Congratulations, you are new parents! Your marriage has always been great, but now with the baby, you are finding it takes more and more effort to connect with each other and give the baby the time and attention he needs. Rhonda Kruse Nordin is the author of After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth (Taylor Publishing). An advocate for today’s families, Rhonda speaks to parent audiences on the topic of marriage and childbirth. She lives with her husband and two sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Below, Rhonda answers questions many partners go through in their struggle to keep their relationship strong. Keep this information in mind to help you celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, and set the spark for days to come!
Since our baby was born a year ago, my husband and I have seldom made love. At first I wasn’t interested and my husband was patient and understanding. Now it’s his turn for disinterest— even when I’m the mood. No big issues loom between us and we tend to get along well, there’s just little sex. How can I change this situation?
First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself if you experience a sexual hiatus after childbirth. New parents generally face two sexual turning points: when to resume lovemaking after the birth of a baby and maintaining the frequency of lovemaking. You might be relieved to learn that seven of ten couples report new norms of sexual behavior the first year postpartum and most couples don’t jump right back into lovemaking— even when the new mother feels fully healed and the baby is sleeping through the night. The key for you and your spouse is determining what seems right to you and what works in your marriage.
Turn the mirror for introspection: might you be doing something that interferes with sharing sexually? Have you been critical of your spouse? Have you made accusations or demands outside the bedroom that are a turn-off in the bedroom? New mothers must also ask, “Have I let myself go?” Be watchful of this. While we don’t like to acknowledge it, a man places a great deal of importance on his wife’s appearance. He wants and needs to feel attracted to her. Make extra efforts in this area and you’ll probably feel better about yourself, too. Consider what kinds of things you did when the romance was strongest. Are you as affectionate or attentive as you once were, or is the baby the recipient of all the care and nurturing once showered on your husband?
Foster a mood to talk about this sensitive issue. Get away from the baby and other responsibilities, then ask your husband in a kind way if there is something he’d like to talk about that keeps him from wanting to make love. What outside stresses could be affecting your husband? Extra pressures at work? Financial stress? Health concerns?
Having a frank discussion about how you feel about sex tends to break down barriers. Talk about frequency and what seems right to you for this time in your marriage. Sexual frequency does not have to match up exactly, and rarely does it between partners. The goal, of course, is that sexual problems do not become marital problems, too. Most parents survive the sexual slowdown which is often just a consequence of becoming parents and learning to parent together. Sex though is important to the marital union, so if your husband’s reluctance persists, seek professional help.
Our marriage has changed dramatically in the past three months since childbirth. There’s an uneasiness between my husband and I, despite our happiness about the baby. We don’t seem to know how to talk to each other about the changes that have occurred and it’s hurting our marriage.
Ideally, it’s best to discuss potential changes to a marriage before a child’s birth— but few parents do! However, it’s not too late to lay the groundwork for discussing change after childbirth— because changes, whether they be good or bad changes to a marriage, tend to take place for the first one to three years after a baby’s birth. Start immediately to discuss these changes, and begin seeing them as an opportunity for growth in the marital relationship.
Be realistic about this time in your life and adjust expectations for your marital relationship. Know that having a good marriage after a baby is born is possible but it might be different than the good marriage you knew. Try not to blame your spouse for changes, conflicts or frustrations. Keep in mind that marriage for many new parents is a young relationship; you’re not only learning about parenting, you’re learning about each other, too! Don’t let the baby interfere with that process.
A baby though, out of sheer necessity, will take time and attention away from the most important relationship you have— your marriage. Therefore, commit to work harder on your marriage at a time when there is the least amount of time to do so. Set up a ritual to connect— perhaps a daily walk through the neighborhood or a relaxing glass of wine at day’s end. Many marriages sour quickly after a baby’s birth because couples stop talking. Make it a goal to discuss daily the big and little things that happen in your lives, how they affect you personally as well as how they influence feelings for your spouse and marriage.
Also, take advantage of educational opportunities for new parents. These provide a framework for discussing practical and sensitive issues within a marriage. Fine-tuning communication and negotiating skills are necessary for all marriages and especially when adapting to the all-consuming changes that occur after the birth of a child.
Do refrain from feeling hurt, angry or disappointed if your spouse doesn’t respond or act quite as you’d expected or hoped. Allow some leeway as each of you finds his/her fit in the so-called “new glove” of parenthood.
Often, when my spouse and I make plans socially, we are dis- appointed that friends are late. Not only is this inconsiderate, but it interferes with our baby’s schedule or our return time to a sitter. It also gets our time together off to a poor start. How can we tactfully advise friends that punctuality is important?
The precious commodity of time— never enough of it! Kudos to you for scheduling time away from the baby and dates with your spouse. Couple time is important and sharing an evening with friends provides the chance to learn what is happening in each other’s lives and reconnect as a couple as well as with friends. It’s an art to deal diplomatically with those who violate punctuality. Establish ground rules within your home and with friends and family members. Be up front when making plans. You might say: “We have two hours for dinner. We need to relieve the sitter at nine. Please be punctual so we can spend as much time together as possible. Will arriving at seven work for you?” Or, “We’ll come over at three o’clock (after the baby’s nap) and we’ll need to go home by eight. This allows us to be together when the baby is at her best. We’ll all enjoy the visit more if we try to stay within this time frame. Does this work for you?” Gain commitment that the time frame works, and be sure to stay within the perimeters you’ve defined. If your friends continue to disappoint you, consider alternatives— perhaps invite them to your home where you’re less time-restricted and where they can witness first-hand the importance of a schedule for feeding, sleeping and baby care.