Two months after the birth of their son, J.P., Alicia and Jon Maricle, both airline pilots in Colleyville, Texas, found themselves tired, busy, and seriously irritable. "Most of our day consisted of changing J.P.'s diapers, nursing, pumping, burping, playing, rocking him to sleep, and repeating this seven more times -- which meant we didn't get enough sleep," says Alicia.
One day, after yet another tough night, Alicia asked Jon to mow the lawn before he went to a ball game with his friends. Interpreting her request as bossiness, he blurted, "You don't do anything!" After cutting the grass, he went to the game, leaving Alicia to stew for several hours. "By the time he got home, I was insisting that we either get marriage counseling or try out a Do-It-Yourself-Divorce website."
Fighting words are hardly foreign to couples, but for new parents like the Maricles, conflicts occur all too often. The arrival of a baby usually has a profound effect, both joyful and straining, on a relationship. According to the Gottman Relationship Research Institute, a research and counseling center in Seattle, up to 70 percent of couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction after a baby is born. This dissatisfaction is due in great part to increased fighting, says John Gottman, Ph.D., cofounder of the institute and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Chronic arguing is unhealthy not only for your relationship but also for your baby. Children of all ages pick up on tension. "Infants will typically be irritable and have eating and sleeping problems," says Pamela Jordan, Ph.D., a nurse, the author of Becoming Parents, and an associate professor of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington. The occasional tiff, especially one in which a resolution to a problem is worked out, is relatively harmless, notes Jordan. It's the constant, aimless fighting that can cause trouble. "When the home is a battle zone, family members walk on eggshells or avoid each other, and kids learn unhealthy ways of interacting," she says.
Here, the biggest culprits behind new-parent tiffs, and how to put the peace back into your relationship.