Updated: Sep 14, 2020
When you become a parent, you are forever changed. Overnight, it feels, your priorities, your idea of fun, even your values can suddenly shift to unrecognizable. And your relationship? That changes too. Suddenly it’s not about you and your partner anymore - it’s about what’s best for this little creature you’ve vowed to love and protect. This is an incredible gift, an honour really. But it can also be damn hard on your relationship! Suddenly there’s way more to do than there is time to do it. There’s a new human who requires what feels like ALL of your love and attention. There’s no time for makeup, for doing your hair… sometimes even for showering! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, disempowered, and for one or both partners to start feeling resentful and lonely.
So what’s the secret? Why do some relationships thrive during this time while others grow apart? If you’re reading this and thinking “Shit. My partner and I are getting more and more distant… I can feel it. But I don’t have TIME to work on it! I don’t have ENERGY to do what it takes. This is hopeless.” I’ve been there, trust me. I know how you feel. And I’m here to tell you, it’s not too late! There are some super simple steps you can take that will almost immediately make you feel more connected with your partner.
The first step is all in your mind. You can work on this while you’re feeding baby, while you’re napping with baby, even while you’re doing the dishes or folding laundry. It’s simple, and you’ve heard it before - but now is the time to put it into practice. This is positive psychology’s absolute favourite answer to any problem, and it really does work. It’s appreciation. Simply thinking about what your partner is doing right, what you appreciate about them, what they add to your life can IMMEDIATELY soften you toward them and make you want to give them a big bear hug. I like to keep a little journal in the notes section of my phone where I record the new, amazing things my daughter does and the nice things I’ve noticed about my partner, especially as it relates to him being a new dad and a loving husband.
"Catch your partner doing something right."
The second step is also super easy, and it’s a total game-changer. Marital researchers John and Julie Gottman discovered that this one simple thing was often the main difference between couples who remained happily married and those who later divorced or stayed together in an unhappy marriage. What could possibly make that big of a difference? Simply RESPONDING (neutrally or, ideally, positively) to your partner! When your partner says “Hey, did you see that article in the newspaper this morning?”, instead of ignoring them (turning away from your partner) or rolling your eyes and saying “I don’t have TIME to read the newspaper, unlike some people!” (turning against your partner, this spells trouble), turn toward them by simply saying “No, I didn’t get a chance to - what did it say?” Showing interest in our partner and responding positively to them can increase your relationship happiness immensely.
The third step works best once you’ve mastered the first two. Once you’re feeling pretty good about your partner, and when you’ve established a culture of turning toward them, you can begin to engage in deep, open conversations about parenthood that serve to connect you as parents and loving partners. You can ask each other questions such as “What traditions (daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly) do we want to establish in this family? What values do we want to pass down to our baby? Who do you admire as a parent? What can we learn from them? How do we want to celebrate big milestones, now that baby is here? What is your favourite thing about being a mom/dad? What are you struggling with? How can I better support you?” These conversations can be had anytime you’re in a good place, as a way to further connect you as a team.
This time may feel hard, but by making small, simple acts of connection a priority, your relationship will only get better and better.