Worried how kids will impact your relationship? Continue reading for tips to ensure your bond says strong.
We’ve all seen that moment in a film where the fully sexed and fresh-faced newlyweds swan off into the sunset to start their new ‘chapter’. Bleary eyed exhausted parents may sob with nostalgia when the credits role up, desperately missing this dreamy carefree life of few interruptions – “enjoy it whilst it lasts”, they bawl with cynicism and envy….
Whilst starting a family is an incredibly special and beautiful experience, having a child can also be exhausting, exacerbating, and worrisome…not a great combination for any relationship. You typically have less money, less sleep, and less sex; couple time becomes family time, and domestic duties double, as does your arguing. And with hormones, expectations and patience raging off course, your relationship can quickly decline. It is easy to become more distant and to approach your relationship like a business transaction, trying to keep lives, schedules and finances on track. A common pattern emerges; one parent stays at home with the children whilst the other is out earning. Feelings of guilt, frustration and resentment can result for both parents. You may adopt different (and conflicting) parenting styles. You may feel more connected to your baby than your partner. New mothers may feel isolated socially and suffer from post natal depression, whereas new fathers may feel pushed to the side and financially pressurized. Both identities change.
While this all sounds TERRIFYING to anyone embarking on family life, a lot of the classic pitfalls CAN be avoided. Keeping the spark alive in any relationship takes time and energy, two things you are fully deprived of post baby! So how can you make it work for you?
The first thing is to be realistic. With a new, and permanent addition to your life, the dynamic between you and your partner will change. And that is OK! Accepting that things will be different and embracing all the craziness that comes with this new phase is very important.
Laura Mucha, author of ‘Love Understood: The Science of Who, How & Why We Love’ believes that “having realistic expectations and taking the long-term view, remaining committed during what can be a very sleep deprived, mundane and unromantic period in a relationship, can make you more likely to come out the other side with your relationship in tact”. In her book she explores the sort of love that makes long-term relationships last, which psychologists agree is closer to friendship than passionate love. “Research suggests that, on the whole, lust fades, particularly during early parenthood…but there are lots of things you can do to improve it!” says Mucha.
You are both experiencing a rite of passage. In some cultures this is celebrated uniquely and supported fully by the community. But for many couples in individualized societies, the support is limited. Create your own community, be connected, and share your experiences! Communication is extremely important, as is seeking help when things get too much. There are numerous options for parental support, from childcare and counseling, to the simple emotional refresh after meeting up with old friends or post natal groups where you can share similar experiences.
Putting you and your relationship first is key. Sex and relationship specialist, Esther Perel, believes you should “give yourself permission” to connect with yourself and with your partner. A happy and fulfilled parent has positive vibes on the rest of the family. Finding a way to inject outside input into your life routine will help you and your partner to feel like yourselves. She encourages couples to have a night out every two months and to ‘get back in touch with your aliveness’. Even an hour drink with someone in the neighborhood at the end of the day – take it in turns. And “Date night. When you’re exhausted? Have LUNCH.,” advocates Perel. Go and have coffee with your partner when you are actually awake, alive and have energy to think!
Perel also flips the idea of childcare on its head. If you are able to hire someone, she insists “Then childcare is for YOU, not the kids”. Having someone to be a ‘parental assistant’ that will allow you to spend quality time with your children whilst they do the housework. Making sure you have time for yourself, and that you can ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ (or if you have childcare then at a time that suits you), and that you eat well and stay hydrated are simple things that make a large impact on your mood and capacity for coping with the demands of family life.
“Parenthood: Even when it’s hell, it’s heaven” -unknown