When a new baby or several children bless our lives, we pull out all stops to give our best both physically and emotionally. But in the process, the adult relationship often suffers, sometimes incurring irreparable damage… If your marriage or live-in relationship is like most, it starts out on a sea of romance and good intentions.
You made time for each other, you were interested in your partner’s life, he was interested in yours AND you had a good sex life.
Then came the midnight feeds and or the growing demands of a toddler and or a hormonally enhanced teenager. At every stage, that adult time to talk or play is s-l-o-w-l-y chipped away.
While the blame for marriage breakdown can never be laid on our kids, the impact children have on our relationships is obvious.
Preparing for parenting in the 21st Century includes preparing and nurturing ourselves – as well as our children.
Anne Hollonds, CEO of Relationships Australia, says the seed for marriage problems down the track is often planted in those hazy, sleep-deprived months following the birth of the first child. Because we’re so exhausted and this new being takes up so much of our time, energy and emotion, there is really no time for anything else.
“We tend to paper over the cracks that form and do the best we can,” she says. “But that’s not a solution, because the problems only surface later on.
"It is critical to recognise that having children is a challenge to both you and your relationship and it requires a fundamental rethink; a setting of new ground rules of what effectively is a new relationship".
motherInc. founder Claudia Keech says: "When raising a family, each milestone has different and major challenges. The majority of us focus on the kids and forget to consider the possible fall-out which can hit the Managing Directors of the family - the parents!"
Anne Hollonds agrees: "You wouldn’t dream of starting or running a new business without a shared vision, and your marriage is not very different. It’s a joint venture and unless you go through the process of developing a strategy plan you are bound to find that you are misunderstanding each other’s intentions and not recognising each other’s needs.”
Doctor and radio personality Dr Sally Cockburn, who is better known as Dr Feelgood, also advises couples not to underestimate the importance of keeping a sex life alive while they are raising children - although it is no easy task.
- Communication is key. Don’t make assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking. Recognise your own needs and communicate these to your partner, not by attacking, but by being appropriately assertive. If you find it hard to communicate, seek help from a counsellor or enrol in a recommended course
- Spend time each day – no matter how small – to really focus on each other. Research in the US has shown that couples who say goodbye and hello to each other properly at the beginning and end of each day are more likely to have a lasting relationship.
- Put the fun back into sex. Says Dr Feelgood: The best thing you can do for your sex life is to remember to have fun. Be silly and most of all laugh!
- Develop a support network of friends and family who can look after the kids and use it to make time for you and your partner.
- With your partner, write down your goals and a vision of how you see your life as parents and keep checking back on it to make sure you are on track. Update it when necessary.
- Your plan should include making sure there is at least one night a week out at a movie, a meal, a shared sport or hobby, and should include how you back each other up with disciplining the children, housework and family and career commitments.
- Draw up a list of household and family responsibilities. If you are feeling as though you are doing too much, sit down and work out how to share some of the more tedious chores with your husband/partner. Feeling continually worn out breeds resentment, with minor and major explosions guaranteed.
- Continue to have plenty of adult contact. Talk to other women in the same boat. It’s important to have some “adult time”.
- Use your trusted girlfriends as sounding boards when things seem tough. They won’t have all the answers, but it helps to download your problems.
- Make sure you schedule “me” time on a regular basis. Even if it’s just watching the TV. As long as it’s time for just you.
- Don’t look to your partner for all your support. Take responsibility for your own needs. We tend to think once we commit to a partnership that our partner is “it” in terms of our support system. When a baby comes along, it’s a myth that is seriously threatened.
- Remember that relationships aren't meant to be disposable - if it stops working don't discard it. If it feels like the Titanic (your relationship) is sinking, don't rearrange the deckchairs as though it will all be OK - seek professional help ASAP.
Relationships Australia 1300 36277 run counselling and courses. Visit them at www.relationships.com.au
More on Dr Feelgood from her website www.drfeelgood.com.au
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