How To Revive Your Relationship After Kids
Does your marriage feel staler than a week-old sourdough since your precious bundles of joy entered your life? Here’s how to dust it off and make it shiny again…
Before I had kids, I was a dating and sex columnist. I thought I understood what relationships were like after having children because I’d casually chatted to some of my parent friends. If things were getting a bit stale, they just needed to put on some nice clothes and head out to dinner! Surely tapas were enough to get any couple out of a rut?
I had no clue then what having three young children in the space of two-and-a-half years would do to my relationship. The crippling sleep deprivation, the stress of juggling the needs of twin babies and a toddler, the anxious nights when everyone was sick, the pressures of work, the financial worry … we became shells of ourselves. How could we possibly have anything left over for each other?
If your relationship has tumbleweeds blowing through it, you’re not alone. I spoke to some brave mamas about the cold, hard, gritty truth of life after kids. And while many hardships and struggles came up, a lot of love and hope shone through their stories. Here’s their advice (and some of mine too!) on how to breathe life back into your relationship post-babies.
Accept that your relationship will change
You won’t go out to dinner every Saturday night. You won’t have sex four times a week (sorry). Your legs will probably be hairy when you do. You’ll have moments where you hate your partner with every fiber of your being. But guess what? It’s all completely normal. Instead of desperately trying to claw your way back to pre-kids bliss, do your best to embrace the changes. Try to look at what you’ve gained (a scrumptious little human, your own tight-knit family unit, a less selfish outlook on life, etc.) rather than what you’ve lost.
“I wasted so much energy trying to be the old ‘fun and carefree Tess’ in the first year of Hunter’s life that I almost forgot to be a mom,” says mother-of-two Teresa. “I kept planning ‘cool’ outings with friends to prove I hadn’t changed. When I finally embraced motherhood, it was a huge relief not only for me but for my husband too. We became closer than ever after that.”
Make sure you know each other’s love languages
I wish I’d read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman before I got married because it would’ve saved me a lot of frustration. Chapman says that there are five basic love languages – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. If you try to express your love to your partner in a language that’s different from their own, it’s like speaking to them in a foreign language they can’t understand.
Once you figure out your partner’s love language, you’ll be able to show them your love in a way that’s meaningful to them. So, if your own language is ‘words of affirmation’, you may have been trying to express your love by praising your partner’s attributes. But if their language is physical touch, it will have fallen on deaf ears because they feel loved through hugs, kisses and other physical contact. Try touching them gently on the arm as you walk by or a spontaneous hug and you’ll soon notice them returning the love.
Have regular date nights (or days)
You didn’t think you’d escape this tip, did you? But hear me out before you brush off outings to fancy restaurants as “too complicated” … dates can happen at any time of day or even at home. If you’re morning people, enlist a friend or family member to watch the kids for a couple of hours and head out for breakfast or a walk on the beach (a friend of mine swears by morning dates!). Or put the kids to bed, cook a special meal (something spicy or fancy that the kids won’t eat), and sit down for a candlelit dinner with a nice bottle of wine. At our house, the night usually ends with music and a nightcap in front of our firepit. Who needs to go out?
Keep the communication flowing
Even couples who used to have wide-open lines of communication find that they barely have time to say “boo” to each other amidst the chaos of the day once they become parents. And when you’ve finally managed to get the kids to bed, the dinner mess cleaned up and the lunchboxes packed, chances are slim to none that you’ll feel like having a serious conversation. But communication is key, so try slotting it into your diary like any other commitment.
“Jeff and I were ships passing in the night for a while,” says mom-of-three Katie. “We only spoke to decide what we were having for dinner or who was picking up the kids. No wonder we were struggling. So, we decided to sit down and chat for 10 minutes every Wednesday night once the kids were in bed. Some weeks it’s only 10 minutes, but others we end up talking and laughing for two hours. It’s been great.”
Praise each other
No matter what your love language is, chances are you like being told that you’re awesome (and I bet your partner does too). Make an effort to praise your better half’s efforts at home, at work, with the kids or in another area of their life that’s important to them. After a few tries, it’ll feel more natural and you’ll likely notice a positive change in your partner. They might even begin to return the favor.
Keep touching each other
When I’m exhausted and stretched to capacity, I tend to withdraw from physical touch. I thought I was odd until I found out that this is a common problem for women who have young children hanging off them 23 hours a day. But the more you withdraw physically from your partner, the more the emotional distance will grow as well. Try to greet you partner with a hug when they get home, give them a spontaneous kiss, hug them, hold their hand, pat them on the back and make time for sex. It doesn’t have to be Mardi Gras in Rio every time, but having sex will help keep the intimacy and love alive in your relationship.
Surprise each other
Remember when you used to leave cute little love notes in his briefcase, surprise him with his favorite dinner and send him sexy texts? Do it again. It’ll feel silly and contrived at first, but he’ll love it and soon feel compelled to return the favor.
Remind yourselves of how you fell in love
When Jen and Adam sought counseling to save their 15-year marriage, their therapist recommended this exercise which helped them turn things around. “I know this sounds simple, but she asked us to answer a series of questions recounting how we’d met, fallen in love, gotten married and other important milestones in our relationship,” says Jen. “It really helped to remind us why we had gotten together and how solid our relationship had become after four kids. She also suggested that we regularly listen to music, watch movies, look at photos and go to restaurants from our past to relive the good moments. We do it all the time now and it’s brought us back together.”
If you don’t feel like you can fix your relationship on your own, consider couples counseling. A trained professional can help you see each other’s perspectives and give you advice that’s tailored to your specific situation. Parenthood is a tough gig that puts relationships through the ringer, but they can often bounce back with a little help.
- Being a parent can be a lonely business. Childhood Development expert, Anastasia Moloney talks about the importance of striking up new friendships and nurturing old ones in an article on the importance of mom friends.
- Striving for A+ parenting seems like a no-brainer, but it can actually cause problems for both you and your child. Psychologist Hannah Cassedy recommends relaxing expectations and aiming for a B+.