Expert reviewed by Dr. Madeleine Katz, PsyD.
You've just had a baby. You're tired, you're overwhelmed, and amidst all the joy and cuddles, there's a feeling you didn't expect – resentment towards your partner. Sometimes, after your new baby arrives, instead of that romantic glow you see in movies or your friends’ Instagram, you might start to resent your partner. And trust me, if you're feeling this way, you're not alone.
Recently, at my sorority reunion, a hot topic of conversation was catching up on everyone’s birth and postpartum experiences now that we’re all moms. One theme that united us all was the transition of our husbands becoming dads. We all felt that our transitions as mothers were completely different compared to our partner’s. Most of us felt that this transition period evoked negative feelings including resentment towards our partners in some form or fashion.
But why does this happen now, post baby? And more importantly, how can we deal with these new, uncomfortable feelings?
So I recently sat down with my friend and well-known therapist Madeleine Katz, PsyD, to take an honest look at this often unspoken reality, and I’m excited to share her expert thoughts and advice for overcoming this resentment with you today.
A quick bio of Dr. Katz: Dr. Madeleine Katz is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing and training in the areas of reproductive health and family building. Dr. Katz has a niche experience supporting the LGBTQ community and solo parents. In addition to her clinical work, she is a consultant for the major fertility clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area regarding the psychological sequelae of infertility and alternative family building.
- Is It Normal To Feel Resentment Towards Your Partner After Baby?
- Reasons Post-Baby Resentment Occurs
- 5 Effective Strategies for Overcoming Resentment
- Seeking Professional Help: When and Why?
- Nurturing Your Relationship Post-Baby
Is It Normal To Feel Resentment Towards Your Partner After Baby?
According to Dr. Katz, “Yes!” She shared that “Experiencing new feelings is what postpartum adjustment is all about. Many of these feelings are positive, but it is also very normal to feel a shift in feelings towards your partner. Oftentimes, this includes a feeling of resentment . But this particular brand of resentment can be confusing because of the layered factors and new context we, and our partners, have now found ourselves in. Not only have you and your partner added a new identity as parent to someone, you have also become co-parents, adding a new dimension to your relationship.”
Having a baby changes everything – your body, your routines, your sleep – everything gets turned upside down. This upheaval can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment. But here's the thing, it's not about blaming your partner or feeling guilty about these emotions. It's about understanding why they occur and learning strategies to navigate them.
Reasons Post-Baby Resentment Occurs
Having a baby is a life-changing event and shifts in your daily reality can be overwhelming, to say the least. These shifting feelings can lead to new and negative feelings including bitterness towards partners, despite a loving, healthy relationship.
Hormones and Emotional Changes
Dr. Katz highlights the emotional and physiological sacrifices mothers make during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. She explains, “I think what women go through in pregnancy and labor and postpartum is extraordinarily hard for a partner to understand…the physiological and emotional sacrifices that are made are just significant.”
Dr. Katz offered that “the medical system is hyper focused on pediatric care and less so on postpartum parents. This can lead to undiagnosed or misdiagnosed postpartum hormonal shifts (such as hyper or hypothyroidism) and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”
Emotionally, that rollercoaster doesn’t just go away a few weeks after birth. The introduction of motherhood can lead to prolonged feelings of isolation, and the unattainable desire to keep up with the Jones’. These emotions, coupled with sleep deprivation, can significantly affect your mental health, leading to feelings of irritation, frustration, and resentment towards your partner.
Dr. Katz highlights an interesting aspect of motherhood: body autonomy and sense of self. She says, “Before having kids, you spend a lot of time with your partner or you spend a lot of time without your partner. But you do not spend a lot of time with your child.” Before having a baby, your responsibilities and day-to-day look different. You're doing your own thing.
Once a baby comes into the picture, your time is no longer ONLY yours. Suddenly, you're ‘shackled' to another human, especially if you are breastfeeding. You are literally immersed in physical touch or needed all day by your baby. This feeling is overwhelming, and can make you feel trapped. Resentment may arise because it may seem like your partner has more ‘freedom,’ less responsibilities, and more of a choice. This was exactly how I felt in my first postpartum.
Unrealistic Expectations from Social Media vs. Reality of Motherhood
When you're scrolling through social media and notice endless picture-perfect snapshots of parenthood and smiling babies, it's enough to make any new parent feel inadequate. The societal expectation of ‘perfect parenthood' can often lead to feelings of disappointment and resentment, especially towards a partner who seems to be having an easier time adjusting than you are.
The Household Dynamic
Dr. Katz elaborates and describes the postpartum journey as being a two year period (not the 6 weeks society makes us believe 🙄). While lack of sleep and drastic changes in hormones could be related to these newfound feelings of resentment, she encourages us to consider that the balance of responsibility might be completely off during these two years.
Dr. Katz emphasizes that when working to unpack the root of your negative feelings, it is important to examine the household dynamic. “Resenting your partner might not be something to blame entirely on your experience of giving birth and becoming a mom. I would really look at what is happening in the household. Get curious about when and where your resentment crops up. Your partner might actually be doing less, and maybe that is something to resent! Or, maybe their responsibilities look and feel different, and that’s something to talk about. ” She advises, “The goal is both to understand the resentment and then do something productive with those feelings. If the resentment isn't addressed, it can persist with subsequent children, and it can leak into other areas of your relationship.”
5 Effective Strategies for Overcoming Resentment
The Importance of Open Communication
Dr. Katz emphasizes the importance of open communication with your partner. “I don’t think that we can expect anything to improve if it's not discussed with a partner.” She suggests taking an honest look at the household dynamics: Who is doing what? How fair does that feel? Dr. Katz believes that addressing these issues if not in couples’ therapy, with each other in an otherwise neutral environment, can lead to actionable steps to manage resentment.
She refers to the book, Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky who cataloged everything she did throughout the day to illustrate the unnoticed responsibilities she was shouldering. While the book has its critics, Dr. Katz believes the exercise could be a helpful starting place for couples to adjust their expectations of each other.
I just finished listening to Fair Play on audiobook, and I highly recommend you grab it too. I think one of the most challenging parts of dealing with resentment is our inability to properly verbalize exactly how we are feeling and the why behind it. The book does a great job of helping you process the exact way to communicate the why. Now, personally I think the method recommended is a bit too complex and unrealistic to keep up with, however the overall ideas are sound and worth a conversation with your husband. In fact, I recommend you listen to the book together, pausing to have an open conversation about the topic at hand. My husband and I did this on a recent road trip.
P.S. I was actually on the waitlist for this book for a couple of months at our library… so many women clearly are searching for solutions here so know you are not alone!
Sharing Responsibilities: Fair Isn't Always Equal
Especially if you are breastfeeding, you may find yourself the solo star of the 24/7 parenting show, while your partner seems to have snagged the guest appearance. But it doesn't have to be this way. Bringing a newborn into the world is teamwork, and caretaking should be a shared responsibility. This doesn't mean everything needs to be done together. It's about distributing tasks in a way that caters to each of your strengths, preferences, and schedules.
Dr. Katz explains the ‘fair isn’t equal’ concept and said, “when it comes to recalibrating the work you are doing at home and for your household, it needs to take into consideration the larger context and skew towards what is fair and not what’s 50/50.” For example, the way a mom spends two hours of her day is different from the way a dad will spend two hours of his day. Dr. Katz elaborates, “Mom’s two hours of watching TV while washing and folding laundry might be an equivalent of dad doing the dishes and the cooking for that day, because mom was up all night feeding the baby.”
The Two-Way Street of Learning and Adjusting
Parenthood is like being thrown into a deep sea without swimming lessons. You learn on the go, improvising and adapting. Maybe you're acing the diaper changes but struggling with the midnight feedings. Or perhaps your lullabies aren't as soothing as you hoped.
You and your partner are both figuring out this new role together. There's room for empathy, growth, and improvement. Be patient with each other, offer constructive feedback, and be open to learning from your partner.
Date Night with Yourself
It may be helpful to actively schedule time for yourself, away from your partner and child. Scheduling alone time is an effective strategy to alleviate some of this frustration. Some examples may include asking your husband to take the baby for a few hours, or if that isn’t an option, book a babysitter or ask a family member. Simple options to spend your time include…
- Book an exercise class
- Go to Target for two hours and walk around aimlessly
- Close the door to your room and enjoy a long hot shower without monitoring for a baby crying
- Pass off the monitor at night, cuddle in bed with a book and glass of wine
Whatever you decide to do with your time is up to you, but it's important that you feel like you can step away for a while and be truly by yourself.
Make Space for Your Partner to be the Sole Parent
Dr. Katz suggests that when you leave your partner alone with the baby, it gives them a chance to experience what it's like to be the sole caregiver and develop confidence in being alone with the baby. It will also help strengthen the bond between your partner and the baby, plus give you some much needed ‘me-time while helping reduce feelings of resentment.
Seeking Professional Help: When and Why?
Sometimes you've tried everything and despite your best efforts, the resentment still lingers. These feelings can go beyond the normal adjustment period and signal a deeper issue, and seeking professional help is the next best step. Therapists can provide tools to manage these feelings and offer new perspectives on your changing relationship dynamics. They can help you express your feelings constructively, improve communication with your partner, and guide you towards a healthier emotional state.
If Dr. Katz had her way, she’d have everyone in couples’ therapy long before the feelings linger. “Step into the office and nip it in the bud. Therapy can be prophylactic. Believe it or not, crisis management is not fun. Better to process your feelings in therapy with or without your partner, before they become debilitating, rather than wait for them to feel like a crisis to the relationship.”
Nurturing Your Relationship Post-Baby
Becoming parents is a whirlwind and it's easy to lose sight of the bond that led to this beautiful parenthood journey in the first place. Here are some tips on how you can keep the spark alive while navigating the wild ride of parenthood.
Remembering The Why
Dr. Katz suggests reflecting on the relationship journey together. Reminisce how you met, what attracted you to each other, and why you chose each other to start a family. These memories can bring smiles, laughter, and can help rekindle that spark amidst the chaos of new parenthood.
Incorporate ‘Us' Time Into Your Routine
Dr. Katz emphasizes integrating ‘us' time into your routine. It could be as simple as a movie night at home after the baby's bedtime or a leisurely Sunday brunch while the baby is napping. The idea is to consciously make time for each other, even if it's just a few stolen moments in the midst of your busy day.
My husband and I have started booking our au pair once a month to work a weekend morning to allow us to go to hot yoga together, and enjoy a leisurely brunch at our favorite spot – a ritual we once did every Sunday pre-kids, that now has even more meaning in our post-kids life.
Regular Check-Ins: A Key To Staying Connected
Regular check-ins are another great way to stay connected with your partner. Discuss your feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams openly. Maybe you're struggling with the sleepless nights, or maybe you miss your pre-baby life sometimes. It's okay to feel overwhelmed, and it's important to communicate these feelings to your partner.
Aside from taking these steps, I encourage you to openly chat about your feelings with your mom tribe… you'll be surprised how many similar experiences you may hear from your closest network of women. This topic in particular has really resonated with me, and I think there is so much more to explore. So I'm committing to cover more on partner dynamics this year. Subscribe to get the latest from New Modern Mom so you don't miss the next article!