No matter how you do it, going from coupledom to a trio by adding a tiny human into the mix changes the relationship dynamic. It’s wild, wonderful, overwhelming, full of excitement and exhilaration. But you’re short on time, sleep deprived, anxious and the person you love and decided to make a new life with can suddenly seem more irritating than you remember. Of course, you knew that parenthood could turn your rock-solid relationship on it’s head but you didn’t think it would rock things quite so dramatically. So how do you deal with the relationship issues you face after having kids? And how do you get your relationship back on track?
The truth is the things you need most to tend to your relationship after having kids are the things you have least of – time and energy. The good news? Working on your coupledom and dealing with any relationship issues thrown up by having kids really pays off. But how do you do it? When you’re time poor and your energy stores are more than depleted it’s all too easy to opt for an early night over tending to your relationship. In the long run though, the investment is so worth it. Here are our top tips for dealing with the daily relationship issues so you can help let a little more love in.
List and divide household tasks
This is, unsurprisingly, a big one and we can practically hear you nodding from here. Mothers in heterosexual relationships are reportedly less happy in their relationships. They find they’re carrying most of the load when it comes to household and childcare. Yeah, there might have been washing and dishes and other boring chores to do before the baby came along. But when they did, the mundane household tasks multiplied exponentially. For such a tiny person they sure do seem to make a hell of a mess. And that’s before all your dishes and washing and dust is added in. Everything suddenly needs to be done so quickly, because you’ve got to squeeze it in while the baby is napping. They think you’re not pulling your weight. You think they’re not pulling theirs. Bickering ensues.
One strategy to decrease fighting: Post a list of daily jobs to be done somewhere for everyone to see and switch responsibilities each week. Everyone will know what they need to do. Don’t underestimate the power of saying thank you to each other either. Even if you feel like you’re not being thanked enough, saying it to your partner is a really good way to foster a less heated atmosphere.
And if you feel like you’re doing more than your fair share, discuss it. Ask for help in a direct way. Try not to stomp about angrily doing the jobs you feel like you should be getting a hand with (we’ve all been there right?).
Pick an activity critical for your sanity
Caring for kids is all consuming. If you find any moments when you’re not looking after them or doing the aforementioned chores, you’ll probably be thinking about the jobs you’ve been putting off for weeks or months. But time for yourself is crucial if you want to maintain your mental health. Pick one activity you cannot do without. One thing that will be beneficial for your sanity. Then protect it like it’s your first born. Whether it’s a weekly yoga class, one early night a week to read that book that’s been on your Kindle for months, or a night playing football with your mates, assert yourself. Telling your partner what you need and asking them to hold the fort while you get it is one of the best ways to take care of relationship issues. Time away gives you chance to reboot and reset.
Be realistic though – you’re probably not going to be able to do much beyond parenting for the first three months and after that, the three hour bike rides and long, lazy, boozy brunches of yore are unlikely to make an immediate comeback. But snatches of time away from being a parent go a long way to helping you be you for a while.
Even if you’re together all the time, having a three month old limpet changes the dynamic of your together time. Date nights have become a bit of a cliche but they’re billed as a cure all for relationship issues for a reason. They don’t cure everything but they go a long way. Find time once a month to be together, even if it seems impossible in your already packed schedule. When you’ve got small children, it’s easy for the couple that you are to get lost.
Reconnecting away from the stresses and strain of family life is crucial. Remind each other why you like each other. Remember why you decided to embark on this journey together. Try to talk about things that aren’t the kids. If staying awake is a struggle (solidarity), try a date afternoon on the weekend. If one of you is working, see if there’s a way to pull in some flexible working so you can steal a couple of hours together in the week.
An additional strand to this is planning and scheduling brief ‘meetings’ where you can bring up house and family stuff. You might chat about upcoming appointments or discuss which windows you’re going to buy and then you might have cake together to make the whole thing seem less grown up.
Maintaining a sexual connection is important
Psychotherapist Esther Perel describes having a child as a “complete reorganisation of the structure of your life,” and that includes your sex life. While those who’ve given birth might be given the go ahead to have sex six weeks after labour, many aren’t emotionally ready. It takes time. Your body has changes as well as your life. But staying intimately and sexually connected with your partner is important. Perel adds: “On the long list of what your kids need, making sure the couple remains intimately connected remains very high. There’s nothing holding a family together except the contentment of the couple.”
While you’d quite often prefer to get an early night than get it on, sex is a key part of a relationship. Getting back into the swing of things after the upheaval of having a baby can feel intimidating but it’s worth it. People joke about scheduling sex – but when in dating days, you essentially did just that. You’d get ready for a date and think about it beforehand. So why can’t you do the same, just because you’re in a relationship?
Make sure your bedroom is baby free (and that includes baby toys – nothing kills the mood faster than a toy that bursts out a rendition of Old Macdonald) and spend a little time getting reacquainted. Perel also recommends broadening your erotic interests outside of penetrative sex and experimenting with new erogenous zones.
Differing parenting styles
Even if you’ve discussed how you might parent before your baby is born, facing the reality can be very different. Some parents find that the way they actually care for little ones can be polar opposites. While one parent might reach for a dummy to ease a fussy babe, another may be firmly in the no camp. This can be a really big cause of conflict and a huge cause of relationship issues. There are places you can compromise and places where there is no wriggle room. It can be really easy for one parent to position themselves as the ‘expert’ which can undermine the other’s confidence, especially if one party spends more time with the little one. According to sociologists, some mothers view themselves as the ‘superior parent’ and engage in a practice known as ‘maternal gatekeeping’ where they micromanage their spouses’ interactions with their children. In real terms? They nitpick.
Speaking to New York Times, Dr. Leah Ruppanner, a sociologist at the University of Melbourne who specialises in family and gender explains that if mothers want child care to be divided fairly, they have to let fathers do things their own way, even if it’s not your way. She explains: “You’re letting them learn how to respond to the kids,” Ruppanner said. “They learn how to do it. It’s not astrophysics.”
As with all things, communication is key here. Discussing each other’s views and trying to come to a joint approach can work well, and remembering that while you may have different ways of looking after your baby, doing things differently doesn’t mean that one way is right or wrong.
Remember you’re a team
Ultimately, the thing to remember is that you’re a team. At the end of the day when the baby is in bed and you flop down on the sofa next to each other, one of you covered in milk, the other splattered with spit-up, there’s someone next to you whose hand you can grab onto, a port in the storm. Keep talking. Find laughter where you can. Take time to adjust to the new life you’re building together. Look to the horizon where your kids are happy and grown.
It’s true what they say. The days are long but the years are short. Keep truckin’.