It goes with out saying that life with a new baby is different. Incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully- different. But it can also be confusingly, disorientingly, stressfully, different. Although my life is full, if not fuller, of love, that love has been displaced and moved around from the normal places it used to occupy in my life. It doesn’t just get to veg out and cuddle on the couch for hours, or get excited about slipping into a little black dress on a Saturday night on moments notice. It’s more likely to manifest itself into a fresh, warm, (and never ending), laundry basket of love. The chores you and your significant other have are constantly growing, the demands can be exhausting. Maintaining your love relationship can become a challenge that is not always expected when a baby joins your party. Doing the things you used to do for each other may feel like just another chore to add to the list, but don’t scribble it out just yet.
When Love Is On Your Chore List
You and your loved one can’t expect for your “US” to stay the same because you both will change, in ways you probably won’t even expect. Having a baby thoroughly tests the strength of even the most well put together couples. I may have a few fairy tale notions of love; I believe it will always prevail and that it can last a lifetime and beyond, but I understand that it requires a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work. Combined with the abundance of work that raising a child requires, it can be a very heavy load at times. Mankind I’m sure, has had some of the same issues from the beginning of time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean it will be any easier for you, but we can learn from the mistakes of others. Babies are getting an unfair wrap today in the media for their apparent effect on relationships, but I blame the extra stresses we are putting on ourselves to be the real culprit. Regardless of the struggles, I remain a hopeful romantic, even if for now romance equates to using nice smelling dryer sheets for my clothes.
Don’t freak out if it feels like you have to schedule in your love life. Being proactive and actually implementing things into your schedule to help maintain your relationship and love is important. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong, that you’re boring, or any different than any other couple in your shoes. It means that you realize love takes work and you’re willing to make it a priority.There are simple practices and strategies you can work in your every day hectic lives to keep from feeling like love is just another item on your chore list.
As it turns out sleep is actually required in order to function like a normal human, and chances are you aren’t going to get a lot of it. I have a constant sense that I’m forgetting something, and I often feel a little like I woke up in my skin a little off center. Like I didn’t put “me” on quite right, something must have shrunk, possibly from the thin but constant layer of drool and spit-up I’m wearing these days. Your new role and new demands as well as the lack of usual comforts and relaxation you’re used to are going to take some getting used to.
New parents often both report feelings of being under-appreciated for what they contribute to the relationship and care of the child according to Psychologytoday.com. That’s why you should start practicing empathy, that’s right practice. Empathy is being able to understand another person’s feelings from their perspective, or being able to put yourself in their shoes. When you come home or see that your love one is frustrated, literally take the time to say out loud that you understand and voice what they are most likely upset about. Verify with them that you understand correctly. My significant other may not always understand that the emotions I am trying to process while caring for baby and the house are more draining and more of a priority for me than constantly keeping up with the laundry. I may not always understand that having mounds of laundry in the house or an unorganized environment is keeping him from focusing on our emotional health. You may not always have the same priorities and that’s OK. Being empathetic will increase your understanding of each other and hopefully keep you from poisonous comparisons. Rattling off what you do all day in order to “out do” the other person or make it seem like they aren’t doing their share will get you nowhere, it won’t change how you or they feel.
Know It’s OK to disagree
Don’t be afraid to let your loved one know if they are doing something you don’t like or disagree with. Doing so will likely result in the build up of resentments that are more damaging than a fight itself. Yes, it is actually OK to fight, in some cases, it is very much part of maintaining a healthy relationship. I don’t mean fight mortal combat style with no rules and a lot of hitting below the belt. For one, an argument can greatly relieve tension, reveal hidden issues each partner has been struggling with, and ultimately the resolution can strengthen a relationship.
Now here comes the list of disclaimers. It’s not OK to fight dirty by belittling the other person, or using their weakness against them to be hurtful. Having a disagreement doesn’t mean you have to raise your voice. The most important thing to remember is how you behave around baby. They may not be able to do a whole lot, but their perception is keen and when anger is present they pick up on it very quickly. Feelings of insecurity have a lot of very negative consequences on the development of baby’s brains. Working on your relationship is not only beneficial for you and your loved one, but you are instilling in your child what it means to love another person. If nothing else helps keep you cool and collected remember your child is absorbing everything you do.
Communication is key
Pretty much every couple I’ve spoken to that’s been together 20 plus years has said that good communication is one of the most important things in maintaining a healthy relationship. And most all of them have said they are still working on it today. The goal of course is for your communication between each other to improve, but you should never stop working at it. Just like being empathetic means trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, effective communication means clearly understanding what the other person is saying. A good way to practice this (there’s that practice word again) is by repeating what your loved one has said back to them when they finish talking. “I hear you telling me you need this kind of support, is that correct?” this ensures that you are actively listening to them and that you are in fact understanding them correctly.
Keeping a journal can be really helpful. It’s a good place to vent and release some emotions. If you can’t seem to get your thoughts out face to face try writing a letter or an e-mail even. That way your thoughts can be well explained and uninterrupted. It will also give your spouse or partner time to absorb what you are saying fully and have time to process it.
Pick a top three
There’s noting worse than finally having some free time to spend with your loved one and you feel like there is so much to catch up on the pressure is too much. There’s that thing you never got to talk about, you’re feeling disconnected, maybe you feel guilty because you’re just tired and all you can think about is sleep. This is why it’s important to spread out the “work” by doing little things through out the day or week that help you stay connected. Don’t try to dump it all in at night, most likely your expectations will not match up with reality. Try making a list of about three top things that you feel are most important to receive from your partner. They can be as simple as “I like to receive a hug before I leave in the morning and when I get home,” or, “You’re a lot better at keeping up with the bills, can that be your responsibility?” Even if you have both naturally fallen into traditional roles of doing certain chores, it never hurts to reevaluate. Work with what your strengths both are, not just what is most common for the mother or father to do. Make a point to uphold the lists for each other by having them written out, even somewhere visible. You need to feel supported by each other and be recognized for the unique ways you both show love and are loved.
Navigating the unique demands placed on each partner in a relationship is difficult, to put it lightly. When relationships undergo major changes like adding a baby to the mix, the old model of how you used to interact will no longer work the same. Remember that you are both undergoing major adjustments. Most importantly remember that things will get better and easier with time, and rough patches won’t last forever. The labor of love is the most rewarding work you will ever do.
How did you maintain a healthy relationship after baby? Share your experience with us 🙂