Love and marriage and the baby carriage. While not all may marry, a majority of couples still eagerly anticipate the arrival of a child. And when kids arrive, the parents’ relationship can languish. There aren’t any catchy playground songs about that.
In a 2016 contributed article in TheWashingtonPost.com, Great Myths of Intimate Relationships’ author Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., blamed the mundane tasks of tending to kids as one of the causes for the loss of romance. Couples replace once flirty texts with messages about grocery errands; thoughtful discussions about life and interests are replaced with exchanges about poopy diapers or carpool pickups. Parents, Johnson reasoned, become business partners raising their children. And no one, he continued, is immune: married and unmarried couples alike all face the same level of dissatisfaction with their romantic relationships once children arrive.
Some parents-to-be hope that starting a family will bring them closer as a couple. “Babies can do this,” says Heidi B. Roeder, M.S., a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified sex therapist in Camp Hill. “However, it is important to note that having a baby will not fix an ailing relationship.”
A couple that can problem solve, understand each other’s feelings, share ideas without the need to be right, and work as a team will generally have a positive experience as parents, Roeder says. And be able to keep the love alive — and even thriving — while their children grow.
7 tips to keep the love alive after children arrive
- Take care of yourself first, especially with a new baby. Simple self-care tips of eating healthy, resting often and taking time for recreation are even more critical to help you cope with the sleep deprivation and stress of changing relationships. Even as children grow, caring for yourself will help you greatly with the stresses of parenting. Remember, the airline advice of “put your oxygen mask on first” is the best way to be a healthy parent and a healthy couple.
- Return to intimacy as soon as you are able. Intimacy does not require intercourse to be enjoyable and rewarding. Fathers often fear loss of their sexual partner when a baby comes into the picture. Keep your love and your desire alive by focusing on loving touch with your partner.
- Make time for your partner. Focusing only on the children and their needs will result in losing an important connection with your partner. Children thrive when parents are healthy, connected and loving of one another. Fathers and mothers parent their children differently, so both should take turns caring for the children so they get the best of both parents. Making time for your partner honors the original reason you wanted a family.
- Make date night a priority. Leaving another responsible adult to care for your child once a week can give you and your partner valuable time to reconnect as a couple. You enjoyed dating before children, and your need to keep this special time for togetherness is not lessened when children arrive. In fact, you will need to make a special effort to keep this tradition going as days get busier and time is at a premium.
- Make time to talk with your partner about the changes in your relationship. Ask your partner how they are feeling about their new or evolving role as a parent. What do they miss from when it was just the two of you? How have you changed? How have they changed? Ask what you both want as you move into this new phase of your relationship. Couples who schedule these important talks are happier, less resentful of the changes and can work as a team to make the changing relationship work for both. Relationships change as children grow.
- Take a time out for yourself. Be sensitive to each other’s need for some time away. Parenting is a stressful undertaking. Both parents need time to enjoy some alone time, time with friends, time spent in a hobby or recreational pursuit. Couples who negotiate this time return to parenting and to the couple relationship invigorated and refreshed and ready to continue the hard work it takes to raise another human begin.
- Don’t fret when the sexual relationship isn’t what it used to be: A long term, committed relationship experiences ups and downs of passion, desire and sexual frequency. This is normal and is not cause for despair or extreme worry. With attention and focus on making time for one another, your relationship will flourish and grow as you take on your new roles and see your partner in their new role. If you have concerns about your sexual relationship, talk with your partner and ask them if there is something that might help. If you find yourselves stuck or your relationship seems to be suffering, seek out a good marriage and family therapist who understands the changes a relationship goes though when parenting and can help you through this time.
Tips from Heidi B. Roeder, M.S.
Leslie Penkunas is the editor of Central Penn Parent.