You’re sleep deprived, juggling a lengthy to-do list and trying to support a growing family. Sometimes your partner takes a back seat.
It’s true. Maintaining a relationship post-kids isn’t for the faint of heart. The stresses of life make it harder to relax around each other and when times get tough, it’s easy to take your spouse for granted. I totally understand. I’m a working mom with a 4-year-old and another on the way. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to be nice.
And it’s no secret that your partner takes the brunt of it when you’re feeling less than stellar about yourself and life in general.
The weight of responsibility gets much heavier when there are tiny mouths to feed, which can often mean that discussions about life’s dreams and where to take your next vacation shift to grocery lists and whose job it is to call the plumber. Not to mention that you feel less than sexy when your sick child has thrown up on you or you’ve failed to lose that excess 10 pounds after your youngest made her debut.
Kids can bring life’s greatest moments of happiness, but still, some research has shown that relationships are more likely to deteriorate once couples transition into parenthood. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that both men and women were more likely to experience a steep decline in marriage satisfaction after having kids when compared to couples without kids.
Marriage dissatisfaction was higher in couples when the pregnancy was unplanned. The divorce rate in this country is declining, thanks to millennials waiting longer to tie the knot and to have kids, but still, 40-50 percent of relationships end in divorce and that number gets bigger in subsequent marriages.
So why do some marriages last and some don’t? And maybe even more importantly, why are some largely happy and others filled with discontent and endless bickering?
According to Dr. Ashley Bullock, a clinical psychologist who manages her own private practice, Charleston Psychotherapy Services, when your family goes from two to three, it changes the dynamic. There’s less time for each other and for you as an individual. Most of your time and energy goes to caregiving rather than spending quality time together. No matter how rewarding and wonderful parenting is, many of us don’t realize how much time it can take.
“We’re all human and we all have emotions. Certain vulnerability factors like tiredness, hunger, sickness and loneliness make us less capable of dealing with the day to day,” says Dr. Bullock. And as parents, she says, we’re more likely to be tired, for example, or feel more isolated than we did pre-kids, which can add conflict to our relationships.
Whether you want to nurture your relationship with your spouse or you’re going through a rough patch as a couple and you want to make some changes, according to Dr. Bullock, it’s important to realize that you’re not alone. This is a struggle that many couples endure.
“Find support in your community whether it’s through a counselor, mom group or some other group where you can be honest about how you’re feeling,” says Dr. Bullock. “And as a couple, explore your values. What’s important to you? If you need to get a babysitter once a week so you can go have fun as a couple, that doesn’t make you any less of a parent.”
For parents who find maintaining their relationship post-kids more difficult, there is a silver lining, according to Anna Hiatt Nicholaides, a licensed clinical psychologist in Philadelphia.
“Couples with children have the opportunity to walk hand in hand achieving the noble goal of raising our next generation. It's one of the hardest tasks we will ever undertake, and it is therefore a potential catalyst for growth,” says Nicholaides.
“If you and your partner look within yourselves when times get difficult, and use the painful experiences to grow you, you will undoubtedly come out of the years with younger children as changed and wiser people," she says. This can grow and solidify a relationship, helping it be even more bonded than it otherwise might have.”
Finally, according to Nicholaides, don’t forget about intimacy. “Have sex. Even if you’re tired, even if you don't feel like it, even if your kids have been clawing at you all day. Sex is a universal connector and can heal all manner of wounds in a relationship. (In the case of prior sexual trauma it is important to think about having a therapist help you through the pains of connecting with physical intimacy.)”
Parenting post-kids can take a toll on your relationship, but according to experts, it doesn’t have to. Remember, taking care of yourself and your relationship is part of parenthood, not something that takes away from it.