If your marriage is taking strain since having children, you are not alone. One of the most stressful times in a relationship is when children enter the equation, and often your bond with your partner is put on the backburner. Work your way through these steps and try put the spark back in your relationship.
Know it is normal
While social media might not show the negative side of relationships, going through a rough spot with your partner when you have a baby is absolutely normal and common. People just don’t like to speak about it. The first step to fixing the problem is trying to shed the layers of blame. Yes, you may be struggling, but don’t blame yourselves. The transition into parenthood is all kinds of rewarding, but it is filled with stressful situations and responsibilities that you didn’t have before. This applies to second children too.
One of the biggest breakdowns in a marriage can come from building resentment. This happens when you experience unhappiness or irritation and don’t let your partner know how you are feeling. These emotions build up, and eventually overwhelm you. You can end up lashing out over a small thing, with emotions coming out that have been building over time.
Being able to calmly tell your partner when something bothers you as it happens can circumvent this. Try phrasing your words in a way that is not inflammatory, “I would really appreciate more help around the house. Like last week, when you cleaned up while I was feeding, that was amazing”. In this way, instead of fighting about something that is bothering you, you are calmly suggesting an alternative that will make you happier.
This may sound basic, but do you and your partner both know what is expected of each other? Sitting down and making a list of who does what around the house and with the baby can really help your relationship grow. All of a sudden, you won’t be irritated because you have to ask your partner to do something all the time. They won’t be annoyed because you expect certain things of them without telling them.
If you both know that while you cook dinner, they bath the baby. Or while you are feeding, they are tidying the kitchen – then each of you have agreed to your responsibilities and they are fairly spread out. Take turns to sleep in on a weekend, alternate who feeds and who baths. Give each other a break on a regular basis and resentment will start being replaced with gratitude.
Make the time for each other
This can be one of the most difficult things to master, especially when your child is small, or you have more than one child. While everyone’s circumstances are different, try implementing a date night once a month. If you can’t get someone to babysit, then make sure your date night is after you have put your child to bed. Watching a movie with some popcorn or eating a nice dinner with a glass of wine can be just as good at home as going out to do it.
But more important than scheduled date nights is making time for each other every day. This can be a 10-minute chat in the kitchen while dinner is being cooked, or a catch-up call during your lunch breaks. Making the effort every day to find a moment to connect verbally will do wonders for your relationship. Try to remember that these moments don’t have to be about your children, but rather about each other. This reinforces that while you are both parents, you are also two people in a relationship with each other.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Ask some couples who have been married for years and have grown children how they managed to get through it all, you will probably get a variation of this. Letting go of the small things that bother you doesn’t mean internalising the irritation (see step 2). But it does mean that there are certain things about your partner that you may not like but can accept as it is a part of who they are. Besides, no one is perfect, and there is a very good chance your partner is also accepting things about you that they don’t like.
We are talking about shoes lying around the house, a wet towel on the floor, or clothes on top of the washing basket. Yes, these things may annoy you. But if your partner is helping you in other ways, or putting in the effort to make you happy, these small things can be overlooked for your own sanity. When something like this irritates you, try taking a deep breath and saying, “It will take me 30 seconds to hang this towel, but an argument may ruin my entire day”. If you find your partner is not overlooking your small flaws, talk to them about this step and how it will help you both.
Don’t forget the intimacy
One of the first things to take a dip in a relationship after a child comes along is intimacy. Of course, when one of you have given birth, are breastfeeding, and both of you are exhausted, sex may be the last thing on your minds. Again, that’s pretty normal. But intimacy doesn’t have to only be about sex. It is remembering to give each other a kiss hello and goodbye. It’s holding hands when you go out or draping your legs across their lap while watching TV. When those small intimate moments are alive and well, then getting back to a healthy sex life after having a child becomes a natural progression over time.