New baby: 4 ways to begin redefining your relationship

My husband and I always have had our disagreements, but we were able to forgive each other and make up when we had a fight. Since our baby was born, four months ago, we can't say a word to each other without an argument. I feel very sad because of his lack of support and understanding. As a result, I am becoming very attached to the baby and moving farther apart from him. He doesn't want to go and talk with a therapist. Can you help?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

The birth of a baby is the birth of your new family. You must redefine your relationship to include the very meaningful roles of mother and father to your newborn. You are clearly attached to your baby, but is your husband bonding to his child? Has he spent any time caring for her without your presence? Does he feel that he influences the growth and development of his daughter? Does he feel empowered in his role as a new father, or alienated?

1. Build a bridge of communication. Take long walks with the baby, perhaps while she naps in a stroller. Or, after she goes to sleep at night, begin getting reacquainted with one another.

2. Allow for negative feelings. Start by sharing feelings about the changes in your life that have evolved since the baby arrived. Be sure to make room for negative feelings that either of you may have, but are afraid to express.

3. Look back at your own childhood. Your husband may be feeling resentful toward his daughter because of the amount of attention you give her. This is a common reaction for fathers, especially if their own childhood experience was somewhat painful or neglectful. Just witnessing, or experiencing, the love between mother and daughter can bring up primal feelings about our past relationships with our own parents. If your own parents did not maintain a connection to one another in your childhood, you could be neglecting your own marriage as well. This is a common pitfall of this stage of family development, but it is no reason to run away from the problem! It will only get better by forming an alliance to move beyond the pain -- toward a new definition of family.

4. Welcome your partner's participation. If your husband feels on the "outside" of this circle of love, he could be experiencing profound alienation. Invite your husband to be a partner in creating the family you want. Encourage him to increase his participation in the direct physical care of your daughter.. Joining a support group for new dads can help him find his place in the family.

Becoming parents together is one of the greatest transitions of marriage. Increased demands for nurturing a newborn can only cement family relationships when a couple can channel their energy to meet the new challenges. Unfortunately, if couples are not able to negotiate the changes required by this stage, their relationship can deteriorate quite rapidly.

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