4 Ways to Get Out of ‘Mommy Mode’ and Into ‘Partner Mode’

Tree pairs of legs in the bedThe transition from being a wife or partner to being a mother with children can be a difficult one. Whereas before you could give all your time and attention to your partner or spouse, hobbies, work, and other pursuits, now there is a demanding baby to care for. Some women feel that during pregnancy they begin to experience “mommy brain” and have trouble with memory. In fact, research shows that women’s brains do shift during pregnancy. A study published in Behavioral Neuroscience showed that there was a small but significant level of growth in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus. These changes are associated with increased worry, obsessively thinking about and caring for the child, and placing a high emphasis on the baby’s needs. Well beyond birth, when the child is a little older and more independent, many women continue to have a difficult time shutting off obsessive thoughts about their child and focusing on being a wife or partner.

As a couples therapist, I hear often how hard it is for women to transition from being constantly involved with their children to being a wife or partner again. It’s completely normal for most women to have some challenge making the transition. After all, just because your children are asleep does not mean that your “mommy” duties are fulfilled. You might have to prepare lunches or fill out permission slips for the next day.

Just as the husbands and partners of mothers have to adjust to new roles and realities, women, too, have to come to some balance. Even in the throes of parenthood, it is essential to have time together with your partner independent from your children.

Here are some strategies for making the switch from “mommy mode” to “partner mode”:

  1. Effectively manage your time. Think about cutting some obligations so you have more time in the evening. Schedule things if you have to, and stick to the schedule. If there’s a task that isn’t a “must-do,” let it go. Make time with your partner a priority, right alongside fixing those lunches. When you’re with your partner, try not to think about anything else and allow yourself to immerse yourself in the moment. A family is only as strong as the partnership.
  2. Set aside one or two nights per week for intimacy. Make it a point to head to bed a little earlier than usual a couple of nights a week. (If you’re too tired at night, why not set the alarm for before the kids wake up?) If you set certain nights aside (and you know they are coming), you can train your mind and prepare yourself better. Oh, and just because you are not already in the mood does not mean you cannot get in the mood once you are physically close. Remember: desire does not always come before intimacy. Intimacy can generate desire.
  3. Do relaxing activities before bed that don’t have to do with housework or child care. For example, take a hot shower or bath, read a chapter from a novel or peruse a magazine, have some red wine and chocolate, or watch a favorite television show (perhaps one you wouldn’t watch with the kids). These activities will ground you and help you transition to intimacy with your partner, in whatever form that may take.
  4. Talk to your partner about your relationship or even “adult” things. Have an intellectual or emotional conversation about current events, work, your passions, or your relationship. Avoid discussing the kids, if possible.

Reference:

Kim, P., Leckman, J. F., Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Wang, X., and Swain, J. E. (2010). The Plasticity of Human Maternal Brain: Longitudinal Changes in Brain Anatomy During the Early Postpartum Period. Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol. 124, No. 5. 696-700

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C, CST, therapist in Silver Spring, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Colton

    Colton

    March 3rd, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    My wife is having a very hard time with doing this, and while I understand that it has to be hard putting aside those mother feelings, I will be very honest in saying that it is negatively impacting our marriage in a big way. It is hard for her to think about anything but the kids and really I am feeling pretty ignored.
    I am a grown up and I can take it but I just don’t want this to cause some kind of harm to our marriage that we can’t fix.

  • julia

    julia

    March 3rd, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    You do have to find ways to make time for each other but I do want to say that when you are a stay at home mom it is hard to let go of that life that you live all day and sort of let go and have fun

  • Rebecca O.

    Rebecca O.

    March 4th, 2015 at 3:29 AM

    My husband and I make it a point to have 10 minutes for ourselves every evening when we both come in the door.

    yes it is a little easier now that the kids are a little older but just having that time alone with each other every day keeps us going sometimes I think.

    It is always nice to have just a little bit of uninterrupted married time before the rest of the worries set in.

  • corinna

    corinna

    March 4th, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    I sort of feel like I am the one who wants to try to stay close and my husband is the one drifting away and only thinking about the kids. It’s like he is over thinking everything and as a result there is no time for us anymore.

  • Olivia s

    Olivia s

    March 5th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    I don’t think that this is a problem for just one part of the couple to focus on, but one that both partners have t o= work on together. You often are going to need a little encouragement to get out of this behavioral pattern as well as a little bit of support too. You don’t need someone constantly tearing you down because who actually wants to make time for that? You should be a partner, no matter what your particular role in this is, who wants to be with the other person as well as be a good parent. But many times the one thing that leads to being the best parent is to be a good spouse and have a healthy relationship with your significant other.

  • Logan

    Logan

    March 9th, 2015 at 5:51 AM

    Once you are a parent you can’t just expect that the two of you will have time together. You as a husband and wife have to find the time to make that happen.

  • Gabrielle

    Gabrielle

    March 9th, 2015 at 3:56 PM

    Gosh I must be the only person on here who feels differently because I am sure that my young children need me much more than the grown man I am married to.
    Is it wrong for us as adults to expect to have to take care of ourselves for a little while while our beautiful babies take up our attention?

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