So, things are a little different now you’ve had a baby. Update your relationship priorities and you’ll get back on track
You met Mr Right. You fell in love and found your relationship groove. But, once you have a baby, stress levels soar, energy levels dip, grudges form (why does he never hear that 2am cry?) and tempers flare. A couple’s first year as parents presents the biggest threat a relationship will ever face, according to research.
But there are positives, too. ‘Your love for your baby is an extension of your love for each other,’ says Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate. ‘If you adapt, the experience can deepen your relationship.’
Coping with the practical
Remember those days when the fridge was empty except for a mouldy jar of pesto, so you went out to eat? And when the most domestic planning you did was decide who’d buy the wine on their way home?
Now it’s all about who’ll pick up nappies and whether you’ve paid the childminder. Starting a family gives you a new job on top of everything you already do. ‘This takes organisation, which is fine – but not always fun,’ says Christine. ‘Don’t let it dominate every moment you spend with your partner. Instead, find 20 minutes once a week to sit down and work out practicalities.’
'Remember, you're on the same team'
Working as a team
Having children unites you, giving you a shared goal – and you need each other. During the first few months, looking after a baby is a two-man job. ‘As parents, you’re on the same team – your objective is to meet the needs and happiness of your children,’ says Dr Fin Williams, a psychologist and parenting expert. ‘But, while your lives are fused, this can be a strain.’
Having children unites you, giving you a shared goal – and you need each other
Make sure you play to your team strengths. ‘If he deals with sleep deprivation better than you, he can do the night feed,’ says Fin. ‘If you’re more patient about squashed banana coating the walls, you clear up after supper.’ And remember, there are two of you in the team,’ she says. ‘No one needs to be a hero or a martyr.’
Revive your romance
Once upon a time, you could fly off for a long weekend or catch a late film without a second thought. And, of course, there were the lazy Saturday mornings (and great sex!) Now even a trip to the supermarket takes meticulous planning. As for spontaneity in the bedroom, the only unpredictable thing is whether you’ll manage to have sex before your baby starts crying.
‘It’s often not spontaneity we miss when we become parents, it’s lack of responsibility,’ says Dr Petra Boynton, a lecturer in sex and relationships. Although you can’t shrug off the responsibility of being parents, you can find ways to spend time together to make sex more likely. ‘Plan a grown-up evening – get a takeaway or cook a meal – and see where it leads,’ says Petra. ‘Don’t put pressure on yourselves to have sex, but keep it in the back of your mind. If you don’t see it as a must, it’ll be more likely to happen.’
‘Plan a grown-up evening – get a takeaway or cook a meal'
With hours of unbroken sleep and the luxury of time to yourself, you previously let your partner’s little foibles pass and rarely unleashed your tempers. But when you’ve been up every two hours in the night, you’ve got baby vomit on your favourite shirt and now your other half has driven off with the buggy in the boot, er, hello, short fuse.
So, work out a plan for your regular stormy times. This might be mornings when everyone’s rushing off to work or nursery. Or it could be the weekend wobble, when you have to adjust to being together after a week largely apart. ‘Decide in advance how to improve these times and who should do what to minimise stress, so you both know what’s expected of you,’ says Christina. ‘When you do disagree, rather than shout, voice your feelings calmly – don’t accuse but say how situations make you feel.’
Finding new love
Until you have children, your relationship defines your experience of love, but now there’s the excitement of having created this little person together. Becoming parents gives you joint membership to a secret club – you couldn’t have known just how much you would love your child until she arrived.
Your partnership will deepen because of it, but only if you continue to make the effort. ‘Make each other a priority sometimes,’ says Christine. ‘Invest in one another. Realise that you’re a couple, as well as parents, or you’ll find yourself strangers to one another in years to come.’ So, do simple things like making a morning cup of tea for each other – they’ll remind you what made you fall in love.
How did you update your relationship to keep it strong when you became parents? Let us know in the comments box below.