Finding 'Us' Again After Having a Baby
by Susan Miller, BScN
Babies bring incredible joy and a lot of extra work. The love between you and your partner may deepen and grow with the arrival of your first baby, but all too often couples find that they have somehow lost each other in the shadow of their new parenting responsibilities. Time becomes precious, and your adorable baby seems to need you most of the time. It is simply not possible to do everything you need to do and still have time left over for yourself and each other.
The year after the birth of a first child is a stressful time for many relationships. Most couples report a decrease in the comfort of their relationship, and typically sex takes a back seat during the first few weeks or months after baby’s arrival. It is crucial to discuss even small problems as they arise, because if one partner is not feeling heard, supported or appreciated, resentment is bound to develop. Happy family life and an intimate couple relationship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of resentment.
To help family life run smoothly it is necessary to prioritize. As each of you becomes more comfortable in your parenting role and added responsibilities, you will have more time and energy to put into re-establishing a satisfying intimate relationship with your partner. Maintaining a secure and loving relationship with your partner is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your child. Here are some strategies that couples have used to help them to rediscover the “us” in their busy lives as new parents.
Spend Time Together
Meeting the demands of job, household and a new baby leaves little time for the couple. Your relationship is bound to suffer if there is no contact with your partner beyond household chores and your children’s activities. Make time to be alone with your partner to enjoy activities together.
When you have a baby, it is often not practical to go out for an entire evening. Instead, treat yourselves and order food in or make something special for dinner. Don’t forget the candles and music! Make a date and a commitment with your partner that this Friday night you will have a romantic dinner together. Turn off the telephone, TV and computer! Of course baby may interrupt at just the wrong time. A sense of humour and a good measure of flexibility also comes in handy.
Developing a routine of “together time” is an excellent strategy for the future. As baby gets older you can book a sitter for one night a week, or swap sitting with another family. If you and your partner commit to a special evening together once a week, you will be less likely to fall into the “we never have the time to go out” attitude.
Plan a Romantic Getaway
Getting away for a romantic weekend or overnight trip can be a wonderful tonic for a sagging sex life. It will seem strange at first to be without your baby, and it will take a little while to relax and forget other responsibilities. It is often hard for partners to shift from their mother and father roles back to their sensual lovers’ roles. If this feels a bit contrived or awkward at first, don’t worry, this is normal; just have a laugh and move forward. As one woman put it, “Our relationship had changed so much since we became parents. Now my husband was making love to somebody’s mother!” Couples need to re-discover each other as individuals even though they are now also parents.
Pay Extra Attention to Your Partner
It’s easy to get swept up in the parenting role and other aspects of life that seem to demand all your time and energy. Under these circumstances it is not uncommon to take your partner and their contributions for granted. Recognizing this dynamic is an important first step—acting on it is the second step. You might tell you partner “You must feel neglected because I’m so focused on the baby” or “I’d like us to spend more time together.” Just saying the words can make both of you feel more appreciated and in touch. Recently a new mother confessed that her husband said, “Even the dog comes before me.” It’s a good idea to have regular conversations with your partner about how you both are feeling during the early parenting season of your lives. Don’t assume that you know how your partner feels or that your partner can read your mind either.
Let Dad Be Dad
Mothers typically are the primary caregivers to infants, and so they develop skills more quickly than their partners. This reality makes it difficult for fathers to develop confidence in their parenting role, especially in the first few months. There is a tendency for the woman to become “the mother expert” on the child and related tasks. This gives Dad little room to develop and practice his skills. Parenting is a series of trial and error experiences that eventually become instinctive. Dad needs opportunities to learn too. Allowing Dad to become competent with your child is the best way to get him more involved. It is easy to find fault, but even small criticisms will really dampen Dad’s enthusiasm. Look for the good points instead. It doesn’t matter to the baby if the diaper is on backwards, or that the outfit clashes. What matters is that she has been held and handled and talked to in a loving way as she was being dressed. The more your partner is involved in parenting, the more fun you will have together. This is another way you build intimacy into your relationship.
Be a Best Friend to Your Partner
Relationships that prosper through the good and the bad times have what is referred to as emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent partners have learned to keep the negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overwhelming the positive ones. Simply put this means that they make an effort to be kind, to focus on their partner’s positive attributes, and to pay attention to each other in their everyday interactions. An easy way to practice this is to ask yourself “How would I relate to my best friend in this situation?” or “What gesture can I make to show that I care?” Couples who have a fulfilling relationship are not only lovers; they are also best friends. When hard times crop up, the love, respect and commitment that has grown in your relationship will help to sustain both of you through a crisis.
Susan Miller R.N. BScN is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor. She works with prenatal and post-natal families in the Greater Victoria area and is now the proud grandmother of Meredith born July 2008.