Having a baby is usually a time of great joy but it is also a time when the relationship between partners is challenged. This is because you undergo a major transformation when you become a parent. A whole new part of your psyche is born – the Inner Mother or Inner Father. This personal change, together with the addition of a new person in the family system, leads to new relationship dynamics.
This article explains how this happens and gives you tips on how to keep your relationship alive after having a baby.
I t’s such an exciting time when you have your first child. You dream about how wonderful it will be when your baby arrives and spend months (and money!) planning and preparing for your new life.
But after the baby is born and the reality of day-to-day life with a newborn sets in, many people find it a challenging time – in addition to the exhaustion, sleep-deprivation and challenges of learning how to care for a baby, there are changes to your relationship with your partner that need to be navigated.
In order to keep your relationship with your partner healthy, it will help to understand what happens on a psychological level when you have your first child.
Falling in Love Again – With Your Baby
One of the main changes occurs because both parents usually fall in love with the new baby, and whoever the primary caregiver is (usually the mother) spends so much time with the baby that the other parent can feel left out.
This intense bonding time between the baby and mother and/or father is, of course, necessary for the baby to thrive but few of us are taught how to handle this often challenging time.
To the partner who is not the primary caregiver it can feel as if you are no longer the most important person in the other’s life, or in the baby’s life.
This can bring up vulnerable feelings, and if you are not prepared for them and know how to handle them, it can lead to relationship breakdown.
The unwritten rules in our society do little to help either, with subtle changes in how the broader community relates to you now that you are a family.
It is as if our culture places more importance on your (the mother’s mostly) connection with your child than on your connection with your partner. So couples begin to identify as being ‘a family’ and to lose touch with themselves as individual people in relationship with one another.
Yet for the happy continuation of your family it is crucial for the two parents to maintain their ‘coupledom’ with each other. The relationship between the two parents sets the scene for the entire family experience, even teaching children how they themselves will relate with other people, and later with their own partners.
Without a good relationship between the parents in a family, the effects on the children and on the quality of the relationships between the parents and children are compromised.
Birth of the Mother and Father Archetypes
The other major change that occurs when you have a baby is that parents become identified with the parts of their psyche most often used when you become a parent – the Good Mother, the Responsible Father, the Nurturing Mother, and even the Angry Mother and Punitive Father.
(We all have many parts or ‘selves’ that make up our personality, with the major selves being archetypes and common to us all – the perfectionist, the inner critic, career woman, adventurer, rebel, inner child and so on – with different parts dominant at different times in our lives.)
The thing with the parental aspects of your personality is that they are not all that interested in your relationship with your partner – except in how you both parent together and take care of household/family matters.
And the reality of raising children, unless you have full-time nannies or other regular help, is that they need your attention, either directly or indirectly, almost 100% of the time.
Even when your baby sleeps and you think you have some time to yourself, suddenly it wakes, or makes a noise which brings your attention back to it. And when you sleep, you are probably aware on some level that the baby will be up in a few hours for its next feed.
And this means your parental selves, whose concern is raising children, will take over your sense of self. This is particularly so for mothers, who, in most cases still, are the parent who stays at home for some time with children while they are young.
In this situation it is easier for fathers to maintain some sense of separation from their Father Self and to express other parts of their personality – the physical separation that occurs when you leave the family home on a daily basis to go to work helps to balance out the family-oriented selves.
It’s still challenging for fathers though, because once you come home and step through the front door, you either automatically fall into your ‘father’ role, and so now both parents are completely focused on the baby, or you stay in your work role where you might feel a little uncomfortable in the family setting and don’t quite know what to do in this environment – which your partner, as ‘the Mother’, owns. It can feel as if the main connection in the family is between your partner and the child, and you might feel left out.
The most important thing you can do for your relationship’s sake, which will also benefit your children, is to re-establish the connection between the two parents.
How to Re-establish the Connection with Your Partner After Having a Baby
It only requires one of you to start this process:.
1. Pay Attention to Your Partner
You can take this step and start paying attention to your partner immediately. For instance, stop to really look at them when they arrive home after being out, rather than just greet them and continue with whatever you are doing. Stop what you are doing and focus on your partner.
2. Listen to Your Partner
Listen to your partner as if what they are saying is the most important thing you will ever hear.
This applies to both the partner who is the primary carer for your child and for the person working outside the home. Try to pay attention to your partner, and to really listen to them about what there day has been like. The baby can wait. It won’t be harmed in any way if you acknowledge your partner first – in fact, as your child gets older it will learn positive relationship skills!
Tell any older children they too will have to wait if they interrupt while you both are re-connecting.
I know of some parents who have a routine when the working partner arrives home, where they put the children in front of the television and go sit in another room and have time out together for ten minutes, maybe with a glass of wine or tea, to establish their connection with each other. You need to see each other as adults again, who are people in their own right and not only parents in relationship to your children. So start to look at and speak to each other as those adults.
3. Spend Time Together Outside the Home – Regularly
It will help if you spend regular time together outside the home, which makes it easier to not be pulled into the roles you play at home. You can go out for a meal, go for a walk, sit in a park, go away for a night, go for a bushwalk, do a dance class together, or whatever you are interested in.
It is important that you spend such time together – and do not make your date with each other only once a year. It’s so easy to let this go with all the responsibilities of parenting that you might have to put serious effort into it as the years go on.
And the important thing with this time you spend together is to place your focus on your relationship with each other. It is tempting and also automatic to talk about your children. If you really can’t resist that, then make a conscious decision to talk about the children for the first part of your outing together and then to move onto other topics.
4. A Simple Mindfulness Exercise
When you are at home, do this simple mindfulness exercise: Try to be aware of which aspects of yourself you are identified with as you go about your day.
How does it feel when you are being responsible or nurturing? Take notice of how you behave when your child falls over or hurts themselves in some way. What attitude do you react with? Do you first respond one way and then another response comes out? How does that make you feel? What parts of yourself come into play?
Use this awareness to discover whether you need some balance in your life or if you need to take care of yourself a bit more.
The attention to becoming more aware of yourself will help you to separate more easily from those parental aspects of yourself that are so dominant when your children are young, and which, if allowed to hang around as the only valid parts of yourself for too long, will become all of who you are.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be a good mother or father. It just means acknowledging that there are other facets of yourself that also need to be validated and integrated into your life in order for you to keep your relationship healthy once you have children.
Read my book The Perfect Relationship for a straightforward, 10-step guide to achieving a fulfilling long-term relationship, where both you and your partner continue to grow toward wholeness.