Five Keys to Relationship Survival After Children

loving-parents-0613134Did you know that marital satisfaction plunges after couples experience the birth of their first child? Having children is the most significant change in the lifetime of a marriage; it dramatically impacts our relationships.

If you think about all the changes that occur after children, it’s no wonder that marital satisfaction suffers. The challenge of being a new parent is stressful. Nursing or bottle-feeding every three or four hours and the subsequent lack of sleep takes a toll.

Women may experience volatile moods or postpartum depression as a result of hormonal changes. Women’s shape, size, and weight also may change, which may affect self-esteem and desire to have sex. From the end of pregnancy until women recover from birth, sex is nonexistent—and even then, many women feel so tired that they don’t want to be touched.

A man may feel that his wife’s attention is focused on the child and that there is less emotional energy for him. If he doesn’t become involved in the care of the child, he may feel left out, like the third wheel.

Practically speaking for couples, there are major financial changes, lifestyle changes, role changes, and career changes.

Given all of these challenges, it’s common for couples to unconsciously put their marriage on the back burner. Slowly but surely, the intimate relationship drifts away. The business of the family may function, but there is a lack of attention on the couple’s emotional and physical connection. The relationship can end up in what we refer to as the “relationship rut.”

So what is a couple to do? Being aware of this is the first step. Here are five keys to relationship survival after children:

  1. Parent as a team: Don’t allow one parent to take on the majority of child-care tasks. Work together in all aspects of parenting—feeding, bathing, changing diapers, etc.
  2. Communicate: Take 15 to 20 minutes each day to check in with each other. Practice healthy communication skills—listening, speaking directly, and managing conflict.
  3. Carve out time for the marriage: Make time to be together without the child/children to nurture your bond. Talk about the relationship and what makes you feel loved.
  4. Express appreciation: Don’t take each other for granted. Tell each other what you are grateful for.
  5. Stay engaged as a loving, caring, and sensual couple: Nurture the emotional and erotic parts of the relationship.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, 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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  • margaret

    margaret

    June 13th, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    In too many relationships the parents put the kids first and the marriage last.

    This is the opposite of how it should be. How are you ever going to present a unified front and work together through this as a team if you don’t continue to nurture the relationship after kids come into the picture?

    I know there is the temptation to do everythng for the kids. I get that. But I think that what I don’t understand is how couples think that they can make the kids number one if they are not in this together. You have to keep the marriage strong for the family to stay strong.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 13th, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    Margaret,
    Thanks for your comments! You are absolutely right! I don’t think couples make a conscious decision that they are going to put the kids first and the marriage last. I think they inadvertantly drift in that direction because there is so much work to do and as a result both partners are exhausted. As you state, the marriage is the foundation of the family and must be strong to create a strong family.

  • Leslie revis

    Leslie revis

    June 14th, 2013 at 4:08 AM

    one thing that was not mentioned was the fact that you need to have an established network of friends and family that you can call on when you and your partner need to have a little time together without the kids. in my own life i have had friends and grandparents willing to step in for us when my husband and in just needed to have a little time together without three kids pulling us in different directions. i think that if it were up to the kids we would focus solely on them and would forget that we were even married! i know that there are a lot of parents who live like this but then when the kids are up and gone they really don’t know how to interact with each other anymore. that’s not what i want out of life and having good people around to help me has been a huge factor in keeping our marriage strong and intact.

  • katy

    katy

    June 15th, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    never too late to realize that team work helps – no matter in what or in what relationship. two is always better than one and sharing responsibility is a good way to stay connected and be involved. serves multiple purposes. hope more couples realize this and give a healthy boost to their marriage.

  • charmaine

    charmaine

    June 17th, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Hi
    What if you don’t have family members that are close to you to help with kids,for one I don’t have close family members that could help me,as for my husband his family most of them they are far from us.its really difficult for us to bond am always tired coming back from work doing the choas in the house looking after the 2year old,its really difficult…especially if the other partner is not willing to meet you half way

  • Gerry

    Gerry

    June 17th, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    My wife has been so great. There are a lot of new moms who just take it all for granted, but she hasn’t been that way at all, even though I know that I have a lot to learn in the parenting department! I have friends who have secretly shared that they wives make them feel like a bumbling idiot when it comes to the kids, like they can never do anything right. But so far, I think that my wife just appreciates any help that she can get, and we are going through the emotions of learning about this whole parenting thing together. This is definitely not a one man or woman show. We have established a partnership because I think that both of us know that this is not something that we can or even want to try to do alone.

  • Sally

    Sally

    June 17th, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    Great article. A child should hopefully bring a couple closer. Learn how to support each other through this transition.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    Leslie,
    Exactly!! Thanks for your comment.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Katy, Yes, it is vital to have support. Sometimes we just have to ask. Appreciate your response!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Charmaine,
    It is very tough. Our families were out of town when our kids were young. We met other young families in our neighborhood and at moms groups, and we traded babysitting so each couple could go out without being anxious about the kids. We did also find paid babysitters through friends. I know lots of people complain they don’t have the money for a babysitter but you have to think you are paying for “your marriage,” and what could be more important than that. We went on inexpensive dates even if it was to go for coffee and dessert or go to a park with a picnic dinner. Hope that helps!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Gerry,
    That’s fantastic! You two sound like a real team.

    What you describe with your friends, i.e. that their wives make them feel like “bumbling idiots,” is unfortunately not uncommon. Tell your friends from me and my husband, marriage counselors for 25 years, that they need to give their wives that feedback; something like, “Honey, when you keep telling me how to (fill in the blank) it makes me feel like a “bumbling idiot” and I withdraw. Please stop doing that.”

    Keep up the great teamwork!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Sally,
    Thanks for your kind words. Yes, the experience of having kids “should” bring a couple closer and in many ways it does, AND adding a third person into the mix is such a huge challenge, that it can separate a couple if they don’t consciously work together as a team.

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