Family

Babyproof your relationship

In all the excitement of becoming parents for the first time, there’s one thing many people forget – that you may need to nurture your relationship as well as your new baby.

Having a child can put huge strain on a partnership. According to research, almost 70% of couples experience “a decrease in marital satisfaction” during the first year of a baby’s life.

Sleep deprivation, little or no sex and the general stress that comes with the responsibility of having a tiny person to look after can all take a toll. Conflict can also arise over the parents’ new roles, as well as their changed financial situation.

Hilary Smith from Relationship Services says, “It’s so easy to be filled up with the experience of becoming a parent that we forget to also be a partner.”

However, these problems don’t have to spell the end of a union if you’re prepared to work on them. Here’s some advice from Relationship Services on how to cope:

Share the experienceThe most crucial step is to make parenting something you do together. It’s common for one parent, often a breastfeeding mother, to become utterly engrossed in the experience of bonding with the baby, which can leave little time or energy for their partner.

“Parents who aren’t the primary caregiver may feel neglected,” says Hilary.

“To maintain the closeness of the relationship, both parents need to be fully engaged in parenting, making it a shared focus of the relationship.”

She recommends sharing parenting duties as much as possible. This is tricky with breastfeeding, but expressing milk for the dad to bottle-feed the baby with may help.

Include intimacyHaving a newborn can mean a moratorium on sex, at least in the early days. But you can still enjoy a different sort of intimacy.

“Now’s the time to offer undemanding physical attention and affection,” suggests Hilary.

“offers to run your partner a bath, make them a cup of tea or rub their back demonstrate a practical appreciation of their physical state.”

If you feel frustrated about this side of the relationship then discuss it. Remember it’s only a temporary situation.

Spend time togetherTime in each other’s company without the baby is important. Think about doing things that make you closer, advises Hilary. “If you’re talkers, then going out for dinner or a coffee is good. If you’re inclined to be quiet, then activities such as walking, where you can appreciate each other’s presence without needing much conversation, might work better.”

Have time for yourselfGive each other the precious gift of alone time by offering to take the baby out while your partner sleeps.

While extra effort may be needed to make sure new mums are getting time to do their own thing – even if it’s reading a magazine or catching up with a friend – Dad may need to change some aspects of his life to be more available for the family.

“It might be a good time to reorganise your priorities,” says Hilary.

“Maybe clubs and social groups could have less of you, so you can make more room for your partner and child.”

Talk about itLet each other know how parenthood is going – what drives you crazy, what you’re discovering and what you’d like to change.

“It’s not about keeping tabs, it’s about connection,” Hilary says. “It’s about being alert to the way you both change and grow as you add parenting to your lives. It’s about keeping your respect, appreciation, curiosity and tenderness alive.

“Tending to your relationship every day is good to do in any relationship. If you’re thinking about having children, start now and get in some practise.”

Top tips for early days with a new baby

  • Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. When you’ve recently become a parent it’s a very emotional time – let your partner know how you’re feeling on a regular basis.

  • Take turns spending time with the baby by yourself. When it’s not your turn, go away and leave your partner to it.

  • Be kind to yourself and each other. Understand that a lack of sleep can fray tempers.

  • Sleeping separately can help at least one of you get a good night’s sleep while the other tends to the baby, but don’t do it for too long. Sharing a bed is an important part of being in a relationship.

For more information, visit relate.org.nz

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