Amongst the endless to-do lists, it can be difficult to focus on supporting a relationship as well as young children. Here are seven tips to help you reconnect with your partner – and keep the spark alive – while navigating the craziness of family life.
A time of transition and change
In heterosexual relationships, gender stereotypes can also come up, consciously and unconsciously. Women can find themselves caught in housework and childcare when they thought it would be more shared. If their partner is breastfeeding, men can feel unsure how to participate when it seems like a big part of the equation, 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 feel so in love with or captivated by their little ones that they put their relationship on hold and tell themselves this is fine; indeed it goes with being “responsible parents”. 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
Everything goes better if you are connected and on the same page
Checking in regularly about learning and insights, different ideas and approaches is healthy and part of building a bank of tools together to get you through.
Rarely does one thing work every time with children. Offering ideas for consideration rather than rules to be followed will also go better.
Children need routine but can also cope with different styles
It is good to have a stable routine for the day that works for you. However, you shouldn’t have to be a slave to it.
You can also be different to each other and that is ok, as long as these differences reflect personality and style rather than things that openly undermine the other parent or the agreements you have made together.
Nourish the uniqueness of your relationship
Don’t make everything now about parenting. You need to have time where you connect back with why you are together, and what is special and different about those aspects of your relationship.
You might make a date night on the couch once a week for an hour, but as long as you use that time well to talk about “us” then it could be a good anchor in a busy week.
Many roads to the same point
One parent might have more knowledge about what works for the kids due to the role she or he plays with them. It is important to be respectful of that information and to largely fit in with it for the good of the children’s routine.
However, the knowledge bearer must also be careful to let the other parent find their own style and approach as well. Perhaps that will raise new insights and ideas that can be useful all round. Kids are quite adaptive as long as they are not getting contradictory messages or see that this is really about a battle between parents.
Talk about issues as they arise
Don’t use date night to do that, unless you have a good history of talking things through productively. Don’t put it off if you are ruminating or talking to friends about it. When you are tired and overwhelmed, and may have a screaming child in your arms, you might not be at your best. This can lead to blame and accusations rather than more productive discussion.
Wait until you can grab time alone, check it is a good time for you both, and start with what you hope for and need to be different. For example: “I want us to be closer as a couple. I’m feeling very distant after this morning’s conversation, and I’d like to repair it…”
Focus on self-care as well
Often this is the last thing on the list of busy parents, with kids and work tied for priority one, then their couple relationship, then self-care a distant fourth.
However, if you address 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 but could make a big 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 couple counselling with a well-trained relationship therapist.
Don’t put things down to “everyone is a bit distant with small children”. If one or both of you are worried, the investment now could be shoring up the relationship for the challenges yet to come.