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Will baby number two be hard on my marriage?
It is tough to stay connected with your partner once you start to have children. Instead of having the luxury of devoting time to one another whenever the mood strikes, you have other people—tiny people—competing for your attention. And they have powerful strategies for ensuring that their wants and needs become top priority at any given time—like screaming and crying.
The good news is that you’ve already been down this path before as a couple. This time around, you’ll be more prepared for the realities of parenting a newborn and the toll that sleep deprivation can take on everything from your mood to your energy level to your libido.
Don’t assume, however, that because you’re old pros that you can handle this round on your own. Accept any and all offers of help. If friends and relatives want to come over and help you catch up on laundry, or they offer to drop off a few meals for you, that’s less time you have to spend on those chores and more time you can spend enjoying your kids and connecting with one another.
Think about what worked the first time—what you learned through the School of Hard Knocks—and apply that wisdom to your life this time around, too.
Be extra kind to your partner. You’re both struggling with sleep deprivation, increased responsibilities, and cascading emotions. One or both of you might even be battling something more serious than the blues: up to 3% of new fathers experience depression after their babies are born, with fathers whose partners are experiencing postpartum depression being at particular risk of experiencing problems with depression themselves.
Stay connected. Find little ways to stay connected as a couple during the postpartum period (a time when everything can seem strange, new, and unsettled) and as you begin to establish new routines as a couple with another child. Hold hands when you can, even if it’s only for 15 seconds. Text your partner a love note when inspiration strikes. Keep the spark alive, even if you haven’t had sex in weeks.
Share your hopes and dreams. If you have a strong vision of what you are working toward together (a strong family with happy, healthy kids and loving parents), you’ll find it easier to get through the long days and even longer nights of early parenthood. When you’re singing to the baby and your partner is reading to the toddler, you’ll feel a powerful connection to your partner, knowing that you’re both on the same page: that you both want the same happy tomorrows for your kids and for one another.
Stick with it and you’ll find those short moments can grow into longer, memorable ones.
Here are five tips on what to do if you think you’ve become a mother to your man:
1. The first step to becoming partners again is owning and acknowledging what we call the ‘Mother Syndrome’ problem. Even though many women tell me how resentful and angry they are about having to take on the bulk of responsibility at home, despite having a career and working as many hours as their spouse, they typically don’t make the connection between this and their lack of intimacy (not to mention respect, love, fun) until I point it out. Then, they usually sigh with relief—finally understanding how impossible it is to feel like being a lover to one’s mate when you feel like you’re his mother!
2. We ask you to assess the main task areas in your home, from cleaning to food to management to child-rearing, and see what is happening in these areas and how each of them can make you his mother. What we found in researching our book is that in spite of women holding down day-jobs, they are still doing two-thirds of the homemaking and childcare, and three-quarters of the ‘core’ tasks. And those are just averages: the situation is even worse in many homes.
3. The next step is understanding the broken dynamics and toxic behaviours that have evolved between you and your spouse as a result of being stuck in this dismal state. These behaviours can include nagging, sniping, acting like a child. There is resentment in the air on both sides, and you eventually see your spouse as just another one of your children. He doesn’t like this any more than you do. It’s a travesty of the romance you once had.
4. Once you’ve owned the problem and understood the broken dynamics between you, you will need to explore the sexual fallout. Why would you want to be intimate with your partner when you’re so angry at him for not pulling his weight at home? For not being on your team? You may not even be aware—until now—of all the anti-erotic signals you send him so that he’ll keep his distance. Like wearing a tatty nightshirt to bed or clipping your toenails in bed.
5. Then you will need to get your wish list straight. You will need to figure out what tasks and responsibilities you’re willing to relinquish control of and what you want to hold onto. Once you’ve drawn your own picture, you’ll need to get his input too, so that you can begin negotiating the best way to balance your contributions at home.
Read more of Sara’s tips in How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother?