How to Keep Your Relationship Strong After Having Kids.

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong After Having Kids.
Nikki C is wearing the 'Aspire Top' in black marle and the 'Harem Pants' in stone.

My husband (Matt) and I have been together for almost seven years (itch, itch!), and we have two boys, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Both completely mad, a lot like their parents. 

I do remember fondly a time before we had our boys, a time when we leisurely arose from our bed, we casually made a hearty breakfast on Saturdays after a long week at work, neither worried about hot pans or children stealing the crunchiest, tastiest bit of bacon...oh and we could eat with both hands and nothing on our laps. Bliss. 

It was a time when we could just decide to leave the house and then two minutes later, we were driving up the driveway. No packing of diaper bags, or searching for the other ‘favourite sock.’ No poo at the last minute (child’s poo FYI), no fight to get into the carseats, no lugging of prams...we would just get up...and go...unreal. 

Don’t get me wrong, like most parents I wouldn’t change a thing, but also like most parents, the thought of having a whole day to myself and my husband without the disruption of our little ones is incredibly attractive. Just one day, every now and then...that’s all. 

Nothing can prepare you for a child...nothing...it’s a total life upheaval. Your independence, your perspectives, your body, your relationships and so much more are given an almighty shake…but it’s the relationship side of things I want to focus on in this particular Cadenshae blog. How do you keep your relationship strong after having a baby, or several kids?

According to research done by the Gottman Institute, as many as 70% of couples feel less satisfied in their relationships in the first year of parenthood. So if you’re feeling a little ‘out of sorts’ now your baby has arrived, take solace in the fact you’re not alone and this is all totally normal. 

“We can't underestimate the massive change that occurs in couples when a baby arrives," says Kathryn Denniston, Relationship Counsellor and founder of Re-Create Counselling. 

“The thing that puts the biggest pressure on a relationship is sleep deprivation. We all know we're not at our best when we’re tired, and oh boy are we tired during those first few weeks…” 

“Then later on, there tends to be differences in opinion around parenting. Often you'll find one parent takes a more laid back approach, while the other is quite structured.” 

“Also finances are a big one. Often families are going from two incomes to one, and on top of having to manage that change, babies and kids can be expensive!” 

Bec Whitley. is a mother of two (George, 4 and Sadie, 2) and has recently become a self-confessed ‘accidental mom-blogger,’ gaining some solid popularity on Instagram, particularly in New Zealand, her home country. Bec has been with her husband (Ben) for 12 years and can attest to the massive change that occurs when a child is brought into the mix. 

Bec and Ben Whitley.

“When George was born, it was a huge shock to the system. When I was pregnant I was under the illusion that this baby would come out and we would basically just get on with our lives. The baby would come with us everywhere, just chilling in his capsule whilst we resumed a somewhat normal life. That did not happen for us.” 

“I was an anxious mess. I was exhausted. I didn't know what was going on, I felt like I lost myself and that didn't make things easy for either of us.” 

“I remember missing Ben and our pre-child relationship so much, overwhelmingly so. I missed just being able to even sit in front of the T.V. for an hour or so and just hang out.” 

“I felt so lonely and resentful that my amazing relationship had been hijacked by this small and helpless person. But on the flip-side, I felt bad because it wasn't his (George's) fault. I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel and didn't know if things would ever be the same again.” 

Resentment was a common theme popping up in my discussions with both Kathryn and Bec...something I could relate to entirely. I found I was personally most resentful of my husband for not being biologically wired (like I was) to wake at every little grizzle our baby made, I was resentful of his worthless, useless nipples...and I was also resentful that the buck wouldn’t stop with him...everything was on me (because a) I was breastfeeding and b) I was the nominated stay-at-home parent). If my boys were completely unsettled and losing their mind, it was always on me to fix things if no one else could. I felt a lot of pressure. 

“Women often find themselves carrying a lot of resentment towards their partners,” says Kathryn. 

“Sometimes this is because they don't feel supported enough, sometimes it’s because their partner has expectations about what staying at home with a baby should look like, and sometimes it's just envy that their partner gets to keep the structure of their life more or less the same, while their own life has completely changed. They no longer get to leave the house and have conversations with adults! They no longer have the financial independence they may have had before.”

But something we women must remember (and perhaps something I didn’t think about during those first few months), is the fact resentment can swing both ways.

“New dads often find it really hard to work out where they fit in, in the new family. They’re all of a sudden competing for attention with a baby (who will win every time!). And on top of this, they often don't know how best to help out, as much as they may want to. A lot of new dads talk about feeling 'useless' during those early days, which isn't a great feeling for anyone,” says Kathryn. 

“Also, the lack of sex can be an issue. Mothers have often had their quota of physical contact by the time the evening rolls around. Add to that the changes that have occurred to their bodies, the lack of sleep, and the energy required to care for a helpless human - and come 7pm new moms just want to be left alone to sleep.” 

So with all that is going on, what can couples do to help nurture their relationship during this unique time?

“I think the best thing a mother (or primary caregiver) can do is to go easy on herself! Being a parent is hard. You simply won't be able to achieve everything you used to be able to - remember your body has just grown a human, and now you're busy keeping it alive. When you’re more relaxed and feeling better about yourself and your role, you’re going to be a better partner.” 

“The next really important thing is to be honest with your partner, and ask for help. Women have a tendency to be martyrs and think they have to do everything (don't get me started on the social conditioning around this!). Then, when they find they can't, or don't want to do everything - they want their partners to help out. But rather than just say so, they expect their partners to see what needs to be done and offer to help. When this doesn’t happen, they get resentful. So mothers need to start telling their partners what they need help with. That also means relinquishing a bit of control, which can be really hard too. However, if ‘Dad’ is empowered to do things his way, he’s going to feel much more capable and inclined to help out. Eventually you’ll feel as though you're operating as a team, which can only be good for any relationship,” says Kathryn. 

“And then take time for yourself. Whether that’s a walk around the block, or going back to the book club that you used to belong to etc. Again, one of the best things a mom can do to nurture her relationship is nurture herself, so she has the space and energy for her partner.” 

“In regards to what the dad (or secondary caregiver) can do...honestly just encourage your partner to sleep...the world (and therefore your relationship) is a much better place when we’re rested.” 

“Take the baby for a while in the morning or when you get home from work. Let your partner sleep in one morning at the weekend. Ask what they need - it may be time to have a quick coffee with a friend, or get their hair done. And if possible, try to be a bit more proactive...rather than waiting to be told. Everyone knows meals need to be cooked, laundry needs to be done etc. Just go ahead and do it.” 

“Also, there are little gestures you can do to let her know you're thinking of her, and see the work that she is doing. Try to be in touch during the day (while she's at home with only a baby for company), and surprise her every now and then with a magazine to read while she's feeding, or her favourite snack to nibble on (breastfeeding requires a lot of calories).” 

If a couple are really struggling though, and the advice above is not being adhered to, what else can be done?

“Biggest advice I can give to anyone struggling is to be patient,” says Bec. 

“It will all sort itself out in the end. You will find your groove again, you will all slot into your new roles and responsibilities and places and things will resume as they once were (ish). Just with the added little humans.” 

“If people offer to help so you and your partner can have even an hour to yourselves, take it. Try and make time for each other, even if it's just getting into bed together early and putting your phones down to chat. I need my time just with Ben. For us as a couple, we thrive on having adult time (not even necessarily the kinky kind). Communicate how you're feeling, share the load as much as possible so you're not resentful of one another. Be respectful of how each other is feeling in this huge transition."

“It's hard for everyone, including the father," says Bec.

Kathryn adds...

“There are lots of things you can do to work on your relationship, even with a baby at home. First of all, try to stay friends...by that I mean, talk to each other about your days, about how you're feeling, about what's easy and what isn't.” 

“Try to remain grateful - a simple 'thanks' or an acknowledgement of what you see your partner doing can go a long way. Research suggests that this is one of the first things to go when we’re tired, but it's so important for both of you.” 

“Make time for each other. It doesn't have to be a big thing, maybe just make an effort for dinner one night a week - set the table, light a candle, whatever it might be. It's like date night at home. And yes, it's entirely possible that you'll be interrupted mid-way through by a crying child, but that's okay.” 

“Keep talking to each other - the key to getting through this parenting adventure is communication. It's a cliche but it's true. Talk to each other, negotiate, and try to be open to trying things in a different way.” 

However, if you do find yourself and your partner drifting further apart, or that your communication just gets stuck in the same cycles, then reach out for help. As a couple, you might just need a few sessions with a relationship counsellor to help you communicate with each other in a way that allows both of you to feel truly heard. 

In my humble opinion, there’s not much solid communication can’t fix, so go easy on each other (and yourselves), take it day-by-day, practice gratitude and chat, chat, chat. 

Oh and always believe...with a few tweaks here and there if needed, you’ve BOTH totally got this. 

Written by Ellen Chisholm in conjunction with Relationship Counsellor Kathryn Denniston of Re-Create Counselling and ‘instafamous mom blogger,' Bec Whitley. 

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