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Can Becoming Parents Cause Relationship Breakdown?

View profile for Liz Headley
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Paloma Faith has recently been quoted as saying, referring to the ending of her relationship with her partner, “Our relationship ended because we have those children.”

Of course, this comment made a good headline for whichever media chose to use it and appeared to attract quite a bit of attention from newspapers and daytime television.

Taken out of context, it could appear that Paloma is blaming her two daughters for her and their dad splitting up about 6 months ago. However, I don’t believe, from what I have read, that she has any intention of doing that. It seems to me that she is trying to highlight the fact that becoming parents can have an enormous impact on both of the two individuals and their couple relationship.

By comparison it seems there might be fewer conversations about the impact of pregnancy, childbirth and becoming parents on the couple relationship, than there are about how to effectively parent a child particularly about any eating, sleeping and behavioural issues.

Trying to imagine what it will be like becoming a family as opposed to a couple feels almost impossible. If the pregnancy is planned, there might be lots of joy, excitement and optimism about future events, interlaced with a bit of apprehension and self-doubt. There may be some concern about finances, getting the home ready for a newborn or how much maternity or paternity leave to take, but less thinking around how the couple relationship might have to change to accommodate the needs of a child.

Being pregnant and giving birth are very physical experiences that, for some, might be the start of a massive change that can occur in some women when becoming a parent. Not going through these two conditions physically, might leave the other parent slightly lagging behind in their understanding of the monumental changes that are about to impact on their lives.

Paloma Faith shares her thinking about the need to grow together as a couple, adapting to each other’s needs in a variety of ways. Her own experience was that motherhood invited growth in her that her partner could not match and in her words he “...stayed the same.”

Is it that expectations of a partner change once a child is born? Might one partner be more ready and able to adapt to the demands of their ‘other half’ now there is a third little person involved? Certainly, sleep deprivation can affect mood and responses and occasionally invite a more ‘snappy’ response to an innocuous request than previously. Everday tasks that were part of a usual routine might be much harder to complete now there is a baby present, which might lead to feelings of irritation or disappointment.

Priorities will inevitably have to be re-evaluated, with the demands of an infant on the primary carer being taken into consideration. The time that the couple used to be able to spend together and doing things for each other, will now be very much reduced. Possibly Paloma, in recognising the change in herself that motherhood had evoked, realised that her partner was not responding to new responsibilities and significant changes in the same way.

Some partners may feel sidelined by a new baby and not respond well to the reduced level of care and attention that they now can expect from their partner. I guess this is where positive communication, empathy and understanding all have major parts to play. It would seem to me that couples who are able to demonstrate these qualities within their relationship are more likely to grow together, rather than apart, in their new role as parents. Yes, there will be testing times, when exhaustion hits and patience with each other is limited, but hopefully the strong bond between the two adults and their love for each other and their child will help them make the transition from couple to family fairly smoothly.

Sadly, if there have been some power and control issues within the couple relationship pre-children, becoming parents can highlight these problems. A partner who wishes to control the other adult, may well start to demonstrate an escalation in negative behaviours towards their partner, if they feel a baby or child has taken some of the attention away from them. This is not a good sign in a relationship and anyone experiencing this should get whatever support they can from family and friends and possibly seek some professional advice about what to do in their situation.

Becoming a parent is a life changing experience and will often put relationships under pressure, however it can also be a fantastic, magical time offering opportunity for couples to feel even closer and to work together in raising their child or children.  

Brethertons Family Team offer the opportunity to speak with them if you feel there are inappropriate power and control issues within your relationship. They can offer sound legal advice as well as some emotional support if that might be helpful. Giving birth and becoming a parent can leave individuals feeling very vulnerable, please do seek whatever assistance you might need if you have concerns about your relationship.