After the elation of having our gorgeous wee babies and working out how on earth to look after them, we can start to feel the build-up of resentment, crankiness and a lack of desire.
Is it because (for many of us) having kids coincides with the end of the honeymoon phase? Is it because kids sap the last inklings of energy out of us so that we have nothing left to give to our partner? Is it that we are prioritising our children and work above our partners?
All of the above?
Having kids is one of the most life-changing and beautiful experiences we can have personally and as a couple but it is also really hard.
A staggering two-thirds of couples report that the quality of their relationship has declined within five years of the birth of their first child according to the Gottman relationship research institute.
Read more about relationships:
- 7 ways to strengthen your relationship when you have kids
- 6 common relationship hurdles parents face and how you can work through them
- Does your relationship need baby-proofing too?
Why it gets so tough and what we can do about it
1. Motherhood gets us stuck in overdrive
Motherhood requires every brain cell, every atom and every one of our wits to be functioning optimally, not just for an hour or a day but for the long haul. This is not just difficult, it is beyond human.
Between carrying the emotional load of the family (cos we do!), taxiing and playdates, the tantrums, the constant concern about them growing into decent, employable humans not to mention the getting up in the middle of the night …
Life with kids is hectic
To manage we tend to either fall in a puddle or go into overdrive.
Overdrive is; constantly multitasking, constantly managing, thinking ahead and being busy. Which is quite a feat! Go us.
But what suffers is our presence and connectedness to life and those around us.
While overdrive gets the job done, it is not the mode needed to have happy relationships and the problem is that we forget to switch it off before trying to connect with our partners.
Overdrive and relationships do not mix well
Trying to connect, appreciate or feel attraction towards your partner from overdrive is doomed to failure. Instead of feeling closer, you are much more likely to create tension.
Instead, when you have some time with your partner try connecting by doing the following:
- take a break, i.e: put aside 15 minutes to connect
- breathe deeply
- soften into your body
- look into their eyes and connect from there.
2. We stop feeling supported by our partner
After kids, the work-life balance that worked for you before has changed for the foreseeable future. There are new ways of being, doing and organising life across the board in terms of finances, housework and personal space. But so often, despite these changes, we don’t stop to negotiate new terms and instead blunder on.
What can happen is that you and your partner can get stuck in very subtle yet disruptive power struggles without even knowing it.
Common struggles include:
- hard work
- the frequency of intimacy
- who is right or wrong
Power struggles play out just like two kids in the playground arguing over who is right. “I’m right, no I am right, no I’m right, no I am right” which, as we all know, has no end.
Being stuck in a power struggle feels like a constant competition which is the opposite to the sense of support that we desire. Instead of feeling like a team, you start to be more like adversaries, constantly trying to win the upper hand. It sucks.
The irony is that you both want the same thing: to feel like you are there for each other … Not being “more right” than the other.
The way out …
One way out of a power struggle that has worked for me and my clients is to be courageous enough to share your true feelings and thoughts. Such as:
“Ever since I stopped working to be a stay at home mum, I feel guilty spending money, even though I know the finances are ours.”
Power struggles exist due to subtle unspoken fears and shames. Once they are spoken and you have an opportunity to understand or to be understood on the true values, deeper fears and hidden shame, power struggles will often transmute into something that feels a lot closer.
NB: The above is based on the assumption that you are dealing with a reasonable and decent partner. If not, take care.
3. We wrongly believe that marriages don’t need work
The Princess gets her Prince and they live happily ever after with 2.5 children, a dog and a picket fence. Right?
In all our formative years of fairy-tale absorption, there was very little mention of the happily ever after requiring hard work. As a result, we tend to panic when things get tense, uncomfortable or disconnected.
We presume that we either, a) Just can’t do this relationship thing and are complete screw-ups at intimacy. Or, b) Must have just got the wrong “Prince”.
But neither of these things are necessarily true.
While the first phase of getting together, “romantic love”, is fun, it is not sustainable. It is not really all that real, in that it is not based on a true, deep knowing of the other in all of life’s circumstances. Relationships do get real eventually … a realness that comes from struggling together.
Struggle is essential
Real love is honest, self-responsible, accepting and stable. But it doesn’t come from a glint in the eye, and a meeting of souls. It comes from hard conversations, compromise taking responsibility and baring your true-self, aka the struggle.
If you are feeling the honeymoon happy chemistry slip away and find yourself in a constant state of struggle … It does not mean the end. Just the end of a phase.
If there are any remnants of a belief that your relationship should “just work” or that “if you have to put in effort it must be flawed”, then deal with them. Address those beliefs and dissolve them with your love. They have no place in a healthy marriage, especially not one with children.
In short, being a parent does not make your relationship easier. Things can start to feel pretty difficult and tense between you and your partner, but it does not have to stay that way. Shifting out of overdrive, addressing any areas of a power struggle in your relationship and committing to do the work of relationships will make it feel much better.
What to do
Get Smart, get conscious and take responsibility. In other words, get to work.
Where to start?
Read, research and learn what you can do to help your relationship. Check out The Love list – a list of all my favourite readings, podcasts, links and clips to start exploring ideas for your relationship.
This article was published with permission from Nicole Mathieson’s website. Nicole is a relationship coach who specialises in helping women keep the love and desire alive in long-term relationships. Read the original post here.