“I laughed at him when he told me he was jealous of my connection with the baby,” Madison said. “I seriously thought he was joking. I had blood leaking out of the pad attached to my disposable underwear, our baby was latched on to one nipple, and milk was leaking out the other. When I realized he wasn’t joking, I yelled at him. I was so mad. Then he started crying, and I walked away.” Madison, a past doula client, called me the day after this went down with her husband. Insulted by how he was feeling, she got a little pissed when I suggested we try to see things from his side. I don’t blame her; I would’ve also been miffed if someone tried to make me see my husband’s point of view if he even insinuated that anything was hard for him when our son was a newborn. However, staying in the space of anger and defensiveness only blocks us from strengthening our relationship with the person who’s supposed to be our biggest supporter in early parenthood.
This is such a tricky situation because many of the emotions being triggered in you and your partner are likely coming from subconscious programming. For example, your partner’s inbuilt fears of abandonment or inadequacy could be sparked when you begin to devote time to baby that used to be reserved for them. And then there’s your emotions: if the primal instinct to care for your infant feels threatened, you could easily lose empathy for your partner’s emotions.
In addition to those subconscious responses, the resentment your partner feels about your relationship with baby could stem from circumstances that developed during pregnancy. For example, your partner probably wasn’t able to experience the same level of connection you might have fostered with the baby when pregnant — and that might have been hard on them. And now you’re nine months ahead of them when it comes to bonding with the baby. In addition, if you decide to breastfeed, there’s another significant bonding activity your partner can’t participate in. It’s understandable that they might feel left out. But of course, you’ve done nothing wrong by growing your child and choosing to breastfeed. Like I said, it’s tricky.
Both of you might find it near impossible to fully understand where the other is coming from, as each person’s point of view will feel so completely “right” to them. But strangely, that’s a great place to start — realizing you’re both just doing and expressing what feels true for you. Neither of you intends to hurt the other (I assume). From the base of that understanding you can start to build resolution.
What to do
Work through the following strategies while constantly reminding yourself that this isn’t a “win or lose” situation. There’s not one party that gets to be the righteous victor. The only “winning” comes when you both develop some empathy about what the other is feeling, and you start working together instead of apart.
Talk it out. Create the ideal environment for a productive conversation by setting a communication ground rule: you each get the opportunity to share without interruption. As hard as it is, don’t let yourself get bogged down in rebuttals and thoughts about that thing you feel like you really, really have to say right this second. Because then you don’t hear anything your partner says, because you’re just trying to remember that thing you wanted to say. Let that inclination go in favor of truly hearing what your partner is trying to express. If something really needs to be said, you’ll remember it when your turn comes.
Then, when your partner lets you know they’re done sharing, resist the urge to immediately jump into what you disagree with. Instead, first repeat the key messages you feel they’re trying to express. They can then let you know if you interpreted it correctly, or if there’s something important you misperceived. This will help them feel heard and give you an opportunity to objectively review what they shared. Then, take a beat before getting into how you feel, as the pause can help you get into a thoughtful space, instead of a defensive one.
This process might feel super frustrating at first, and it can be really hard to stick with, but by doing your best to follow it you’ll set yourself up for a productive conversation that doesn’t spiral into hurt feelings and a fractured relationship.
Create more opportunities for your partner to bond with baby. A great way to help your partner release jealously over your relationship with baby is to help them foster their own relationship with baby. Once they get to see what all the fuss is about, they’ll be less inclined to judge you for wanting to spend all your time with that adorable little nugget. You can support this bonding by giving them alone time with baby. This is important because when you’re near, baby will likely only have eyes for you. They can start with small activities like short walks, bottle feedings, and diaper changes. It’s simple stuff that can make a big difference.
Accept your partner’s help, even if they don’t do things your way. I’ve talked to numerous partners (my husband included) who felt like they were more of a nuisance than a help after their baby was born. I get this. Us mamas usually develop routines and preferred methods for caring for our babies pretty early on. When our partner tries to take on some of those responsibilities but doesn’t do it in the way we’ve labeled as “best,” it can be easy to feel like it’s more efficient for us to just take care of all the baby business. But as hard as it is to cede control over a task you’re probably the master of, giving your partner more responsibility when it comes to baby will help them feel like a part of the team, instead of an outsider peering in.
Remember that your partner is also going through big emotional and physical shifts. While you definitely win the award for navigating the biggest changes, your partner is also working through sleep deprivation, an identity upheaval, and a slew of other shakeups that are likely enhancing their feelings of confusion over where they stand, and their need to talk to you about it. Under “normal” circumstances they might have more perspective about what’s going on and might even be able to move past it without discussion — but in the raw state they’re in, the shift in your relationship could feel like the end of the world. I say all of this to give you a frame of reference for where your partner is coming from. Remember that neither of you is doing anything wrong; you are both doing the best you can to navigate your brave new world.
Notice if you start pulling away from your baby. If your partner’s jealousy is severe enough that it’s impacting your bond with baby, consider seeking professional support to work out the most effective and safest way to move forward. While it’s normal for your partner to feel resistance to the changes in your relationship, you shouldn’t be made to feel like you have to choose between them or your baby.