A new baby can be hell on your romantic relationship, but it doesn’t have to be. The secret? It’s really no great secret: communication, and lots of it, says Leigh-ann Griffiths.
Meet Leigh-ann Griffiths, our new Spinoff Parents Relationships Expert. She’s got three kids and is a trained counsellor. She’s no-nonsense but she’s compassionate too. She talks sense and we need more of that in the topsy-turvy world of parenting relationships. Navigating the world of relationships as parents is tough. Managing relationships can be difficult – with our partners if we have them, our parents, our friends, our colleagues – and of course our kids! – Emily Writes, Spinoff Parents editor
Many women go in to parenthood convinced that our lives aren’t going to change too much. In reality, that tiny scrap of humanity that you bring home from the hospital is going to turn your world upside down.
Remember those sleepless nights in the first few months that we all expect? Well, it turns out they’re not the hard part of becoming a mother. The hard part is trying to extricate yourself from your ‘mum’ role after day after unremitting day of playing/building/singing/feeding/stressing about sleep and development and whether or not you are good enough, and to just be your partner’s partner again.
Motherhood in those early years can be lonely, and although every other mum at music class and playgroup is joking about how they never have sex anymore, you can’t help but wonder if your relationship is really okay. You question whether or not your love is strong enough to survive these early years. Hell, you probably ask yourself if you even love your partner anymore, or if it’d all be easier if you were on your own.
That’s all pretty normal.
Every article you read on the subject is going to stress the importance of a regular date night. If you’re anything like me in my early years of this whole mum gig, there’s not much appealing about getting little precious to sleep at the end of a long day of parenting, then getting dressed up and heading out to try and make meaningful conversation instead of quality time with the couch, your favourite PJs and the remote. But a strong relationship post-children doesn’t have to be all candle-lit dinners and sex every Friday. And it’s not rocket science.
It is important to remember that every relationship naturally ebbs and flows, and the secret to a great relationship is finding the little golden moments in the ebbs. Love isn’t about grand gestures. It’s the little things that speak volumes – that cup of tea made just the way you like it, the foot rub at the end of the day, the text message in the middle of the day just to say hi. Taking time to notice these small gestures and to appreciate them reminds you that there’s more to your relationship than just someone to share a house with.
Your connection may feel stronger at some points and go through rocky patches at others. It’s important to make an effort not to lose the respect for one another. While venting your frustrations to your friends can be cathartic, try not to let it be a regular occurrence. If the only words you speak about your partner are negative, your focus becomes negative. Your relationship used to be more than just talking about the bills and the state of your tiny little interloper’s bowels, and you can guarantee that your partner is feeling just as disconnected as you are.
Remember that your partner is not a mind reader. Communicate clearly and concisely. Rather than ranting at him or her in an exhausted, tearful tantrum about how you’re not getting any help around the house, find time to sit down and explain what you need your partner to do. Chances are, pre-children you never really had to expend much effort on finding a method of communication that worked for you. You rubbed along fairly well, maybe with the odd blow-up which led to someone going for a drive to calm down, or a slammed door or two. Now you have a child, day-to-day frustrations coupled with exhaustion can lead to smouldering resentment; on an ongoing basis, this is a death sentence for a relationship. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help with your communication, whether it’s from a counsellor, a book, or a good old Google search. I know it’s a cliché, but communication truly is the key to a successful and happy partnership.
A relationship is a journey, and having children can feel like a pothole, but with a bit of work and understanding, it can come out stronger than ever.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.