The Lounge Room 17-Jun-2013
“No We’re Not Ok”
By Cassy Small
You expected the limp in your libido and the sleep-deprived snappiness, but what happens when your relationship really suffers after baby, and why isn’t anyone talking about it?
We sat around the table, sipping our skinny cappuccinos as new mothers often do and traded tales of woe. My baby won’t sleep. My baby won’t feed. My baby can’t crawl. With this being my second child, I took these challenges a little more in my stride than my fellow Mummies, but there was something else that weighed heavily on me.
I gingerly asked the girls how their respective husbands and partners were handling fatherhood. I left the question hanging, expecting a barrage of complaints and perhaps a few tears over the men in our lives. Instead what I received where glowing reports of general domestic bliss.
I cried as much as my baby did on the drive back home, certain that my marriage was doomed. I was happy to accept sleepless nights and problems with breastfeeding and I had countless books to help me with these issues. Was I the only one not having any sex, bickering constantly and generally not enjoying the company of my husband? Apparently I was. All of my friends gave gleaming reports on their perfect husbands, with stories of late night bottle feeds, backrubs and bliss. Surely it wasn’t so? We openly shared the most personal details of our births, but to say that our husbands drove us bonkers seemed a little too much.
So I did a little research and discovered that almost half of all divorces granted involve children under 18. Digging a little deeper, it seems the cracks in marriage can often appear much earlier, with a new baby or two often amplifying existing relationship issues and an alarming amount of marriages are ending in divorce while the kids are still in nappies.
While the myth that having a baby together will strengthen a relationship is well and truly busted, we still seem to dream of attaining the fairy tale family. The reality is that behind closed doors this is often far from true.
There’s no doubt that parenthood is a huge transition and these changes may mean your relationship could never be the same again. In fact on the medically regarded Stressful Life Events Scale “gaining a new family member” rates as being more stressful than taking on a big mortgage, moving house or even the death of a friend.
How can we then navigate this new role of parenthood and still keep the family in tact?
“You should treat your relationship like any other aspect of your health,” advises Psychologist Dr Carla of Here and Now Health. “Investing some time into relationship maintenance is of particular importance after having children.”
She advises new parents to continue spending time together without the children. “It doesn’t need to involve expensive restaurants and can be as simple as a walk along the beach,” she says. An hour or two of being husband and wife instead of Mummy and Daddy can be the secret to keeping the flame alight. It can be more difficult for some to find a suitable babysitter, but calling on friends, neighbours and payed babysitting services are all solutions for those who don’t have family close by. “It’s easy to think of a stack of excuses why you can’t leave your children, but by making yourself and your relationship a priority again you’re effectively breathing new life back into your marriage,” says Dr Carla.
Long before your baby is born patterns have emerged and ideals formed that will shape the way you parent. Dr Carla cites differing expectations to parenthood as being a big factor in relationship problems in the early years. “You go into parenthood with a belief system that you may not even know you had. Quite often you will mirror the beliefs of your own parents sometimes even on a subconscious level. We fall into these roles automatically and if this is unequal it can cause massive amounts of friction within a relationship,” she warns. By openly communicating with your partner before the birth on typically controversial topics such as schooling, parental roles and finances you’ll be able to negotiate these issues in a far less stressful environment.
A problem shared is a problem halved so they say and this can be true for any relationship problems. “Sharing your relationship issues with your friends can be helpful at times. Women like to talk and it can be cathartic, but there’s a middle ground to it. It’s just not productive to continually share only the negative parts of your relationship. Couples having relationship problems are better off investing their time communicating with each other as opposed to friends,” says Dr Carla.
For those in the midst of their baby days, there light at the end of all the nappy changes and midnight feeds. Dr Carla confirms that sleep deprivation and hormonal changes can be huge factors in relationship issues in the first year after a baby is born. “You can learn to parent like you learn to drive a car. We will all parent differently and it’s inevitable that you won’t always agree on everything,” says Dr Carla. “The secret is that you need to come out of that first year with enough love and regard for each other that you can climb out of any relationship rough patches.”
Cassy Small is a freelance writer and Mum to Jamie and Jessica.
Following a career in the media industry, Cassy was called to the family-friendly world of freelancing after the birth of her second baby, and hasn’t looked back. She also co-owns PR and Events company Big Fish Planning. www.bigfishplanning.com.au