Having a baby is certainly a 24/7 job. Between feeds, settling, nappy changes, outfit changes, managing visitors, and running a house there is very little time for anything else – even sleep! One thing that is often very hard to keep up is your relationship and continuing to make time as a couple.
Not only are you time-poor, but when a baby comes along there are significant ‘identity’ shifts and role changes within the relationship. An obvious example being the shift from solely being a ‘partner’ to becoming a ‘parent’. And, with any such identity and role shift, comes a resultant shift in the dynamics of your relationship.
Where previously, conversations may have typically been around “how was your day” or exciting plans for the future, conversations now centre on feeding, burping, changing, or the logistics of pick-ups and drop-offs. As such, your conversations may start to feel more like a business meeting than a meeting of two people in love.
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Having a baby can also be a couple’s first real “challenge”. That feeling of being utterly overwhelmed as you learn how to parent, coupled with chronic sleep deprivation, may really test your relationship. It is not uncommon for couples to fight and argue when they are under this intense pressure. Often it can be hard for couples to come together as they bear the weight of this pressure quite differently.
For mothers, often they feel the pressure of parenthood more acutely than the dad. For example, they may feel entirely responsible for feeding and nurturing, and if they are staying at home, may feel socially disconnected from the world and lonely. In turn, seeing their partner as still having “freedom” and the “luxury” of heading out the door to work, where they get to have “real” conversations!
Men, on the other hand, if in this more stereotypical situation, may feel intense pressure to keep the family running financially, and work out how they fit into the picture. The upshot of this is that as a couple, you can start to feel very disconnected.
And of course, the freedom to work on your relationship or do things together changes entirely once you have a baby. You cannot just decide on a whim to go out for drinks or dinner. Spur of the moment certainly flies out the window with a baby. And without the ability to be spontaneous, it can become even harder to make time for your relationship.
Finally, with all the demands of a baby, you may simply feel like you do not have the energy to work on your relationship – it just seems too hard. No matter how hard it seems though, it is really important to continue to work on your relationship. A healthy relationship is not only good for psychological health and wellbeing, but also important for a happy family unit.
Coming together with your partner can also make the experience of parenthood a lot more enjoyable. So, this being said, here are some of the simple ways you can continue to work on your relationship:
For fear of sounding like a cliché psychologist, keeping open communication is one of the most important things you can do for your relationship. Be open and up front with your partner about how you are feeling. Often couples struggle in silence in the early days, for fear of letting their partner know how hard they are finding it. Being open and talking about how you feel, or even your concerns for your relationship, can do wonders.
TOP-TIP: When talking with your partner, it is always best to say how you are feeling, or how you are struggling, rather than coming to them and complaining about what they are doing. If you need to discuss something that is upsetting you, doing this in a calm, non-aggressive manner leads to far better outcomes than yelling about what you are struggling with. If you need your partner to change certain ways of doing things, highlight calmly how you think things could improve – never sound like you are attacking them. Remember, everyone needs to learn how to be a parent!
Make time for a date-night
If you are able to, once your baby is in some sort of routine, it is a great idea to plan a date-night. Even if it is a quick 1-hour coffee-date. Making time for a date outside of the home once every 2-4 weeks can really help your relationship.
TOP-TIP: If you are worried about someone else settling your baby, you could ask them to walk your baby in the pram or take them for a drive while you have a date. Sometimes it is about being creative in the early days, just to make things work!
Have a date-night at home
Not all dates need to be outside of the home! Making special time for your partner at home can be just as good. You just want to make sure you turn off your phones/TVs etc so you are mindfully engaged in the date – just as you would be if you were out. Again, creativity is good here! Consider how you could make it just as fun at home.
Plan meals together
One thing that certainly goes in the early days is eating together. Almost always, your baby will decide they need to be fed right as dinner is served! If and when you can, planning to eat one meal together per day is a great way to sit and connect. In these moments, try not to chat about the baby but rather ask about each other’s day – or keep those conversations going about plans for the future!
Make weekends special
When you are bombarded with visitors coming to meet the baby, it is a good idea to have one day each weekend that is just for the family. You may want to plan fun activities outside of the home (just as you used to!) or just keep it simple at home. Having an entire day without visitors can be really important for your relationship.
Mix it up in the evenings
Often you can get into a routine where your partner gets home from work and you both get straight into the evening tasks. At times, mixing up the evenings can do wonders for your relationship. For example, if the weather permits, going for a family walk can be a time of meaningful engagement (the washing can wait!).
However you want to work on your relationship, it is important that you do. Find what works best for you and your partner – and keep it up. The investment in your relationship is not only good for you, but it is good for the entire family unit.
Also remind yourself that this is not forever, one day you will get your ‘life back’ (in a way!) and I’m sure you’ll want your partner with you when that day comes. It is just about managing these harder times and working in your relationship, so that you will end up there together.