When you’re parents: how relationships might change
Most couples experience relationship changes when they become parents.
For many people the birth of a child brings positive changes in their relationship. For example, you and your partner might feel a new and different level of connection. But you might also experience some strains, even if these weren’t part of your relationship before becoming parents.
Less sleep, less time to talk, less time to spend together – these things can all take their toll on your relationship while you care for your new baby.
These changes and strains might mean you disagree more often or that things don’t quite feel right. Also, you might not have the energy to sort out problems when they arise.
Open communication helps keep things on track and helps you both come to terms with these changes. It can nurture and strengthen a healthy relationship with your partner, as well as with friends and relatives.
Healthy relationships: tips for parents
Listen to each other
Good listening is the most important communication skill you have. It helps you and your partner feel heard, understood and supported.
That’s because good listening helps you understand things from your partner’s point of view and puts you in touch with your partner’s feelings. If you want your partner to listen to you, you need to be prepared to hear issues from your partner’s point of view.
You can show you’re really listening by stopping what you’re doing when your partner wants to talk, and by paying full attention to your partner’s words and body language.
It’s important to encourage your partner to talk by asking open-ended questions, like ‘What do you think about … ’. These questions can encourage more discussion about issues. You can also check whether you’ve understood by restating your partner’s comments in your own words.
And remember – if you’re thinking about what to say next, you’re not really listening. Instead, try to focus your attention on what your partner is saying. You can even jot down notes if you’re concerned you’ll forget something important.
Tell your partner how you feel
Your partner isn’t a mind reader! When you talk about your frustrations and fears, your happiness and joys, it makes it easier for your partner to know what you’re going through.
‘I’ statements are easier to listen to than ‘you’ statements, which can seem like criticisms. So when you talk, you could say things like ‘I feel a bit lonely when we spend less time together’. This might be better than ‘You don’t make any time for us anymore’.
It can be hard to slot in discussions between nappy changes – you might find it helps to set aside time to talk.
Accept the changes
You can look at your relationship as being in a new phase, rather than off track. It’s good to talk about what the new phase means to you both and how you can manage it.
If you’re finding that spending time together is more difficult in this new phase, try a new approach – for example, planning time for the two of you.
Differences in opinion will come up as you go through changes – talking about these can help you both understand each other’s perspective. It’s OK to disagree.
It can help to relieve tension if you accept different points of view while explaining your own. You can use the tips on listening, above, to find out what your partner means rather than counter-attacking, which can make things worse.
When you’re making decisions together, aim for ones that are OK for both of you – especially decisions about parenting. As parents, it’s important to be on the same page, but you might find that agreeing on things like routines, discipline and bedtimes takes some teamwork.
Stay close now you’re parents
Simple things like asking your partner about the day (‘What was good?’, ‘What wasn’t so good?’) can help you keep in touch.
Small gestures that show your partner that you care can also do the trick. This might be just a cup of tea or offering your partner a sleep-in when tiredness sets in.
Make some ‘couple’ time
Making some time to spend together as a couple can give you both the opportunity to talk, reconnect, enjoy each other’s company and nurture your relationship.
When you’re ready, you could:
- organise a babysitter and go out somewhere you both enjoy during the day or in the evening – it could be for a meal, a walk or a movie
- make time to do something special together at home – for example, a special dinner or a DVD after your children have gone to bed
- think about what you liked to do before you became parents and work out how you could make it happen again – even if you do it a bit differently now.
If you plan ahead for these activities, they’re more likely to happen. It also gives you something to look forward to.
Having a sex life
Believe it or not, most couples do get their sexual relationship back on track eventually. Putting more time into talking and spending time together can make you feel closer, and this helps your sex life.
If you’re feeling too tired or too distracted to even think about sex, try talking to your partner about how you feel. Just like time together, sex might also need a bit of scheduling.
Taking control of your relationship
You can do this by talking honestly about the changes taking place in your lives. This might mean talking about how you feel about your new roles, and what you see these roles as being.
Having children often brings up issues from your own childhood. Discussing these together can help you both to understand how they might influence what you do and say as parents.
If things are getting tough, it might be worth seeking support. You could speak with your GP, or see government-funded relationship counsellors at organisations like Relationships Australia and LifeWorks.