Why is my husband / wife / partner driving me crazy when my baby is in the NICU?

Four photos - black NICU mom upset with black NICU dad, black gay dads upset with each other, caucasian NICU dad upset with white NICU mom, white NICU mom upset with white NICU dad, plus the text: Written by Trish Ringley, RN, BSN, NICU nurse & NICU parent advocate since 1997

It just sucks when the NICU is even harder than it seems like it should be. Am I right?

It’s hard enough to have a baby in the hospital. The worry, confusion, and sadness are overwhelming already. 

But then to find that you’re struggling in your relationship? It can feel awful.

In times of struggle and stress, it's natural to hope that our partners will be our greatest source of comfort and our best friend through the experience. 

But sometimes, partnerships can struggle under the stress of the NICU experience. 

Why is this?

You and your partner had different upbringings & different experiences throughout your life. You had different childhood experiences, parenting experiences, school experiences, and so forth. You have different personalities, hopes, dreams, expectations, abilities and more.

It’s completely, 100% normal for you and your partner to experience this stressful event differently. 

Regardless of how serious your baby’s condition is, you and your partner are going to go through different emotions, have different expectations, have different coping skills, and so forth. 

Try not to let that difference scare you or upset you.

Because it’s really, really common to find that partners have differences that make this NICU journey tough.

For example, some people absolutely hate hospitals, for whatever reason, and that makes it very hard for that person to deal with a baby in the NICU. If your partner has any lingering bad feelings about hospitals, it will be very hard for them to have the same attitude about spending time with your baby as you do.

Some partners feel they have to appear strong, and “being strong” looks completely different to everyone. So a partner may be behaving a certain way that’s bugging you - maybe they’re bottling up all their emotions, or not reaching out to friends or family for help. 

It’s normal for some people to feel afraid to bond with a baby, even under normal circumstances. So it can feel impossible when the baby is in the hospital.  Maybe this shows up when your partner doesn’t want to buy baby clothes yet but you do. Or maybe YOU are the one who doesn’t feel comfortable bonding and your partner is driving you crazy by pushing you to do things you don’t want to do.

The bottom line is that differences are inevitable.

And if differences become problems, it’s time to talk.

Because if your partner is doing anything that bothers you or worries you or annoys you, the best way for it to get better is to talk. And ask. And listen.

Remember to come from a place of love and trust. Reflect back on the times you two have been happiest and strongest together, and know that with love and time you can get back there. 

It will require loving honest communication. Safe and open communication.

Keep in mind - you both care deeply about your baby. It will feel different to each of you, but you both love your baby. And you love each other. 

So with kindness and patience, compassion and understanding - talk about how you’re feeling and find ways to support each other. 

If there have been struggles in your relationship before the NICU, it’s possible that this experience will make them even harder. 

And even if everything seemed smooth and easy before, this new stress may bring out some new and difficult challenges. 

Know that it’s very healthy to seek out help from a therapist if your relationship is suffering. You don’t need to wait until the baby is home from the NICU - you can get help any time. Right now. 

If you don’t already have a marriage / family therapist, now’s an excellent time to find one and get a little help.

Most importantly, please don’t be alarmed if this is a strain on your relationship. Try to focus on your love, your common joys, your strengths, and then communicate with one another about it. Your relationship and your baby will benefit from the attention you give to each other right now.