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Written by Carole Nyman   

New Baby, New RelationshipHow to ensure your relationship thrives after Children

How adorable a sight is a peaceful sleeping baby, but should they come with a note across their forehead warning ‘I won’t always seem this cute and I may even damage your relationship’?  How many times have you heard that “nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation and what it does to you”?  Is it true that life as a couple after children will undoubtedly be challenging?

Yes, absolutely, and along with all the challenges, there will also be many opportunities to have some amazing, fun and exciting experiences. Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do to prepare in advance so that the whole experience strengthens your relationship.

It really is helpful to contemplate how to prepare for the birth of your new relationship alongside the plans you already have in place for the birth of your new baby. So you’ll then have both a birthing plan and a co-parenting/relationship plan. If this sounds a bit over-the-top, consider this in the context of the fact that we now know from the field of neuro-science, what we always have known intuitively: that the best thing that parents can do for their child is to foster their own bond. The baby longs for the safety and security of a strong relationship between the parents above all else and this continues throughout life.

Many women really get into the whole experience of enjoying their pregnancy, loving the feeling of the baby growing inside them, and frankly can be quite excluding of anything or anyone else. The hormone oxytocin, sometimes known as ‘the cuddle hormone’ because it makes a woman feel attached and cuddly, influences the mother’s brain, which clearly has a post-natal function, enhancing the attachment process in a healthy way.

The father has the same need for connection with the baby as the mother does, although his can sometimes become forgotten or even ridiculed. Not having had the same 9 month head start as the mother has had, he may need some help fostering that bond.  Sometimes women can seem to men to be a bit smug and superior about all this, even dismissive towards the father.  Call it payback time for how men are perceived to behave generally to women, maybe it also is down to ‘hormones’, but I have seen women be quite scarily bossy and protective of the baby, bordering on possessive.  The relationship challenge, therefore, is for the father’s practical support to be appreciated, as he develops his respected role as the father.  For a while, that role may be a work-in-progress, but the couple can bond through this and experience a new type of intimacy at this time, immediately after the birth.

The father may also need to reconnect with the mother and can be feeling really quite anxious about that and, yes, even left out. What woman would be sniggering or even angry about that if she understood how lonely and frightening a feeling that could be? A father at that time may be going through a range of emotions just like the mother is and yet spontaneous communication about that is really a bit unlikely.  Clearly it can only be helpful if this has been planned for. If the couple have in place a good quality parenting/relationship plan, highlighting the options for finding some time together, the outlook can indeed be very rosy. Keeping the lines of communication open is not just a hot tip, it is absolutely essential and will work well to avoid long term resentments from building up.

Well, how to do this communicating?  Sue could be speaking for many couples when she says:

“I just assumed that the way things were done in my family was the norm. I felt so comfortable with doing things the way my mother had done them that I just couldn’t understand Phil’s expectations. Some of his ideas seemed not only unreasonable but also weird to me. I couldn’t cope with the idea of doing weird things, so I just ignored him and got on with it on my own.  Soon we were fighting bitterly.”

It’s almost impossible to avoid conflicting ideas at some point about how to deal with the baby. Influence from our own family is so huge, and we may not be particularly conscious of it. After all, it is hard to see one’s own family objectively.

Successful couples decide early on to try to listen to each other, rather than just steamrollering over each other whenever an issue seems very important. It’s understandably much harder to compromise if you suspect that the other person would never do likewise. If you’re both prepared to accept influence from each other and adapt or just give in occasionally, you can discover that compromise is a skill that can be learnt and which gets easier with practice. It takes time to build up a trusting relationship in which it feels safe to give way.

Post baby, your need for time alone together is the same as it was before, but the difference is that now you get a lot less time and you need to plan for it - with military precision. Romance may not look the same now as it did before the baby or children were born, so you may need to question some of your previously held assumptions and beliefs.  For instance, it really will help if spontaneity is not part of your definition of real Romance. How will you ensure that you get that time together occasionally on a regular basis?  It’s worth the time it takes to work out some sort of strategy.  Abi makes this point:

“We were really helped by the advice our counsellor gave us when I was pregnant, to book ourselves regular date nights. When I look back at that advice, I’m glad we did follow it, we still do it too; we’re in the habit now!”

What will work for you? Discuss and experiment until you find your own plan that works for you, well before the birth of your baby. How frequently will you have date nights? Weekly? Monthly? Hopefully not yearly. If you struggle to get a babysitter or to afford it, how many of your dates will you be going out for and how many staying in?  You can be creative and enjoy the conversation; it is all about what the two of you need to keep your relationship fresh. Try to factor in as many risk factors for breaking the agreement as you can anticipate, then you will be able to deal with these interruptions as if they were all part of the plan. If you keep your standards high at this beginning stage, you will be more successful in sticking to it and make it an enduring part of your relationship in the months and years to come.

Good luck and congratulations on the birth of your baby and your new relationship! 

Carole Nyman
Couples Counsellor and Human Givens Therapist


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