Adding children to your family can challenge the dynamic between you and your partner, bringing you closer together or putting your relationship to the test. Amongst the endless to-do lists, it can be difficult to focus on supporting a relationship, as well as young children. Fortunately, there are many ways to help reconnect with your partner after you become parents – and keep the spark alive – while navigating the craziness of family life.
The early years of parenting are one of the most challenging times for couples. Pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period can all create problems within a relationship. The sleep deprivation, day-to-day care of a small child, work, cooking and endless cleaning will most likely leave you time-poor and exhausted. Postnatal depression might also be in the mix, adjustments with in-laws – the list of challenges can be endless. It’s unsurprising that research from the Gottman Institute found that two-thirds of marriages experience a decline in happiness in the first three years after having a baby.
Children and their effect on a relationship or marriage
Having children is one of the biggest periods of change a couple will ever experience and this reverberates throughout extended family and even into workplaces. When one or both parents return to work, difficulties can arise as they juggle their roles and adjust to their new identity as a parent. At this stage, couples really get to test their philosophies about family life, how well they prepared themselves for it, and how open they are to compromise.
In heterosexual relationships, traditional gender roles can consciously and unconsciously come into play. Women can find themselves overloaded with housework and childcare when they had pictured a more equitable division of labour. If their partner is breastfeeding, men can feel unsure how to participate and can quickly accept that being the breadwinner is the best or perhaps only effective way they can contribute – even if this isn’t the case. If this mindset remains unchallenged, it can drift on and shape family life in the longer term.
Couples can also feel so in love with or captivated by their little ones that they put their relationship on hold and tell themselves this is fine. This can flow into months or even years without date nights, a sex life, or sleeping in the same bed. Issues and resentments can get parked when they should be aired and resolved. You can tell yourselves things will be better when the kids are older, or when they start school, but if you have more than one child, this could mean issues are unaddressed for many years.
Tips on reconnecting with your partner after kids
Re-establishing your connection with your partner after having kids will take time, love and energy, but the benefits will make it worthwhile.
Parenthood comes with stress, especially in the early stages. A lack of sleep, hormones, crazy schedules and endless errands can lead to snippy and passive-aggressive comments. Forgiveness, compassion and understanding are key to overcoming these moments.
Nourish your relationship by making time together
Although it may be easier said than done, don’t make everything about parenting. You need to have time where you connect back with why you are together, and what is special and different about your relationship. Time together might be as simple as a date night on the couch once a week. As long as you use that time to talk about anything but the children, it will be a good anchor in your relationship.
Respect each other in your new roles
Checking in regularly about learning, insights, different ideas and approaches to parenting is a healthy part of building your parenting skills together. Try and stay flexible and offer each other ideas for consideration rather than rules to be followed.
One parent might have more knowledge about what works for the kids due to the role they play with them. It is important to be respectful of that information for the good of the children’s routine. However, the knowledge bearer must allow the other parent to find their own parenting style and approach as well. Perhaps new insights and ideas will be raised that could be useful all around. Kids are quite adaptive as long as they are not getting contradictory messages or see a power struggle between their parents.
Talk about issues as they arise
Don’t put off talking about the things you’ve been ruminating on. Address issues as soon as possible, or as soon as a screaming baby allows. Be gentle with each other as when you are tired and overwhelmed, you might not communicate effectively. This can lead to blame and accusations rather than more productive discussion.
Wait until you can find time alone, check it is a good time for you both, and start with what you hope for and need to be different.
Focus on self-care as well
Often self-care is the last thing on the list for busy parents. Kids and work are first priority, followed by the relationship, then self-care is very a distant fourth. However, if you put aside a bit of time for yourself, you will do better in all other areas. Staying in touch with friends, having a long bath or a quick trip to the gym are all time-efficient ways that could make a substantial difference to your morale.
Get help if needed
This is a time when friends and family will be willing to help, so reach out. A reliable babysitter is also important to build into your resources. If you are struggling, then consider couples counselling with a well-trained relationship therapist.