A fine romance
Having a baby means you suddenly have less time to focus on other things. Don’t leave your relationship unattended though – here are some easy ways to prioritise romance.
Having a baby is a huge change and the thing that is affected the most is your own relationship. Where, once upon a time, it was all romantic walks, flirty compliments and long evenings over wine, the arrival of a small person heralds a new phase - and you might be feeling a bit like ships passing in the night.
Less intimacy in the early days is perfectly normal. You’re both feeling tired, very focused on your small person’s wellbeing and probably a bit overwhelmed as well. But it is important to remain emotionally available, and take opportunities to connect.
“It’s really normal to feel that the old ‘us’ is gone when baby arrives: because it has,” says Auckland-based psychotherapist Kyle Macdonald. “It’s important to be realistic and accepting of this change in your relationship, and that the two of you now have the most important shared project you will ever have.”
Kyle reminds us to not get too caught up in the ‘day-to-day’. It can seem like you’re on a wheel of never-ending nappy changes, laundry and bottle sterilising, but it’s okay to push those things aside.
“Remember, to be good parents it’s more important to be ‘on the same page’ than it is to have the dishes done and the house clean,” says Kyle. “Take time to talk and support each other and remember it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
“Dads, this is your chance to express your love by being a support person, especially in the first few days and weeks. Mums, a small amount of gratitude goes a long way, remember it’s hard for him too.”
Here are seven great ways to find a little time for love amidst the craziness of parenthood:
In this digital age, the art of letter writing might seem like some lost mystic ritual, but it can be a great way to connect. Leave a love note in his lunch box, or pin a compliment for her to the fridge – it will give you both a moment to smile and think of each other in the middle of a busy day.
Letters of gratitude can also be really effective. This is a time of your life where you no doubt feel taken for granted and it can be hard for both over-worked and under-slept partners to express thanks and kindness in a situation. A recent survey of 4000 adults in the UK by the Open University revealed that small acts of kindness work wonders in relationships. Leaving a little note to let someone know you appreciate them is a really good step onto the path of gratitude.
Lots of people with older children have a ‘date night’, but this probably doesn’t seem achievable right now. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a family member close by who you feel comfortable leaving baby with, chances are you won’t necessarily feel like putting your glad rags on and hitting the tiles!
Try having a date during your partner’s lunchbreak. Keep it informal – meet outside the office and head to a local café. Instead of worrying about the quality of the food or what outfit to wear, you will have more freedom to focus on each other. Hopefully, you can leave baby with Gran for an hour, but if not, walk your baby down in the pram so they are sleeping.
This is a great option to make into a regular event if you use paid care later on.
There’s a lot of pressure on weekends. They’re busy, they’re expensive, they’re more about family time than couple time and – they’re five days away!
“Once the kids are in bed, we order takeaways and watch a movie on a Wednesday evening,” says mum-of-two, Nicole Hastie. “It gets us through the week and gives us some time to relax.”
Shared downtime is really important. Don’t worry if the house is a tip, take the opportunity to relax together.
Sleep is a precious commodity after you’ve had a child, but so is time alone together. If your baby is a late sleeper, why not try getting up a little earlier to have coffee together before the mayhem starts? Mornings are naturally very quiet. Sitting together on the deck in the sunshine, or huddled in front of the fire in the winter, can feel very intimate and private. You only need half an hour, there’s no need to get up at 5am! But it’s time well spent that will prepare you both for the day ahead.
A kid-free space
Perhaps it’s your bedroom, perhaps you have a second reception room you can make your ‘adult zone’, or perhaps it’s just a matter of having a big box to throw all the baby bits in and hide them away. A space that is just about you and your partner will help you connect and focus on spending adult time together.
“While I’m settling our baby, my husband ‘de-kids’ the front room,” says mum of two under fours, Aika Peters. “By the time I come downstairs we have a space with no evidence a baby exists and it’s amazing how much more relaxing that feels. A glass of wine helps too.”
Your sex life might seem like a distant memory, with your babe in arms the only reminder it was ever real – and that’s okay. In those first few months especially, love-making will just about be the last thing on your mind. But time together to be physically intimate is still really valuable.
One 2010 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that better body image was linked to better sex in women – and that key to feeling comfortable in your own skin was being naked around your partner. It’s also well documented that skin-to-skin contact releases ‘happy hormone’ oxytocin.
So, next time you need a shower, drag your partner in for a cuddle too. It’s a great shortcut to intimacy.
Date night is a great way to spend time together, doing things you enjoyed before baby came along. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Pick a night, perhaps once a month and decide in advance what you are going to do. Don’t feel pressured into going out.
“We have our date night at home,” says mum-of-three Kim. “We either order sushi or get a My Food Bag kit. We cook together and then sit down to eat and talk. There are usually candles and music too – we make it as romantic as possible.”
This evening is about connecting with your partner, so don’t pick an activity – like watching a movie – that doesn’t require interaction. “We enjoy cooking together,” says Kim. “Or sometimes we play games, like Scrabble.” Remember, it’s all about having fun together. ′
By Jai Breinauer
Kyle MacDonald is a psychotherapist and co-director of the Robert Street Clinic in Ellerslie, Auckland. For details visit psychotherapy.org.nz
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