If your relationship has gone into free fall after the arrival of your baby, here’s how to get it back on track…
While your baby’s arrival is greeted with excitement, there’s no doubt that your life will never be the same again – you and your partner are now a family overnight. While you were warned about the exhaustion of caring for a tiny human, you probably didn’t anticipate just how much of your time and energy your baby would require, which can leave you – and your relationship – feeling depleted.
Consider this expert advice about common post-baby couple issues to help you rediscover the “we” in three:
Keeping score of chores
After a day of caring for a niggly baby, you’re dead on your feet, washing dishes, while he’s on the couch, watching TV. This fills you with resentment, as you dream of a hot bath and some much-needed shut-eye.
Communicate, says Dr Elmari Mulder Craig, president of the Southern African Sexual Health Association and a certified sexologist and relationship therapist. It’s important to verbalise exactly what you’d like and ask him to step up. Dads need to understand that moms require more support now than ever before. Your partner needs to demonstrate that you’re in this together by being attentive and helping with practical things, such as cooking, washing the dishes or bathing your baby – even after a rough day at the office. Decide who is responsible for which chores and take turns doing night feeds (if you’re breastfeeding, you can express before going to sleep and he can do the midnight run with a bottle). Make sure you both get a break by accepting help from friends and family.
The sleep wars
You’re annoyed because you’re doing the 2am feed and, once again, he’s off the hook – blissfully unconscious in dreamland. Sleep deprivation is heightening your emotions further, and all you can think is, “What about me?”
It’s common for relationships to be pushed to the limits after the arrival of a baby
The arrival of a baby heralds a complete change in the concept of sleep, which is now a luxury, says clinical psychologist Candice Cowen. “You may think it’s only happening to you, but you’ve both been forced out of a healthy sleep routine and into ‘survival’ sleep mode.
“What you need to do first is accept that losing precious sleep is a normal and inevitable part of parenting – you could even see it as a rite of passage. Viewing it this way will not only help to take the sting out of the intense emotional experiences that accompany sleep deprivation, but will also help you to steer clear of comparing and engaging in the unfair blame game with one another. It may be helpful to have this as part of daily check-in conversations with your partner.
“Track how much sleep each of you is getting so your partner can be mindful of your emotional and physical state. It will also leave you feeling acknowledged and that your efforts don’t go unnoticed. Talk about where you can gain sleep by sharing the load, and compare schedules to see where constructive compromises can be made.”
You and your partner are constantly arguing with each other. You thought parenting was going to be a joyful ride with the person you love, but you’re at loggerheads once again. You wish he would be more involved and he feels like everything he does is wrong.
It’s common for relationships to be pushed to the limits after the arrival of a baby, says Candice. Sleep deprivation, your baby’s demands, and individual coping strategies are largely responsible for this, making it easy to fall into the traps of shaming, blaming or controlling your partner. This can create an impasse in your relationship.
Being in a relationship is demanding, but parenting demands even more and the only way to break a deadlock is through teamwork. Remind yourselves of who you were before your baby arrived, and remember that you’re in this together, so avoid blaming or criticising one another. Make time to turn off the TV and chat over dinner once your baby has gone to sleep.
Talk to other parents who understand what you’re experiencing, and if things feel like they’re getting out of hand, schedule a session with a therapist.
A dry spell
Tension in the bedroom is building – he can’t believe you’re too exhausted to make love and while sex is the last thing on your mind, you feel neglected and are desperate for a cuddle.
A number of factors contribute to a lower sex drive after birth, explains Elmari. Firstly, labour is a physically exhausting and highly emotional process, so it’s only natural that your body will need some time to recover. In addition, your hormone levels change significantly after delivery and you will need time to adjust to your new baby.
Dads need to understand that moms require more support now than ever before
Most healthcare providers recommend six weeks of abstinence to prevent infection and ensure that your uterus has returned to its original position. Your biggest challenge could be learning how to connect with your sexuality again – it may take some work for you to feel sexy once more, making it essential to talk to your partner about your readiness (or hesitation) to resume sex.
The good news is that once they’ve adjusted to having a new baby, most couples return to their former sexual routines. There may be more interruptions and fewer opportunities, but even these shouldn’t prevent a loving and intimate relationship with your partner. Like all aspects of parenthood, it may require a bit of juggling.
Your maternity leave is ending and you’re taking strain – you feel like your life has been turned upside down, but your partner’s has remained the same. Between getting used to being a mom and the feelings of guilt about going back to work, you’re at your wits’ end and he’s in your firing line.
Getting the balancing act right is quite a challenge, says Candice. “Because it’s a work in progress, it requires proactive and consistent effort.
“The working world is similar to parenting in terms of daily demands and routines, the need to operate as part of a team and commitment of investing time and energy. However, it’s impossible to give 100% of your time, energy, emotions and resources to both areas of your life. Often, what suffers most is your relationship. It’s normal to feel that you have more on your plate than your partner, but if this becomes your main way of thinking and feeling, it will make finding a balance even more difficult.
“Remember that the two of you can only offer what you have in your resource tanks. Stress may affect the way you think and feel towards your partner, the quality of your interactions and ability to cope. Take time out to identify where you are falling behind and how your resources can be redistributed so things run more smoothly. Identify your negative thoughts and strong emotions, and talk them through with your partner, delegate tasks – and even ask for more help.”