how the combination of sleep deprivation and marital conflict can also have a negative effect on a person’s health.
Every participant in the study gave blood samples before and after the fight with their spouse. The testing showed that after a conflict, couples had higher levels of inflammatory proteins in their blood.
The conclusion? Marital conflict is more toxic to a person’s body when they lack sleep.
How to get more sleep
If you and your partner have been going through an unhappy marriage after a baby, it’s crucial to react proactively to avoid the worst-case scenario.
Here’s how you can get a good night’s sleep and handle conflicts more mindfully:
Divide your household tasks fairly
One way of making sure there’s no resentment between you and your partner is to make a list of all the household tasks and child-related responsibilities and divide them fairly.
What do I mean by fairly?
If, let’s say your partner, works 10 hours more a week than you, then they’ll have to take fewer tasks from the list.
As most marital conflicts occur when couples make ad-hoc decisions, it’ll be good to prepare a list of responsibilities upfront.
For example, you can take care of grocery shopping and paying the bills while your partner will be responsible for cleaning the home and meal prepping.
Accept and ask for help
Don’t be too prideful when a friend or a relative offers help. No one will give you a badge for surviving parenthood all on your own. The next time someone offers to lend a helping hand, accept it, and let them help you with household tasks like watching the baby while you shower or doing grocery shopping for you.
Also, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Ask for assistance from your family and friends and have them help you with anything from feeding to changing the baby.
You might even manage to catch a quick afternoon nap while a friend cares for your baby.
Share the nights if you can
When one parent stays at home with the child, it’s usually the other parent who goes to work. And it’s usually the stay-at-home parent who takes care of all the middle-of-the-night feedings so that the other parent can get up in the morning.
But doing so can lead to a serious case of sleep deprivation. To avoid this from happening, try sharing the nights.
For example, try going to sleep at the same time your baby goes to sleep to avoid being sleep deprived. Let your partner feed the baby a bottle of pumped milk at the first wake-up so that you get a few hours of sleep. Take the second portion of the night while your partner rests.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Just like your baby needs a good bedtime routine of a warm bath and a lullaby to fall asleep, you too, need proper self-care. Good sleep hygiene can do wonders for your physical and mental health.
Here are a few ideas:
- Implement a relaxing routine, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book before bed.
- Turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
- Try to get at 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling.
- Avoid eating foods that can disrupt your sleep such as fried meals or carbonated drinks.
- Avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities.
- Consider using blackout curtains, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices to make the bedroom more relaxing.
Sleep train your baby once you feel ready
What if I tell you that there’s a way to improve your baby’s sleep and teach him how to self-soothe?
If you’re comfortable, try doing some gentle sleep training to see if it’ll suit your family. There are many sleep training methods to choose from, such as the Cry-It-Out Method, Camping Method, and Fading Out Method.
The most important thing is to pick a method you’re comfortable with and remain consistent for at least 2 weeks.
Are you ready to get some sleep?
Although parenthood is a little more challenging from what you had in mind, it shouldn’t end up with you and your partner going separate ways.
The solution for transforming an unhappy marriage after a baby into a happy and healthy relationship is by getting the sleep you need.
Follow the tips outlined above and start by accepting and asking for help. Share the nights with your partner and divide the household tasks.
Finally, don’t forget to practice good sleep hygiene and implement sleep training once you feel ready.