Baby on the way? Between loading up on gear, stocking the freezer with pre-made meals, and child-proofing every nook and cranny in sight, chances are you’re well aware that new parenthood is a juggling act.
And even for expert jugglers, there’s one factor that typically falls to the wayside amid the excitement and happy chaos of baby’s arrival: your relationship. Oftentimes, any semblance of romance (sex? what’s that?) is eclipsed by the responsibilities inherent to the bundle of love you’ve brought home.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though – striking a balance between co-parents and companions is possible. Read on for tips from therapists who work with new parents to learn how to keep the love alive, when two becomes three:
1. Make a habit out of one-on-one conversations
It can be challenging for anyone, but especially new parents, to open a conversation about their own needs. But keep that line of communication open, advises John Carr, a therapist who specializes in adjustments to fatherhood.
“One of the best ways to ‘open a conversation’ is to create a consistent space and opportunity for connecting – that is, for mutually generous listening to one another,” he says. In other words? These conversations needn’t be a big to-do, but they should be built into your routine, and intentional.
He recommends having those intentional check-ins on a weekly basis. “Once you name it, you can bring it up as something to prioritize,” he says.
Here are some easy ways to build conversations into the routine you already have:
Go on walks together (while baby naps in the stroller)
Schedule time for a (non-baby related!) catch-up after your little one is in bed
Share a story from your day while washing the dishes
Remember to be gentle with one another. “If you or your partner are not generous with each other, it won’t feel safe to communicate your needs,” Carr says. “If either or both of you are not truly listening, then no amount of compliments or thank you’s will help.”
2. Initiate your conversations with these prompts
So, you’re ready to get conversation flowing with your partner – but not sure where to start? Meira Cohen-Hansford, a therapist whose specialties include perinatal mental health and parenting support, recommends the following questions* to jumpstart a weekly conversation:
“What's something that's going well in our relationship?”
“What's something I'm challenged by in our relationship?”
“What’s one thing your partner did for you this week that helped you feel loved/cared for and connected?”
These will set the stage for open, honest communication. Plus, focusing exclusively on your relationship, rather than regarding yourselves as two co-parents, can help foster a sense of reconnection.
3. Share warmth and gratitude with one another
Another way to facilitate conversation is by expressing gratitude.
Try saying statements like these to your partner out loud, or writing on sticky notes in places you know your partner will see:
“Thank you so much for making lunch yesterday”
“Thanks for letting me take some time for myself last night”
“Thanks for getting up with the baby last night”
Research shows gratitude has lasting, positive impacts on the brain – and, points out Cohen-Hansford, the “more we identify and express the things our partner is doing right, the more inclined they will be to continue doing them.” Win-win!
4. Make time for conflict resolution with a professional
Even the happiest, healthiest couples struggle to stay connected during the transition to new parenthood. If you’re feeling stuck at any point in the process, a couples counselor can provide a safe space for you to get the conversation to going a point where you both feel respected and heard.
5. Keep your most important incentive in mind
At the end of the day, your relationship has a huge impact on your children. “One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is to model healthy communication and remember that your relationship with your partner is essential to your child’s healthy development and your connection with your child,” says Cohen-Hansford.
“Babies and children are unbelievably perceptive and take in their caretakers’ energy and the energy of a home. Our children can be motivating forces to remember to find the courage to communicate well with our partners.”
Carr adds, “When new parents take time to tend for their relationship, they are modeling behavior that will help their children to grow up as responsible, healthy adults.”
And above all else, be patient – it may take practice before you get your communication groove back. Baby steps, if you will!
Want help navigating the ups and downs of new parenthood? Find couples counselors or therapists specializing in prenatal mental health and parenting on Zencare!
Zencare is a free-to-use website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist. Visit Zencare.co to browse a vetted network of top therapists, using criteria like insurance, sliding scale, and specialties. You can also directly book a free assessment call from the Zencare site.
(*Source: The Center for Men's Excellence, Daniel Singley)