Now We Are Three or Four or More! Relationship Survival!
The baby you always wanted has arrived and you have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love. But your partner seems a little distant and doesn’t agree with some of the ways you are looking after the baby. He is not the same person he was and you are not sure you are happy with the changes! Day by day he is behaving more and more like his own father. Secretly, your partner may also be thinking that you are behaving more and more like your mother. What happened to the man you married, the one that was there for you when you were pregnant and during labour? Why does everything feel like such a strain? And when will it all be over when will life drift back to ‘normal’?
Whilst the joys and wonders of infancy are many, the pressures can also at times feel overwhelming: parents can feel the burden of added responsibility, duties and household chores; 24 hour nursing care in the early months (and sometimes years) can be exhausting; adjusting to the new roles in the family from partner, friend and lover to parent and the changes in relationships can be hard work. Women also have the changes in their bodies to adjust to and the feelings that accompany them. For many those years with young babies can be confusing at times, out of which conflict can grow, and if this is unresolved the stress on the relationship can reach breaking point. Children can test us every which way and can rock the foundations of even the most solid of relationships.
A baby can cement a good relationship and bring a couple closer together, or he or she can highlight the cracks in a relationship. There are many perfectly normal reasons for feeling lost and bewildered, or angry, sad, resentful etc., in your relationship after birth because of all the adjustments you are making. A difficult, demanding or sickly baby, or one that wakes six times a night can put an added strain on you and your relationship, as can other common stresses such as post-natal depression, slow healing from the birth, lack of support and so on.
Even though husbands have not actually had the baby themselves they can experience many confusing responses to becoming fathers and may find it hard to know what to do with these feelings. Some common ones include:
OVER-JOYED. Great waves of excitement and joy can wash over you at any time of day or night. While these are generally pleasant they can catch you by surprise.
EXCITED. The excitement that comes with a new baby can stop you from sleeping at night and be wonderfully distracting during the day!
DISPLACED. It feels as if the baby has taken your place. You feel pushed away and not as important. You struggle to understand your new place in the family
JEALOUS. As all attentions are focused on the baby and your wife, you are surprised to feel some similar feelings to when you were little and your baby sister or brother arrived.
RESENTFUL. The baby takes up so much time, is so demanding of everyone’s attentions you feel angry which you don’t express and so it simmers as a low grade resentment.
EXHAUSTED. Coping with work and home, the broken nights, looking after everyone (but yourself), including an unbroken stream of visitors, wears you down.
OVERWHELMED. You panic at having total responsibility for another human being … one who is so dependent…on you. The added burden of being the sole breadwinner may make you feel like the task is simply too big.
PERPLEXED. It can take some fathers several weeks or even months to bond with their babies and in that time they may wonder what all the fuss is about, may have expected to fall in love and be puzzled when it happen doesn’t.
SCARED. Babies are unpredictable and can cry a lot. Some babies have a cry that is disturbing and that only stops when their mothers hold them. It can be frightening to feel so helpless.
ANXIOUS. There is a great deal to worry about with a new baby especially if you have plenty of well-meaning relatives and friends who are generous with their advice!
GUILTY. For feeling any or all of the above!
talk up a storm
Finding a way to express what you are going through will help more than almost anything. Make sure that you take some time to talk with your partner every day, to catch up with each other on what has happened and how you are feeling. Even if you only manage to snatch 10 minutes at the beginning or the end of the day. Communicate any frustrations, worries and fears. To make sure you and your partner are up to date with your relationship housekeeping on a regular basis. Don’t forget to find something to laugh at if you can. Your baby will provide you with plenty of material if you run out!
Busy mums and dads can forget how draining parenting can be and that they need to look after each other on a regular basis. One way is to say something appreciative to each other every single day. A little appreciation goes a long way! It is easy to take each other for granted, or to behave as if you do to forget that you BOTH need to feel appreciated, now more than ever. Try saying a heartfelt thank you for that early morning cup of tea, for doing the washing up and cooking that great meal. Make an effort to say kind and thoughtful words about what a great mum or dad you are, about how well you are coping or how gorgeous you look.
You will need to deal with that difficult issue of child-rearing, especially if you both have different views or plans. Parents can argue endlessly over when the baby should eat and when (and even how), toilet training, where he or she sleeps, discipline issues and so on. You will need to hold regular meetings (! conversatins) about all aspects of how you want to bring up your kids so that you can work together in a co-operative partnership, and not end up sniping at each other from across the kitchen table.
Talk to other parents who share similar interests. They can be a rich source of information and reassurance as well as advice, especially if your family lives far away or is unreliable in this area.
Get help from a counsellor or psychotherapist if you are finding it difficult to communicate and are deteriorating into squabbling or nagging all too easily, or worse, are giving each other the silent treatment. This is a passive way of showing you are angry and always means that you have some frustration that needs dealing with.
just the two of you
One or both partners may lose interest in sex for some time after the birth. This is always easier if you are both feeling like sex can take a back seat for a while. In a relationship where one partner feels sexually frustrated it can be useful, or even necessary, to seek the help of a psychotherapist trained in sexuality counselling.
The reasons for loss of interest can be varied. For example, sex can be painful for women who have had an episiotomy. You may be too tired or feel there is no time for it…or privacy. Women can find that after a day of intimacy with their babies they just want to be alone. You don’t want any more touching … you just want to go to bed with a good book. Men can feel worn out after a hard day’s work, broken sleep, and childcare and chores and just want to hang out in front of the TV with a beer.
Your partner and friend and lover has now become a mother or father figure, and for some this new role may not be very sexy. You may have an unconscious taboo from your childhood about your own mother and/or father not having sex (except maybe the once or twice!). And then your own libido plunges after the birth as you struggle with the unconscious message that parents aren’t very sexy, or aren’t supposed to be!
Make time for in your daily lives for affection, especially for affection that doesn’t lead to sex. Women who have had a physically arduous birth may need to re-start the intimate part of the relationship from from scratch, with lots of cuddling and closeness and touching in order to build physical trust again. Many women need time to explore and express how their bodies and sexual responses have changed. You may benefit by learning the art of snatching a quick cuddle (or more) when your baby naps unexpectedly (especially if you have more than one child) the washing can always wait!
You may want to think carefully about having your baby in your bed or even in your bedroom (after the first few months) if he or she is going to come between you and your partner, i.e. if you feel inhibited emotionally or sexually or in any other way by having him or her there.
spend some time alone
The tasks of life can seem impossible as you juggle the baby with home, your relationship, other children, work and looking after yourself. Let alone friends and family. Many women (and some men!) put themselves last which often means they get left out altogether. It is important that you take care of yourself and spend some time alone each day to recharge your batteries, even if it is only a ten minute break. Do something which nourishes and relaxes you: just sit quietly with a cup of tea and a magazine or paper, soak in a hot bath, meditate or do nothing!
We all need time alone, the more children you have the more important it is to make this time a part of your daily routine. I know one mother who makes herself a breakfast tray and sits in the front room with the door closed and the children (all four of them) banned until she emerges! She says it is one of the things that keeps her sane.
simplify and share household chores
These are not going to go away. Ever. As your children and/or your family grow they will increase! You need to streamline them so that they don’t become overwhelming in order to make room for other, more important things, like having fun with each other!
Do the shopping once a week with a list, so that you don’t forget the essentials.
Get smart in the kitchen: learn a dozen fast meals, some of which you can cook with the baby on one hip, and which you can rotate without having to think about them.
Give up all ideas of having a beautiful home at least for a while (unless you can afford a cleaner) and make your child and your relationship a priority over a tidy house.
Share out the household chores between you and your partner, especially if you are both working. Many fathers are finding it rewarding to be involved in caring for their children (including helping out at night) as it makes feel an important part of the family and not just that person who brings home the bacon. It is also healthy for children of both sexes to see their father participating in the daily running of the house.
making time for each other
One of the biggest mistakes new parents make is to focus so much attention on the baby that they forget about each other they forget that their relationship needs time and attention … if it is to survive. We need to be reminded that babies have a habit of surviving, relationships do not. In some ways your relationship with each other is more important than the one either of you has with the baby. Because it will (hopefully) last longer and because the health and strength of your family relies primarily on the relationship between mother and father.
One of the ways you can invest in your relationship is by putting time into it on a regular basis. Now that your baby is here you will have to plan to spend time together. And this may be one of your most important relationship tasks while your children are young.
Make a regular date: once a week is ideal an evening or a daytime date and book a regular baby-sitter. Someone your baby will become familiar with and be happy to be with as he or she grows up. Even if you can only manage (and/or afford) an hour away from home, do something simple, just the two of you: go for a walk, sit on a park bench and watch the leaves fall, share a pint at your local pub. What you say to each other matters less than the fact that you are spending time together. These precious moments alone are more important than social engagements with friends. Especially in the first months after the birth.
Initially, some couples don’t know what to say to each other and may even feel silly about taking time off in this sort of structured way when they were used to being more spontaneous but they soon learn to appreciate these times. Once you are able to get out for longer you can linger over a meal or enjoy a good film! Or you can ask your babysitter to come and take your baby out for a couple of hours in the morning, on the weekend for example, (along with any other children that happen to be lying around), so that you can go back to bed with a cup of tea and just snooze or cuddle or whatever…just like the old days!
The following remedies can help with partners who are struggling with the adjustment to fatherhood. Use them as a short term measure and only if the description fits well.
Withdrawn and resentful: For partners who feel the loss of their former life and love, who feel saddened and just withdraw instead of expressing their feelings. Homeopathic remedy: Natrum muriaticum Jealous and pathetic: Some new fathers regress to childhood themselves, becoming dependent, whiny and demanding in an attempt to get their partner’s attention. Homeopathic remedy: Pulsatilla Tired and irritable: For touchy types who find the broken nights difficult, who drink more tea or coffee to keep them going at work and then find it difficult to switch off at night. They become increasingly irritable (snapping at small trifling things). Homeopathic remedy: Nux vomica Anxious and overwhelmed: Some new parents find themselves completely overwhelmed with all that has to be done. They worry themselves silly over the baby’s health (and their partner’s) and sink into an increasingly negative state. Homeopathic remedy: Calcarea carbonica Anxious and fearful: For intellectual types who look with dread to the future, especially the increase of responsibilities, who find the emotional demands of parenthood hard to deal with and who retreat from intimacy with their partners into their world of work. Homeopathic remedy: Lycopodium
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