“I was sleep deprived… the baby never stopped crying…he was always working. Now the kids are older and we’re just not connecting. There’s no intimacy; I don’t have any interest.”
Babies are amazing creatures, but their presence ends the relationship that has been, up until that point, and a new one begins. Many couples figure out how to reconnect after having a child, sometimes quickly, sometimes after several years. But many do not.
Having a baby often means moving from fun, endorphin-filled activities, and into sleep deprivation and onerous tasks which test the limits of couples’ patience and ability to connect.
In my personal, and professional, experience, an equally shared load is one of the main contributors to a relationship that survives children.
This may not be as clear as it sounds. One person working while the other stays home, doesn’t guarantee that you will feel that the load is shared. Both parents working, with one child or more in daycare, also requires negotiation over household duties. If you are planning to have children, just had children, or are still struggling to reconnect years after having children, you might want to consider what your long term goals as a couple and as a family are. (See What’s Worth Digging For)
What do you want your day to day life to look like? What are the things you are not wanting to give up, and what things are you willing to re-consider in terms of lifestyle, living arrangements, proximity to extended family, career, and education? Think creatively.
Early in our relationship, my partner and I spoke about how neither of us wanted to be away from the kids all the time (if we were to have kids), and neither of us wanted to be home all the time. At that point, he had more earning ability than I did, and so we made a long term plan for me to get my degree.
We knew we needed to equalize our earning potential so that the income load was not solely on one person, or the other, and so we could either both work or take turns.
I was in university when our oldest was born and often brought him to class with me. I was still in school when the second one was born; he also came to classes (I’m still hoping they’ll get some credits for their attendance). My ability to get an education allowed me to increase my earning potential. Also, being in school when the kids were very young helped me to avoid feeling isolated and gave me some adult brain work to do. This worked for me because I enjoy school. If school is not enjoyable to you, this may not be a good option at this time when stress is high.
There are many, many ways to divide home and work duties, but the key components are flexibility, creativity and setting times for re-negotiation.
Consider what ideas you each hold about gender roles and if these will bring you to the life you want for yourselves. Maybe these ideas need to be reconsidered. Most people are not open to any options that involve downsizing or living more simply, because there is a feeling that success means moving up and bigger. But what’s the point of financial growth, if you are unhappy, and risking being alone, if being alone is not in your life goals.
Finding shared values and vision among partners, and re-negotiating agreements regarding division of labour at regular intervals is critical, especially in the early stages of child-rearing.
In the early days, you may actually need to re-negotiate weekly, as things are changing so quickly. Ensuring that each person can manage tasks in a passable way means that neither becomes indispensible in any area and unable to take a break when needed.
Being able to take a break, and tend to your own needs, is the first step to reconnecting with your partner.
You need to know what your needs are to be able to communicate them to your partner, and you need to rejuvenate in order to respond to your partner’s needs. This is essential for the future of your relationship together.
For more on relationships see Sex – How Much is Enough?
Also check out Mating in Captivity