If you have children, I bet you will agree with me that the changes that take place in your relationship once you give birth are greater, more challenging, and different than you expected. Even the most closely connected partners can get snagged by little things that blow up into bigger fights in the postpartum period. Here are some observations I’ve had in my work with couples and families in the months following the birth of their baby/ies:
—The focus changes from your partner to your baby. The majority of the very little energy you have to give is focused on changing diapers, nursing and/or bottle-feeding, patting/bouncing/burping/soothing your child, and generally trying to keep your baby alive. There is not a lot of time in the early postpartum period, especially to devote to your romantic relationship.
—You are taking a lot of money out of the bank (both literally and figuratively I’m guessing!). One of the metaphors I use with new families is bank transactions. When things are going really well with our partner, we are complimenting each other, letting things go that we may otherwise make us upset and cause us to react, and giving physical affection. All of these are deposits to our relationship bank account. They are positive and supportive of our relationship, but they are small. When we are angry with each other, get into big arguments, and avoid difficult conversations, we are making big withdrawals from our account. In the postpartum period, we are making frequent withdrawals due to lack of sleep and the steep learning curve that comes with having a baby. The more deposits we can make prior to the birth and in the postpartum period, the better.
—It’s very likely you are not going to have sex for a while—and that’s okay (even though it feels pretty awful sometimes). Hormones from breastfeeding, emotional and physical changes from the birth, pure exhaustion, and having little time with your partner (let alone being able to take a shower!) all impact how ready we are to connect in this way with our partners. I encourage couples to explore what else they can do with and for their partner to feel connected. What language can you use to be direct with each other but not pressure or assume?
—You don’t have to have a lot of time to connect, but you can be intentional about the time you do spend together. Could someone come over and bring your baby upstairs/to another room while the two of you have dinner together? The time you spend doesn’t have to be a big “date night” to count for something.
—This is temporary. It will not always feel this way. But finding some support in the form of people who support your relationship and your family, new parent groups, and relationship counseling can make all the difference in how you experience this time.
What is your relationship experience when your family grows? We would love for you to share in the comments section.
Elizabeth is a therapist with Porch Light Counseling specializing in the the adjustment to parenthood and supporting your relationship with your partner during the postpartum period. Contact her for a brief phone consultation or to schedule a session.