Having kids can be hard on a marriage. As relationship therapist Rebecca Wong, LCSW, said, kids absorb much of your attention and energy. There are a whole lot more responsibilities and tasks, and your schedule suddenly becomes very limited. Suddenly, there are new challenges to work through — and you’re running on little, very little, sleep.
So how do you maintain a healthy marriage amid all that?
Recently, in another piece, experts shared four strategies that can help. Below, they’re sharing four more suggestions to try.
Nurture your intimacy in different ways.
Not only is focusing on your intimacy important for your relationship, but it also creates a “template for your kids of what relationships look and feel like,” said Wong, who works with parenting couples and is the founder of connectfulness. If sex feels difficult, focus on small things, such as handholding, foot rubs or eye contact, she said. “Every positive interaction between the two of you is foreplay.”
Sometimes you might not want to be touched at all. After holding, hugging, nursing and providing touch in other ways to their kids, moms might be all “touched out,” Wong said.
“I have moms that report to me that they are with their baby all day who is constantly ‘on them,’ and the thought of having their husband touch them is just too much,” said Catherine O’Brien, MA, LMFT, a relationship therapist who specializes in helping families prepare for the transition from pregnancy to parenthood by managing overwhelm, creating more ease and deepening connection.
So you simply might need a break from being touched, Wong said. There are other types of intimacy you can focus on. The key is to be flexible. In fact, Wong said, flexibility is “one of the most important things you can do for your relationship.” In addition to sexual and physical intimacy, there’s also emotional and spiritual intimacy. “[T]hey all need to be nurtured to keep your relationship healthy, secure and resilient.” (Wong shares more on intimacy on her blog.)
Focus on small moments.
“Throughout the day you and your partner come into contact with one another — your good mornings, goodbyes, hellos, goodnights, and everything in between,” Wong said. Pause during these small moments, tune into them and reconnect, she said. Because these exchanges already occur, they also require less energy to maintain, she added. (Which, again, is a bonus when you’re sleep-deprived.)
Get help for depression and anxiety.
An average of 15 percent of moms will struggle with postpartum mood disorders. That includes postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety/OCD and postpartum psychosis. To put this into perspective, “more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy,” writes Katherine Stone in this piece on Postpartum Progress.
Fathers also struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety. When one or both partners are struggling with mental health issues or illnesses, this naturally affects the whole family.
If you think you’re struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, it’s key to get help right away. O’Brien suggested checking with your OB/gyn or your child’s pediatrician for resources; and visiting Postpartum Support International. Postpartum Progress also is an excellent resource and offers a private forum.
As a preventative tool Wong suggested participating in programs like Bringing Baby Home, which decrease depression and anxiety and increase marital satisfaction.
Focus on your love and joy.
“Staying in touch with your loving feelings for each other and your shared love for the baby is critical,” said Nancy Gardner, Ph.D, a psychologist who specializes in couples and is certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy. In the midst of all the work, you can overlook the joy that’s present. “New parents have so much joy to share as they hold their baby, play with him or her, and appreciate the miracle of a new life.”
As you’re trying to take the best care of your baby, your marriage may take a backseat. But remember that your relationship is the foundation of your family. “When you give everything to the kid(s) both you and your relationship end up paying the price,” Wong said.
She likened it to the instructions on airplanes: If cabin pressure drops, you first need to put on your own air mask before putting on your child’s. That is, “If you aren’t taking care of you, if you both aren’t attending to your relationship, you’ll be short of oxygen when it comes to taking care of your kids.”
Family photo available from Shutterstock