Making the life change from partners to parents is an exciting, beautiful, and wonderful experience. However, it is also stressful, full of worry, and down right exhausting. Let’s face it, no one operates at their best under those conditions. And this particular combination will put new and more difficult strains on your relationship than you have ever faced before.
The harsh truth, and you know I will keep it real, is that keeping your partnership afloat after babies is hard work. It takes time and energy; two things no one is really basking in right now. But it can be done. Plus, the work you put in will pay off in dividends and it gets easier and more natural over time. The last thing you want growing is a chasm that will grow vast and leave you resenting one another. Putting in the work and spending the energy on your partnership will reinforce your foundation so that you can grow together through time. Or as my husband likes to say, so he can continue to annoy me forever.
Prioritizing Doesn’t Mean You Need Over The Top Date Nights or Romantic Getaways
Let me just nip this idea in the bud now. You don’t need grand gestures, getaways, or long elaborate nights out to work on prioritizing your relationship as a couple. When our first was born we had no family nearby, so dropping babes off with the Grandparents to get some quality alone time wasn’t a viable option for us. I remember feeling really jealous of other’s support systems during this time in particular, especially as I was battling with postpartum anxiety which made the idea of leaving my child alone with anyone insurmountable.
There are a number of ways you can work on your relationship without having an elaborate support system in place. We went through this rough season of life before and learned a lot along the way. My goal is to share what worked for us and what we did well in hopes it encourages you that it is possible to keep your partnership strong during this trying phase.
Learning To Communicate
There is so much change happening right now. While you are both going through it together, you and your partner are probably experiencing it in vastly different ways. It is important that you understand each other’s perspectives and challenges in order to be able to work through them together.
When my second, Cole, came along, it felt like my body was a revolving door for both him and my toddler, Porter. It seemed like I was constantly nursing nursing Cole and the second I could get a moment to myself, Porter would want to sit on my lap, or mount me to get his body as close to me as possible. The boy was just missing his Mama and he needed all the snuggles! But at the same time, it left me physically tapped out for my husband. I really just needed my space. To Chris, it may have seemed like I wasn’t attracted to him. This could not be further from the truth! I love my husband and am ridiculously attracted to him, but I literally could not take one more living thing needing my physical form. If I didn’t learn how to communicate what I was feeling he would feel like there was something wrong with him.
Before baby came along, of course there were still all the household duties. But never did all of these things feel like they needed to be done so quickly. Procrastination doesn’t work well when you have an infant (running out of clean onesies or burp cloths is not fun). It can be easy to feel like you are getting into a tit-for-tat or talley situation with your partner. Instead of storming around folding said laundry, find how to best communicate what you need from your partner during this time (help with the extra laundry, dishes, picking up at night etc) and just remember if you feel like you are doing 90% of the work, your partner probably does too. Though you may feel like you shouldn’t have to thank your partner for completing a task, don’t forget to acknowledge each other’s efforts and celebrate the successes together.
So, How Do You Keep Sex Alive?
All women go through this phase differently. For some, you may never feel a shift in your own sexual energy. For others, it may be literally the furthest thing from your mind right now and could stay that way for a while. When I had my first, it took me a really long time to form a physical connection again. Honestly, my first experience into motherhood was a slow, difficult process for me. I can’t thank Chris enough for being so patient and understanding during this time, but it was really hard on him too.
It’s important for you to both be open and honest about how you are feeling. For me personally, I cannot have a physical connection if I don’t feel supported and seen by my partner. In those early days as a new mom I was also really bad at asking for help. These two realities really didn’t jive together. I grew resentful of his role as the father and I saw every touch or kiss as him wanting something from me instead of him offering love and assurance. Once I got better at communicating it helped Chris understand my new strange reality of sharing my entire body, mind, and soul with an infant, and our relationship improved.
It wasn’t until each of the boys moved into their own rooms and we had our space back to ourselves that things began to normalize. And even then it may never be the same frequency as before, but that’s okay, you will find your new groove together. It is important to stay connected to your partner during this time so even if you don’t feel like having sex right now, start with physical touch and kissing without the expectation of it leading anywhere else and work up to it when you’re ready.
Look For Humor and Focus On The Positive
I vividly remember one tumultuous night trying to get the boys down, Chris was with Cole and I was with Porter, and we were both at our wits end by the end of the day. Somehow we simultaneously left their respective rooms at the same time, closed the door, and heard an obscene amount of crying start the second the latch hooked. We just took each other in for a moment: Chris was covered in spit up and I looked like a haggard witch; we each made a face of exacerbation, laughed, hugged it out, and stormed back into the war zone together.
Tough days are ahead but there is always room to find joy. In the early days of adjusting as a family of four, we would high five after successful trips the grocery store. Count every single win, no matter how small you may think it is. Each and every one of these experiences helps bind you as a unit. If you journal, write them down! For me, its snapping a picture. I like to remember all the crazy times and reminisce over them together (like our very first complete blow out: Target, August 2019). You are not alone in this, even if sometimes it may feel like it. Share your stories, find the humor, and focus on the positive.
Having Date Nights In or Out Once in a While
Never forget to date your spouse. This may seem like an obvious one, but date nights can easily be the first thing to go in lieu of to-do lists and chores. Let me tell you that it can wait. Keeping your relationship with your partner a priority will require you to de-prioritize certain things. Find a cadence that works for you (biweekly, monthly, quarterly etc) and even opt for some day dates (like lunch, going for a walk, getting a pedicure together) if your schedules allow.
Right now, our babes’ bedtimes are at 7:00. I know for some that may seem early but both boys are early risers and this allows us to have time together as a couple. This can be time on the couch to decompress together or enjoying a glass of wine while rocking on the porch. Sometimes, however, we will make it extra special with an in home date night.
Sometimes just the act of eating somewhere besides your kitchen table can help you mentally detach from the household and its impending duties (nothing like toys thrown about or a few dishes in your sink to fixate on and ruin the mood). When the weather is nice we will eat dinner on our back porch and turn on the lights for atmosphere. Recently, we ordered a nice meal for delivery and set the porch table extra fancy to uplevel our night in. It was perfect date night and it required no babysitter, no cooking, and no drive time!
Showing Appreciation and Acknowledge Each Other’s Efforts
While date nights are a great way to have that intimate time together, you can also prioritize your partner every day with small acts. If you don’t know your or your partner’s love language, it is a great time to learn that! My primary love language is Acts of Service and Chris’s is Physical Touch. So for us, I will give kisses hello and goodbye, hold hands, and give hugs and Chris will help do things like make my coffee, make dinner, and rub my feet after a long day. A partner who is primarily Words of Affirmation may love seeing little notes left for them, an appreciation post on social media, or a compliment on a job well done. One whose language is Gift Giving may love it when you bring home their favorite dessert, buying them something they have wanted for a while, or perhaps making them a special handmade card. Once you better understand how your partner receives love it can be easier to incorporate small things in the day to show you appreciate them.
Recently, Porter woke up at 3am with a wail of a cry that woke both of us up from bed. He was super upset (we think it was a nightmare) and he couldn’t find Bunny in the crib to help sooth him so I went in to try to calm him down. I attempted to rock him back to sleep but every time I tried to put him back down in his crib he would scream at the top of his lungs. So I opted to lay on the floor with my arm through the crib slats stroking his back for eternity or until he fell asleep, whichever came first. While I was trying to get comfortable I saw a light from the door and Chris silently crept in with a blanket. He laid down on the floor (as the big spoon) and covered us both up so we could maybe get a wink of sleep. Even though he didn’t say a word, his actions said that he saw me, he appreciates and acknowledges my efforts, and that we are in this together.
Life will have many seasons. During this one in particular, it may be really difficult to find a way to show your partner appreciation. You are often tired, maybe not feeling your best, and the days seem really really long. My recommendation is to focus on simple ways you can prioritize your partnership as a new parent or when your babes are still young. They’re only this young once! Keeping your partnership a priority now will help continue to strengthen your bond so you can continue to enjoy all the grand things again once the season gets a little lighter.