Ask any new parent after the baby joins how they are feeling in their relationship. The common response is often “tired” and “disconnected.” It is normal to feel that new sense of distance in the weeks and months that follow a baby joining a family. But just how do we keep the spark alive in our relationship, without losing each other through this wild journey?
We want to make sure that we are nurturing the parts of our relationship that bring us passion and excitement – the parts that make us lovers (and not roommates). So how can we do this when we use up so much of our energy in our parenting roles?
Your relationship needs you to also have an identity that is separate from your partner. Think back to when you first met. What were you doing that your partner found interesting and exciting about you? When we set time for ourselves, we are nurturing our own identity. This might be through self-care, or through doing things that are simply for pleasure and joy. This allows you to return to the relationship and your partner with a renewed sense of connection to your own individuality. Sharing your separate experiences leads to a greater sense of connection and intimacy.
Build Rituals of Daily Connection
Daily rituals can be a powerful part of our relationship, and it can be through the small moments each day. Here are some things you can do every single day, that take less than ten minutes:
1. Ritual of greeting. When you wake up, increase of reaching for your phone or jumping out of bed, reach for your partner.
2. Daily check-in. Take ten minutes at some point during the day to check in. Have questions that you both ask each other. My favourite questions are, “What is your biggest stressor today?” “How can I support you?’ ‘What do you need in terms of our time together and time apart?”
3. Daily hug or six-second kiss. Intimacy is key for our wellbeing. Being intimate through physical intimacy (e.g., hug, kiss, massage) releases the feel-good cuddle hormone, oxytocin.
Set Mutual Boundaries on Your Phone Use
We all have moments of scrolling and numbing, especially with the added stress of this pandemic. Commonly expressed experiences from partners include, “we just end up being on our phones at night, sitting beside each other” or “my partner would rather be on their phone.” There is a term for this – it’s called phubbing. If your devices are part of your wind-down strategy, try taking turns asking each other what the other person is looking at to help bridge a connection. Develop shared boundaries around phone use. Find one or two nights each week where there is a period of time that your devices are put on silent and in another room.
Develop a Culture of Appreciation
A strong friendship is key for any relationship and we can do this by building appreciation in our relationship. Dr. John Gottman talks about noticing the things our partner is doing and “catching them doing good things.” Give compliments. Express appreciation. Let your partner know you see them and appreciate them.
Schedule Date Nights That Bring Excitement and Joy
A common challenge is that we get stuck doing things that are routine, or we get into all-or- nothing thinking that if we can’t go out for a date night, what’s the point in doing anything together. Scheduling points of connection without distractions allows us to feel joy and excitement in our relationship. Here are some ideas to help you think outside of the box during this pandemic:
– Try a new recipe together after the kids go to bed
– Open your favourite bottle or box of whatever and enjoy it together
– Play a favourite game or try a new one
– Take on a small house project that you can complete together
Shift from Parents to Partners
Many partners tell me that they’ve lost talking to their significant other because their conversations have focused largely on the children. When the kids go to bed, or they are off playing on their own, step out of your parenting role and into your individual role. Share things that excite you. Share memories of each other from the past. Talk about what you hope to build in the future. Share experiences during the day that made you excited or were difficult for you. This sharing of internal experiences, your thoughts, feelings, desires, and wishes all build emotional intimacy.
You are busy, and after the bedtime stories, dishes, cleanup, and prep for the next day, you likely have little energy left for sex. We often think that sex should continue to be spontaneous and unplanned; however, if we don’t set intentions or prioritize it, it likely won’t happen due to the demands that we experience. Set an intention on the day of the week and prioritize your intimacy. Whatever distractions come up, save them for another day.
The key to keeping the spark alive now that you are a family? The strength in your bond does not come from big moments. Instead, it is about the small moments that you can do each day over the coming months that reignites what feels exciting and joyful – the parts that you once experienced when you were dating, only better.