Having children is a huge life transition. Whether you are married or in a long-term, committed relationship, you have to move from the established, comfortable rhythms you had with your spouse to navigating taking care of a whole new and entirely dependent human. It’s no wonder that many relational issues can arise between couples as they encounter the new stressors that a baby brings.
As beautiful as becoming a parent is, it can take a huge toll on the mental health of both mom and dad. That’s why it is so important to focus on how to support one another and build each other up through the perinatal period–the period of time beginning in pregnancy up until the baby is two years old, when both partners (but especially mom) are particularly vulnerable to mental health and mood disorders, such as postpartum depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. So, what are some ways we can nurture our relationships after kids?
Have a Regularly Scheduled Date Night
Having a regular date night may sound cliché or unrealistic, but it is commonly suggested for a reason–studies have shown that they actually make marriages stronger. It doesn’t have to be every week, but perhaps bi-weekly or once a month, see if you can arrange consistent childcare and set aside that time for both of you to get away and do something special together. It doesn’t have to be expensive or even cost any money at all–you could pack a picnic dinner and enjoy eating out under the stars. The point is to get out, away from the kids, and focus only on one another for the evening (or morning, or afternoon!). Get creative with it and watch your relationship thrive.
Pay Attention to Each Other’s Needs
Communicating your needs is already difficult in a relationship without kids, but when children are added to the mix, it can get even trickier. Sometimes we get so caught up in taking care of our children that we forget or even neglect our own needs. Or perhaps we don’t think our needs are significant anymore. That’s why it’s extra important to notice how your partner is doing on a daily basis, especially during that perinatal period.
Observe her behavior and mannerisms, and check in frequently to see how she is feeling about everything. It may seem annoying, but your partner will appreciate it. Offer to help when needed, and anticipate the times when you know she will be the most exhausted. For example, if your wife has been with the kids all day and you’ve been at work, offer to watch them for a bit when you get home so that she can go out on a run or just have some alone time.
Split the Load
Part of being sensitive to one another’s needs is dividing up household tasks evenly so that one partner isn’t more burdened than the other. Oftentimes stay-at-home mothers (or dads) can feel overwhelmed with taking care of the kids all day in addition to keeping the house clean, washing the dishes, doing all the laundry…etc. Likewise, fathers or mothers who work long hours to pay the bills may need time to rest when they get home instead of jumping straight into tasks for the evening.
Make a list of all the household tasks that need to be done and divide them up according to what each person can realistically manage, then leave room for days when one or the other may need some extra help. The key is partnership and working together to find the right balance for your family so no one gets burned out.
Establish Long-Term Rhythms
Daily or weekly routines can help you both manage household tasks and your time better. Evaluate your schedule for one week and notice the activities that you repeat daily/weekly individually and as a family. This will help you make a schedule that will allow free time to nurture your relationship. Schedule in the activities that you enjoy together and keep that time sacred!
Seek Professional Help
Oftentimes couples may have been struggling in their relationship even before children arrived. Couples counseling may be helpful to gain skills like communication and conflict solving to improve your relationship and build a stronger bond.
These are just a few ways you can strengthen your relationship after having kids, but there are so many more. Remember, you are both in this for the long haul, so sustainability is essential. Whatever strategies you implement, you have to stick with them to see results. Nurturing your relationship is always worth the effort, for both you and your kids. The stronger your relationship is, the better off your children will be and the more satisfied you will feel as individuals and with your marriage.