Some couples say having a baby strengthens their relationship and brings them closer together. Yet many parents struggle with maintaining healthy relationships after having children. Here are some thoughts about how time-poor, sleep-deprived parents can keep their relationships alive and connected.

As a parent, your primary focus is often centred around your children, leaving little time or energy for relationships. At the end of a busy day, with the kids finally asleep, it’s common to feel tired and exhausted – all you want to do is collapse on the couch or crawl into bed for some much-needed sleep. The last thing on your mind could be talking with your partner, let alone physical intimacy.

As time goes by, if this pattern continues, cracks may start to appear in your relationship, signs and symptoms overlooked or ignored as you drift apart, sometimes irrevocably.

Feeling disconnected or taken for granted, a lack of effective communication –blaming, criticising, ‘winning’, being ‘right’ –, spending too much time online, at work or with ‘mates’, having unrealistic expectations, focusing on negatives rather than appreciating positives and having no shared interests, vision or goals are all warning signs of a relationship in need of fine-tuning or repair.

Many couples are aware that their relationship has taken a back seat, unsure how or where to begin rebuilding and reconnecting with one another. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut – therefore vital to include romance and spontaneity into daily routines. Don’t become ‘room-mates’ – remember why you fell in love and the happy, special times you’ve had together. Don’t feel guilty about having neglected your relationship – put this behind you, find common ground and start from there.

It’s important to make time for and prioritise relationships… all relationships need time, effort, love and attention to survive and thrive. Prioritise and nurture your relationship and love for one another. Focus on communication, commitment and connection, negotiating and compromisingwhere necessary – your relationship will grow stronger as a result. Prevention and early-intervention in a troubled relationship is essential.

Communicate openly and often, taking turns to talk, listening to and respecting each other’s needs, concerns and point of view. Spend time each day talking, catching up on events and staying connected. Ask specific questions, such as: “How did you feel when…?”, “What do you think about…?”, “How can we…?” or reminisce with “Remember when…?” If talking isn’t your strong point, try writing things down in notes or letters to each other.

Here are other simple, practical ways to rebuild and strengthen your relationship:

  • Make ‘couple’ time and ‘date night’ part of your routine – preferably once a week but definitely each month.Take turns organising, book a date and make sure it happens, keeping your relationship fresh and interesting.
  • Date nights at home are a great way to enjoy ‘couple’ time in a relaxed atmosphere without the pressure of having to ‘make the most of it’, especially if children are young, your budget tight or babysitters unavailable.
  • Coffee and cake or drinks and nibbles are great, budget-friendly treats. Bake or buy something nice, put the kids to bed, turn the TV and phones off, sit down, relax and unwind and chat, listen and laugh together. Whatever you do, focus on quality time together.
  • Reconnect with what you enjoyed doing together before having children. Prioritise time to include this in your life, creating new memories together.
  • Practise gratitude and appreciation – smile, say “hello”, “goodbye”, and “thanks”.
  • Avoid any negative and destructive relationship habits such as nagging, blaming, jealousy, anger, resentment, mistrust, winning at any cost, put-downs, being unsupportive or displaying superiority – model the behaviours you’d like to see in your partner (or yourself).
  • Be kind, generous, loving and supportive. Aim to speak nicely to one another or take time out to cool down if required.
  • Agree to disagree rather than fight, argue or undermine one another, especially if children are present. Seek professional help if necessary.
  • Take time out together to discuss how you’d like your relationship to be, create a shared vision, writing down and making a plan of action.
  • Remember why you were attracted to your partner initially – have realistic expectations, focus on and be grateful for the positives; let the rest go.
  • Keep your relationship and spontaneity alive by surprising one another with a romantic dinner, pamper evening, relaxing massage, listening to music… or something else your partner loves doing. Write down romantic ideas for inspiration.
  • Prioritise and make time for love, intimacy and sex, helping you stay connected on all levels.
  • Leave surprise love-notes for your partner – in lunch boxes, bedrooms, vehicles, by the phone, on the mirror or fridge, or send special texts or online messages.
  • Show affection – hug, kiss, hold hands or cuddle. Physical touch builds intimacy, togetherness and anticipation.
  • Be a team – support one another, sharing responsibility, workload and chores wherever possible. Set family and other goals together.
  • Most importantly, smile, laugh and have fun together as a couple, and as a family.

Staying connected  and maintaining relationships after having children is so important. How do you and your partner manage this?

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Karyn Riley is a time management and life balance coach, author of “How to Keep the YOU in Mum”, inspirational speaker, writer and mother of two. For more information see www.rileylife.co.nz

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