How Postpartum Depression Affects Your Marriage or Partnership

Share Button

While we know that the first year after having a baby is statistically the most difficult for marriages and partnerships, we certainly cannot say that every woman who is struggling with postpartum depression or a related illness will also be in a marriage or partnership full of conflict. Nor can we say that women who are in conflicted relationships are also all working their way through perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. However, I am pretty sure that most of us who have given birth to or adopted babies can agree that there are major shifts in relationships at home that require a significant amount of work, understanding, and re-inventing. And we know that inadequate social support, including marital conflict, is one of the risk factors in the development postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

So, with that said, let’s talk about sex. Well, not entirely, but let's talk about relationships and the often emotionally challenging shifts and changes that occur when a baby enters the picture.

Research has identified five major changes that couples go through when they become parents, and each of these changes can lead to conflict between partners:

  1. Regardless of the choices that couples have made prior to becoming parents, gender roles become more traditional once a baby is born. Caring for an infant can add 30-50 hours of additional “work” a week for parents and it is common for women to take on 2-3 times more of these parenting responsibilities than men, regardless of whether they are working inside or outside of the home.
  2. Once a baby is born, there is significantly less time for uninterrupted couple-focused communicating.
  3. Often, when a new baby joins a family, there is a decline in disposable income due to the new financial responsibilities that come along with that new bundle. This will often mean fewer individual and shared leisure activities (which often means less individual and couple self-care time).
  4. Parenting is a busy time; Once a baby enters the picture, there is significantly reduced frequency and quality of couple time.
  5. And sex: For most couples, intimacy and the frequency of intercourse changes for weeks or months after having a baby. After delivery, there is common discomfort and/or pain with intercourse for women, and most couples are exhausted after sleepless days and nights of caring for a newborn. Combine that with the demand of breastfeeding for those who go this route, and many couples will spend much less time being intimate. In fact, one study showed that 50% women and 20% men report reduced sexual responsiveness for 6-12 months postpartum. And one-third of couples with report this 2/3 years after birth. Women who are struggling with depression will have an extra challenge here as lowered libido is one of the very common symptoms of depression and at times a side effect of antidepressant medication.

So … what does all this mean? What this means is that having a baby is HARD on a marriage. Add postpartum depression and other mood disorders and this relationship stuff becomes even harder.

In the work that I do with moms who are struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, the following issues come up around marriages and relationships:

  1. Many women are skilled at hiding the true nature of their emotional vulnerability. Often husbands and partners do not know how much they are really struggling.
  2. Despite this, most women expect (or wish?) that their husbands and partners will know what to do to support them.
  3. Many of these women are very reluctant to ask for help for fear that they will disappoint, scare, or push away their partners.
  4. When depressed, many moms will retreat into social isolation and withdrawal. This is often confusing for partners, as mom will often pull away from him/her as well.
  5. Dads usually expect mom to be joyful in early parenting, and so they are often unprepared for the unexpected challenges if a mom becomes depressed or anxious. Dad may need to take on more nurturing and household chores than they were expecting and mom may feel incredible guilt over this.
  6. Partners might know each other really well as individuals, but do not necessarily know each other as parents yet. Both mom and dad can become disappointed, angry, fearful, and confused when these new identities develop if they are not what they each expected. If mom is suffering with a mood disorder, dad can suddenly become overwhelmed with questions about where his wife/partner “went”- and of course, mom is wondering the same thing. This may be the first time that dad has witnessed his partner in such distress.
  7. Most women will express feelings of disappointment, resent, anger, and/or sadness around the ways that their partners are reacting to the changes that occur with a new baby. Most of these women will also be at a loss as to what to do with these feelings. And many of these women will feel as though their relationships are doomed.

Any of this sound familiar?

Read part 2 tomorrow for tips on what to do to strengthen your partnership during this difficult time.

Kate Kripke, LCSW

Share Button
About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

Tell Us What You Think

Comments

  1. I won't lie…this has really tested our strength as a couple. I think the one thing that helped was that my husband educated himself about the illness. I don't know where I would be if it weren't for him. He never gave up on me.

    • Kimberly, Did you feel as if you hated your husband and wanted nothing to do with him? My fiancee just absolutely thinks that she hates me and doesn’t want to be with me and I just know this is not her.

  2. I am having the same issues with my wife, she constantly tells me she does nt want me anymore and she’s been out of hospital for nearly a year now. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to deal with.

    • Leigh – I’m sorry to hear this. Have you reached out for any help?

      • Yes I have counselling at the moment. The most frustrating part is my wife is convinced that she is well and I am the issue, as she is functioning at work and able to get through the day. Last night she had a huge panic attack and may have finally realised my worth. It was totally horrendous to see and deal with but hopefully it helps us to move on as a couple.

        • I’m glad you’re in counseling Leigh. It sounds like a very tough situation to be in. Perhaps couples counseling could help too.

          • I had suggested that however my wife is not very receptive at this moment and time, hopefully we will ride out this storm very soon

            • Our second child is just reaching the 10 month mark. About the 1st of June all of a sudden my wife became distant, and emotionally pulled away from me. I’ve always been a “problem solver” at work so I tried to get her to tell me what might be wrong, what I might have done to upset her so I could fix that. No matter how many times we talked, I told her I don’t want to be separated or divorced, I want us to work through it cause she’s the woman I love, but I feel like when she emotionally distances herself from me I get very empty and have a hard time coping.

              I have brought up marriage counselling a few times, and finally last night talking I again brought up that I think she may be depressed and I need her to go talk with her physician or a doctor about it. She even told me she knows something isn’t right, but can’t put words to what it might be. We already have one daughter and she’s now almost 5, I don’t ever recall anything like this before so don’t know if it can happen after one child but not the other.

              All I know is this month of June I’ve been so lost as a member of a marriage, I questioned lots of stuff I normally would never think of. Starting over which makes my stomach ache, her leaving me, her having a affair. I am not a sit on my butt after work type of husband either. I provide for my family, spend quality time with my children, love them unconditionally, I help with laundry, am the main dinner cook at our house, financially we make good money though we do have the stress of bills.

              I’m holding up hope she actually follows through and goes and see’s the doctor, as I truly believe she may be suffering from some sort of depression, or hormonal shift that she hasn’t experienced before. I don’t want to keep pressuring but I really think she needs to go.

              Thanks for listening.

              • I am going thru a very similar situation. My girlfriend and I had a strong bond, I was very supportive during pregnancy and we loved each other very much. Our baby is now 4 months, things have just barely gotten functional and she says she s certain she wants to leave me . She knows she suffered from depression and abnormal change of heart but won’t try or get counseling . this is devastating.