One of the biggest changes that happen in marriage or a partnership (I'm just going to say marriage for the rest of this blog post, but know this includes living together, partnerships, basically any romantic relationship with a child involved) is the introduction of a little baby. Before the baby, there was so much time to be together, have alone time, go on dates, and enjoy each other. It may have seemed effortless or you may have had to put in some work. Either way, the time was there.
When a little one joins the mix - there is so much more to do! It's only natural for your focus to be on your baby, especially during those early weeks. However, if your focus remains only on your baby months into your little one's life - your relationship may start to suffer.
It's easy to fall into those labels of Mom and Dad and forget about the labels of wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, partner, etc. We can start to see the other person as a person who helps us keep this baby alive and forget to see them as the kind, loving person we fell in love with long ago.
It's important to find ways to reignite that spark. To get to know each other again. To keep love and intimacy alive.
A quick note - intimacy isn't all about sex. Intimacy is about emotional and physical closeness. It's about truly getting to know each other and feeling close. Sex can be apart of it, but it isn't all of it.
1. Change your mindset. If you find yourself thinking about your spouse only when you think about the long list of things that need to be done around the house, something has to change. Take some time to remember back to when you first fell in love, what was it about your partner that attracted you to him/her? What was about their likes/dislikes/silly quirks/small acts of love etc that drew you in? Remember these things. If you look closely, they are probably still hiding in there. Behind the sleep deprivation and brain fog - if you look hard enough, you can see it. Also, it's important to remember that your partner may see their role as a parent differently than you see their role. For example, in our house, my husband is #1 at playing. He can keep my son entertained for hours and he loves it! Me, I'm over here thinking about the laundry, dishes, and dinner that needs to be made. We are both doing a good thing. We are both helping our house run and stay on track. It's not a fight or competition, you are a team. If you need help with something, ask. Your partner may just not see it.
2. Weekly Date Night (even during COVID). COVID has changed a lot of things around our house. For one - I now do most of my work on nights/weekends while my husband works during the day because our two-year-old is home with us. This has made our normal 'after bedtime' time together quite limited, as I'm normally exhausted after working in the evenings and ready for bed. However, I've set aside Tuesday nights as 'our nights'. It doesn't have to be anything big. You don't have to go out together. You don't even have to get all dressed up (though that could add to the fun). Just make your spouse a priority. If nights don't work well for you, find a lunchtime, a naptime, a morning. Whatever it is, you need some one-on-one time as a couple on a regular basis so you can reconnect and see each other without thinking about diapers, feedings, and little ones running into the corners that are EVERYWHERE. Our favorite things to do on our weekly date nights are to watch a movie, play a board game, or sit around and talk while we drink sleepytime tea. It's sweet. It's simple. And it gives us time to reconnect.
3. Clearly Communicate Expectations. If you don't do anything else on this list - do this one. This will dramatically change your relationship. We need to learn how to clearly (and respectfully) communicate what we expect and need to our partners. For instance, if your partner (like mine) has a tendency to play with your little one all day and forget about some of the other things going on in the house you need to talk about it. Without being passive-aggressive. For instance - it is not helpful to go into the room and say something like "There is so much to do around here, I'm so overwhelmed, you never help me". This statement may feel true to you at the moment - it may even be true - but it does nothing to tell your partner what you need and to help motivate your partner to act. Instead take some time when you're both calm to talk about what needs to be done, what you can do, and what they can do. Clearly communicate expectations. Who will do bedtime? Who will get up in the middle of the night? Who gets to sleep in tomorrow? Who will do the laundry this week? Are you going to split chores in the house? Is there something you really hate doing that your partner doesn't mind and vise versa? Figure it out together. You're a team. Start the conversation.
4. Reclaim Your Identity As A Couple - Let me say it again - You are more than just Mom and Dad! What makes your relationship special? What do you like to do together? What are your goals for your marriage and your family? Children are typically only under your roof for 18 years (well, let's be honest, maybe 20) and then you've got many years left of life together. Find things you like about your partner. Send cute love notes. Show affection. Plan time together. Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. Do things together.
5. Sex. Sex can be a touchy subject - but it's so important for the longterm health of your relationship. Now if you've just had a baby and haven't even been cleared yet by your doctor - there is no pressure to have sex before your physically healed and emotionally ready. Sex looks different after a little one. It can feel hard to fit it in during the week with everything else going on. But it's so so important. If you're struggling to connect physically with your partner due to past hurts or infidelity - it may be time to see a couple's counselor or a counselor for yourself to work through those things. If you're fearful of having sex because of some pain that lingering after childbirth - you may seek out the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist and a mental health counselor to work through some of that fear and physical trauma that still present. You may just not feel connected to your partner - maybe you feel 10,000 miles apart. Start slow. Spend some time together. Do those date nights. Cuddle on the couch and watch a movie. Hold hands. Get used to being physically close again. I'm not saying you must have sex with your partner right now if there are painful things keeping you apart - but I would strongly encourage you to figure out what's going on and do whatever you can to work past it for the health of your marriage moving forward. And, once you get the hang of it again, it's quite fun :)
If it feels overwhelming to start with all five - just pick one. Start there. Building intimacy takes time. It takes consistency. Consistency is doing the same thing OVER time - not the same way every time. So if you slip up, you slip up, just keep on trying. If you're struggling to communicate with your partner, perhaps a good step could be sharing this article with them and picking one of the strategies to work on together.
Your marriage deserves to be close, vibrant, and intimate :) You have everything you need to make it that way.
Disclaimer - If you are unsafe in your marriage or if you are experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse - it is not your fault. It's not your responsibility to make things better by doing the things above. If you need resources, fill out the contact me page, let me know where you're located and I'll send you some options in your area.
Kylee Nelson, LMFT