Divorce after a baby is more common than you may think (and we totally get why) - here are 12 reasons why relationships breakdown

Divorce after a baby is no new phenomenon - recent research has found a fifth of couples break up a year after baby arrives

Divorce after a baby illustrate by woman holding a baby with man in background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Divorce after a baby is a massively relatable statement. Having a baby is often portrayed as a 'happy ever after' scenario, but the reality can put a huge strain on the most rock-solid relationships.

Giving birth to a tiny human is one of the biggest things one person can do in life, let alone juggle that with a partner. First up there's navigating matrescence then all the stages of child development (on little-to-no sleep) and then, as that tiny human grows, working out how to explain the mental load to your partner. 

Recent research has shown the vast majority of relationships change after having a baby. A 2021 study showed that, on average, relationship satisfaction fluctuates over time – and declines during the first 10 years of being together – whether couples are parents or not. But throughout that trajectory, satisfaction is lower for parents than for non-parents. 

Meanwhile, research shows the more children a couple has, the less likely they are to feel satisfied with their relationship. Mothers of infants particularly are the least happy: 38% of married mums have high satisfaction, compared to 62% of married women without children. In this article, we look at why this might be and share top tips on how to get through it.

Divorce after a baby

Among the most common reasons for couples separating were dwindling sex lives, a lack of communication, and constant arguments. For couples with deeper-rooted issues, such as a quarter or those who admitted they had problems in their relationship before the baby’s birth, things didn’t get easier.

It shouldn’t be surprising that parenthood presents challenges to a partnership. For the vast majority of couples, what psychologists call “protective” relationship factors – such as communication, intimacy, and time together – take a hit when a baby is born. Throw in stressors including sleep deprivation and financial anxiety, and it often can seem impossible for a couple to avoid more conflict or tension after having a child. Regular arguments, one partner being less involved in the care of the baby, and having to adjust to newfound responsibilities seemed to cause irreparable problems for those surveyed.

There are many reasons for a relationship breakdown in the first 12 months after having a baby, lack of support, unmet expectations, and differences in parenting styles can further contribute to relationship strain. Additionally, postpartum depression or mood disorders can impact one or both partners, affecting their emotional well-being and relationship dynamics - here are the top reasons given in the study of 2,000 parents, for breaking up within a year of baby's birth;

  1. We stopped communicating properly about anything
  2. Sex life dwindled
  3. Not as much affection generally
  4. We started to argue all the time
  5. We didn't have any time for each other
  6. We already had problems before the baby was born, and this created additional strain afterwards
  7. One of us was always nit-picking the other's involvement with the baby
  8. My partner was going out all the time and leaving me to do everything
  9. One/ both of us couldn't adjust to the new responsibility
  10. One of us cheated on the other
  11. One/ both of us suffered from depression
  12. One parent was less involved with the baby than another
  13. We felt under too much pressure to cope with parenthood
  14. Our whole life went into chaos
  15. Everything became a balancing act - work, parenthood, relationship
  16. Lack of sleep meant we couldn't rationalise about anything
  17. We weren't fully prepared to have a baby
  18. One of us felt side-lined in favour of the baby
  19. We didn't have any money
  20. Huge drop in body confidence

Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting site Channel Mum, who part conducted the research, said: “Forget the seven-year itch - it’s six months of sleepless nights that are most likely to prise apart new parents.

“While it’s widely assumed a new baby brings a couple closer together, this isn’t always the case. Sleepless nights, less time for intimacy, and added responsibility can test even the most committed relationships.”

She also stated that whilst most parents-to-be prepare financially for their new arrival they seldom consider emotionally preparing the relationship too. This comes as more than 60 percent of parents admitted to feeling unprepared for the huge impact having a baby would have on their life. Half of couples reported arguing more frequently with lack of sex or feeling pressured into sex one of the most common triggers for those rows. The thing is, that no one side ever seems to blame. For women, they admitted that their body confidence seemed to plummet. Whilst 24 percent of men said they felt completely side-lined as mum favoured the baby.

sleep regression

Getty Images

As a result of the study The Baby Show has joined forces with Channel Mum to offer advice on how to prepare for and overcome the challenges that parenthood brings. Zoë Bonser, show director at The Baby Show added: “It’s disheartening to see so many couples break up in the first 12 months of parenting – what should be one of the most exciting times in their lives.

“There’s no doubt it’s stressful with the change in sleep patterns, routines, and getting used to there being a third person around that you have to care for all the time. The most important thing is to keep talking and recognise how you’re both feeling and ensure you make time for each other, as well as your baby.”

Sharing night feeds, making time for regular sex, having time-out with friends and regular date nights were some methods used to maintain a happy relationship.

Calling on family and friends for additional support is also a way to help alleviate stress. But unfortunately, almost one-fifth of parts admitted they didn’t implement any measures to protect their relationship during those early months.

5 tips for getting through a relationship breakdown post baby

All relationships hit rough patches, it doesn't always mean that you're failing or destined for permanent separation. 

  1. Prioritise communication - Talking and actively hearing the other person is key during a relationship breakdown. Mum-of-two, Kiran suggests side-by-side talking. "We soon realised after our son was born, that we did our best talking and listening while driving as there were distractions and it wasn't an intense face-to-face scenario."
  2. Self-care -  This may seem surface level but can help you sort out a lot of relationship problems after having a baby. It can help manage the emotional toll of a relationship breakdown. Focus on activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Take time for yourself and prioritise your well-being. Mum-of-one, Tara tells us; "I remember a friend of mine getting divorced and she suddenly had entire weekends to herself.... obviously it was hard and there was a lot more that I saw... but a whole weekend, to herself. It's sad that it took separation for that to be accessible for mums."
  3. Professional help - Consider seeking therapy or counseling to navigate the complexities of a relationship breakdown. There's no stigma in it. A trained professional can provide guidance, tools, and strategies to help process emotions, improve communication, and find a way forward. Louise and her husband made 'maintenance sessions' a monthly thing after their twins were born; "There should be no stigma around therapy - I think we all should have easy access to it. My husband Alex and I commit to once-a-month maintenance sessions with a relationship therapist where we air out and talk about things. It has done wonders for our relationship - I like him again."
  4. Set clear boundaries - This includes discussing co-parenting roles, personal space, and expectations moving forward. Boundaries can provide a sense of stability and support healthy interactions.
  5. Personal patience - Healing from a relationship breakdown takes time, and everyone’s journey is unique. Be patient with yourself and allow the healing process to unfold naturally. Take time to get to know yourself again, as a you not an us.

The early years of motherhood can feel the hardest, remember you're not alone if you hate playing with your kid, struggle with toy rotation or if you don't want mum friends.... you do you. And know that no matter your choices or style, we promise you're not alone in it.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.