How many times a week do you feel resentment towards your partner? Was it at 2am while you were feeding your newborn and your partner was fast asleep in bed? Is it right now as you fight off exhaustion, clean out the breast-pump, and long for a hot shower while your partner gets ready to log into work?
The fog has lifted and after 4 years of being a parent, I can look back and reflect on some of the most lonely and challenging moments I experienced as a new mom. New parent stories will differ, but what we do know is research shows that 69% of new parents express dissatisfaction, conflict, and experience hurt feelings in the first 3 years of bringing the baby home.
I hated the nights and resented my husband.
Nights were lonely. My anxiety was at its peak during middle of the night changes and feedings, and this anxiety caused a festering resentment towards my partner.
In the days after our daughter was born, my partner and I decided that he wouldn’t wake up with me for these nightly (and early morning) feedings because we both didn’t need to be exhausted and he was the one going back to work and keeping a “normal” schedule. Because of our profession, being that we are both therapists, he needed the rest to be present and alert in sessions. I was the one who took maternity leave and out of the two of us, I had the flexible schedule.
Even though we had discussed what was practical, emotionally I felt it was unfair and I felt alone. It was a tug-o-war between what I knew we agreed upon and what made the most sense and my feelings of loneliness, jealousy, and, ultimately, resentment.
This feeling of resentment wasn’t a nightly occurrence, but happened more nights than I would like to admit. When I would wake up in the middle of the night, the house was dark and cold. I would look over at my partner and seethe with jealousy over his peaceful, uninterrupted slumber. Walking into our baby’s room, picking her up to feed and change her, I felt lonely. That’s when my mind would go down the dreaded black hole. All the negative thoughts (perceived and imagined) would flood my brain and by the time I went back to bed, I felt resentment.
From my partner’s perspective, the resentment came out of nowhere. Looking back now, I can absolutely see that perspective. He would wake up and try to engage with me, perhaps make breakfast and I would say something critical like, “Must be nice to wake up feeling refreshed and have the energy to make breakfast.” He felt attacked and ambushed.
Walking on eggshells
Without talking about how I was feeling more directly, my passive-aggressive jabs created further distance and he would begin to feel like he was walking on eggshells around me. He wouldn’t know whether I would be loving or hateful. He would later tell me that he felt attacked.
For instance, one night, he came home later than normal. The loneliness and eagerness for him to return came out critically, “Why didn’t you come home right away?” He could sense my frustration and he responded defensively, “Well, I was trying to be nice and went to the grocery store. Guess I’ll think twice before being nice again.” I didn’t notice that he had spent the extra time after leaving the office to run to the grocery store to buy my favorite bag of popcorn and a pint of ice cream because he was thinking about how hard I was working with our baby and wanted to cheer me up. A harsh start-up is a sure-fire way to get into criticism – defensiveness cycle.
After a handful of criticism – defensiveness rounds and not feeling great, we worked on softening our start-up, talked with one another more honestly, and listened with empathy.
5 things that helped us mitigate resentment
- We were honest about our struggles.Raising a tiny human is hard work. It’s okay to share the hardships and joys of growing your family. We developed a playful, yet honest way to talk about the challenge of our lives fundamentally transitioning. We created this rating system to gauge our happiness; for instance, I recall many nights saying I was 10/90. I was 10% sure that having a baby was a good thing and 90% wishing for our child-free independence. Over time, that changed to 80/20…and depending on the day, it still fluctuates. For instance, just the other day when my daughter bit my finger and wouldn’t release her jaw, I was very 2/98.
- We empathized with one another. Brené Brown has a really succinct clip on empathy. Having empathy for one another allowed us to understand the other person and feel compassion towards one another. For instance, you could say, “Parenting is hard on both of us. You work so hard during the day and I can understand you felt attacked when I immediately questioned why you came home later than normal. That wasn’t a warm welcome home.”
- We frequently adjusted the plan. Flexibility was key and adjusting accordingly was essential. Especially around baby’s “growth spurts,” it was really important to talk about changes. For instance, you could say, “Our baby is going through sleep regression right now. I’m not getting as much sleep and I’m feeling exhausted. Instead of taking the dog for a walk right away, could you take over baby watch in the morning because I’d like to sleep in a little more until our baby gets back into routine.”
- We told the other what we appreciated on a regular basis. Compliments are helpful and increase goodwill in a relationship. Stating appreciations kept us from the negativity that so easily took over. For instance, “I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. It makes me feel loved that you were thinking of me and wanted to make me feel loved by bringing home a bag of popcorn and my favorite ice cream.” I also remember my partner telling me, “I appreciate how you take care of our baby – getting up all hours, feeding her, holding her – even though you are exhausted. I know this is tough on you – you are doing an awesome job.” I needed to hear that! If you want a quick appreciation exercise, you can find one here.
- We shared a mission. Our mission was to take care of a tiny human and most importantly, we reiterated that we were in it together. Hearing the words from my partner, “You are not alone in this; I’m here for you — we can do this,” was incredibly helpful. It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone, even though at times, I felt lonely.
Doing these things didn’t lessen the struggles, they were still hard. I still felt resentment and anxiety, but when I developed a way to talk about my feelings with my partner, those feelings changed from overwhelming and unbearable to understandable and manageable. Talking allowed us to understand that the transition was difficult for each of us in our own ways, which made us soften and thus we were more likely to try to help one another.
Over time, the anxiety and resentment decreased and left room for more understanding and patience. We both were doing the best we could in completely new territory for both of us and for our relationship.
You are not alone – We can help you
We don’t want new parents to go through this stage thinking something is wrong with them or their relationship. We offer new parent programs designed to help new parents adjust to this stage, learn how to talk about the struggles without blame or judgement, and strengthen their connection. Connect with us here.