You’re pregnant and suddenly you’re fighting with your partner about baby names, money and even sex. Sure, pregnancy is only temporary, but how you deal with disagreements now can have a huge effect on the future of your relationship.
“The most important factor in setting up a happy relationship after baby’s born is the quality of your relationship while you’re still expecting,” says Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC, a life coach who counsels new and expectant parents though ParentAlliance. And that’s important, since becoming new parents could be the biggest threat to the good thing you two have going. According to research, 70 percent of couples experience “precipitous” drops in the quality of their relationship following the birth of a child. Yikes!
So get a grip when it comes to disagreements. “For any argument, stop judging and trying to persuade, and ask, ‘What’s important to you about that?’” Berens says. “Sometimes we don’t even know why we’re fighting for something so hard!”
Here, some common issues new parents face—and how you and your partner can handle them.
The Name Fight
The issue: Maybe you want to name baby something completely unique, and your partner wants one off the latest top 10 list. Or even tougher: You’ve always dreamed of your future son being named after your grandfather, but that name reminds your man of his middle-school bully. Naming baby is a big deal, and it can be a heated debate.
How to handle: Don’t try to get your partner to change their mind right then and there—you both will just get fired up or defensive—and table the discussion for another time. “Later, when you’re both calm, ask each other about the meaning of the names you each want and why they’re important to you,” says John Gottman, PhD, author of And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. “Just listen. When you come to a deeper understanding of your partner’s motivations for a particular name, the right decision will emerge.” You can also ask questions. “Find out what’s negotiable and non-negotiable,” says Berens. The baby name process will probably be a huge compromise for both of you, so you’re going to have to let go a little.
The “You’re Being Selfish” Fight
The issue: Your partner can skip doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds, while your schedule is crazy. On the flip side, your partner says you’re so obsessed with pregnancy that you never talk about anything else anymore! You’re the only one who’s pregnant, and that can feel isolating.
How to handle: Make some pregnant friends who you can commiserate with about swollen feet and endless OB visits, but make sure to be upfront with your partner about what you want and need from them, both during pregnancy and after. “As the pregnant person, your partner will never be able to guess what you need, so you need to be able to ask for it,” advises Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.
As much as you need your partner to be there for you, you'll need to figure out a way to support them too. “The big theme is trust,” adds Gottman. “Both people want to know, ‘will you be there for me, are we in this together?’ Tell your partner how you plan to make time for them and for baby, so all these changes don’t mean they're off your VIP list."
Looking for some tips on how to broach that conversation? Certain apps, like Lasting, can help you develop better communication and conflict skills to keep the health of your relationship going strong.
The Sex Fight
The issue: You look hot with that pregnancy glow and bigger boobs, and your partner can’t help but be turned on (I mean, have you seen you lately?). And maybe you're into it—or maybe the only thing you want to be intimate with is your sleep mask and pillow. After all, dealing with some of the common but embarrassing pregnancy sex problems can be less than a turn-on.
How to handle: Laugh. “Humor is critical,” Gottman says. Joke about the silly, gross things that could happen during sex and be comfortable with each other. “Focus on what you do want versus what you don’t and what intimacy you are up for,” Berens suggests. If you’re not feeling well, explain that’s why you’re not up for sex—not that you don't find your partner as attractive anymore—and find other ways to be close, even if it’s a snuggle session on the couch.
The In-Laws Fight
The issue: You thought you had the whole in-law relationship down, but getting pregnant opens up a whole new slew of sensitive subjects. Your in-laws could be making comments about your pregnancy weight gain, demanding you consider certain baby names or even asking that you raise the baby a certain way—trust us, we’ve heard it all. You want your partner to step in and set up some boundaries, since it's their family, but that can be easier said than done.
How to handle: Team up. “This issue boils down to the fundamental issue of who comes first,” Gottman says. You and your partner are your future baby’s parents, not anyone else, so ultimately the two of you should be the ones making parenting decisions together. Pick your battles—and deal with non-important issues with a secret eye-roll. If it’s a big issue, set the expectation (nicely) that your partner is going to have to tell their folks to back off. There’s no reason to be dramatic or rude about it, though. “Try to understand how your partner relates to his or her parents and their customs, and try not to take offense too easily,” Tessina says. “And don’t forget—these are your future child’s grandparents and can be the biggest help you’ll ever have.”
The Money Fight
The issue: Chances are, neither of you had any idea having a baby could cost more than $30,000, and agreeing on how much to spend on what can be stressful.
How to handle: Make an actual budget together. It sounds simple, but not enough people do this! And seriously, do it right away. The earlier you can figure out your finances and where they’ll go, the easier it will be to stick to the budget. You’ll prioritize together, so you won’t ever have to have the “I can’t believe you bought the $1,000 stroller!” argument. “Figure out how you can honor each other’s style in a mutually agreed on budget range,” Berens says. “Share what your fears are, and how money was treated in your home growing up. Understanding where your partner is coming from will help you disagree constructively.”
The “Hormones Did It” Fight
The issue: There will be times on the pregnancy roller coaster that your hormones, aches and pains will express themselves in a version of yourself you’ve never seen before. Maybe your partner says something you’ve always found hysterical but now irritates you, or maybe what they thinks is an innocent joke hurts you and makes you cry. Chances are, these mini-meltdowns will surprise you as well.
How to handle: Give your evil twin a nickname! “Name your moods,” Berens says. “Make up the funniest, most stupid names you can think of—like Hormonal Helen or Freaky Fran—or have a silly gesture you make to show that you would stop yourself from reacting a certain way if you could.” When Screamy Sarah shows up, your partner will know to give you some space, and the depersonalizing of your behavior will give you both confidence this is not who you really are. Bonus: You may even start laughing instead.
Updated November 2017