How having a baby will test even the most ‘perfect’ relationship

We’re reeling from the news that fitness royalty Kayla Itsines and fiancé Tobi Pearce are parting ways. But after hearing from an expert the pressures that a new baby can put on any relationship – no matter how Insta-shiny it looked – perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised?

I think I know how Kayla Itsines feels. No, not because I am a world-famous fitness trainer (ha), or because I have her washboard abs (hahahahaha), but because after having a baby my marriage was tested like nothing else, too.

The Adelaide-based, globally successful trainer and co-founder of the SWEAT platform announced her split with long-term parter Tobi Pearce last week, and her millions of fans were as shocked as I was. From the outside, Kayla seemed to have the perfect relationship.

The pair met in 2012 in a gym (of course), and went on to co-create one of the world’s most popular online fitness apps and programmes. The were engaged to be married, listed on the AFR Young Rich List, and were doting parents to one-year-old daughter Arna. In any interviews with press, Kayla and Tobi only heaped each other in praise, and from the outside (or on Instagram at least) life looked pretty rosy. How wrong we were.

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Full disclaimer: I have no intimate knowledge on the reasons for Kayla and Tobi’s relationship breakdown. No one does right now. In perfect unison, the duo both expressed their ongoing support and friendship, vowing to continue to co-parent and run SWEAT as business partners – with no hint of a reason why, let alone blame, being mentioned. But I know that the first year of raising a child is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and it tested my otherwise strong and stable relationship (if we can discount more recent WFH struggles…) like nothing else.

I can’t imagine adding a global digital business, and millions of hungry fans on social media to the already highly flammable mix of sleep deprivation, anxiety, the physical postpartum struggles (which has Kayla spoken of on multiple occasions) and general new-parent feelings of what-they-hell-are-we-doing and what-happened-to-our-life?

I asked Anne-Marie Cade, a trained expert in marriage breakdowns and a conflict mediator, about how common this problem is between couples and what steps (if any) we can take to divorce-proof our relationship when baby comes along.

Anne-Marie sees many couples come to her having either firmly decided, or thinking about a split, due to the issues that children can cause.

“Having kids puts a whole new stress as it were on the relationship, as your attention is divided and you may not give your partner as much attention as you did prior to having children. When parties are stressed, even the smallest issue can cause a reaction that is not helpful. When a partners needs/expectations go unmet, this can lead to frustration, then resentment and eventually the cracks start showing up in the relationship.”

She explained that the way you view your partner may change after having a baby. And not necessarily in a warm and fuzzy way. And that may lead to a disappointment you didn’t expect.

“It may seem that when you add kids to the mix everything gets a little more stressful, less romantic and less satisfying in your relationship. Rather, couples think that having children will bring them closer together. Having children means the parties have less time together, less alone time, and there are greater demands placed on the partnerships. It is very important and the parties have constructive conversations about all these issues and learn to problem solve by learning and understanding about the other. To understand [each other], it’s important to ask the right questions.”

On how to combat this, Anne-Marie is adamant that there is one clear solution.

“Communication is key so that both parties feel heard. It’s often the little things that are irritating so it’s important to set the expectations from the start, openly communicate and compromise. When things get unpleasant, parties often stop communicating which is the worst thing they can do.”

An expert’s guide to ‘baby-proofing’ your relationship

1. Be calm and tell your partner you would like to have a conversation to discuss parenting choices/expectations.

2. Once you have set the goals/intention for the conversation, communicate your expectations, make clear requests and ask your partner to let you know what his/her expectations are as well.

3. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Ask questions to clarify if you are unsure.

4. Stick to the issue you are discussing, don’t digress and bring up unrelated issues.

5. Make a plan and stick to it.

6. If you are having issues resolving issues, get help from a Conflict Coach or Relationship Mediator who can assist you resolve these disputes and sort out the conflicts that arise in daily life.

Anne-Marie Cade is a qualified lawyer and admitted solicitor, a nationally accredited mediator, and a registered family dispute resolution practitioner with a specialised interest in conflict resolution and mental health. You can find her mediation services at Mediation Online.