~ July, 2021 ~ Remember those first few months with a newborn? (Or was it all a sleep-deprived blur?) Between endless diaper changes and decoding all of the various cries, adjusting to life as new parents is exhausting, to say the least.
Having children brings a lot of new challenges, but at the same time, those sweet coos, smiles, and giggles make it all worth it. Kids teach us to have fun again, remind us to laugh, and bring out the best versions of ourselves.
As children grow, the challenges change, and it’s up to you and your partner to tackle them as a team—which is easier said than done. Just as your lifestyle changes after giving birth, so too does your relationship. Parenting adds a constant rotation of new obstacles to hurdle, and that’s difficult to do when you both have the energy level of a sloth.
If you feel like you and your partner have hit a rough patch since having kids, you’re not alone! Here, with the help of reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist Dr. Carly Snyder and interviews with real-life couples, we break down life after kids and how to make time to reconnect.
The Most Common Child-Related Arguments
In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, marriage and family researcher Brian D. Doss, Ph.D., studied couples that had been married for 8 to 10 years to observe marital changes.
What he found probably isn’t a surprise to anyone with kids: About 90% of couples said they felt less happy in their relationship after having children.
While this study targeted married couples specifically, it’s safe to say that any couple—married or not—go through the same struggles after bringing home a tiny human. One of the biggest problems stems from the new workload associated with a newborn.
“When you have a baby, [there’s] an inherent division of labor that happens,” says Dr. Snyder. “Both [partners] can be comfortable with that, or they will fight about it.” Typically, one partner feels like they take the brunt of the responsibilities, which can lead to a lot of resentment.
Common Arguments About Kids
- Both partners wanting “me time”
- A decrease in physical intimacy
- Who gets more sleep
- One or both partners feeling unappreciated
- “Scorekeeping” (keeping a tally of who does what)
- The “right” way to take care of the baby
The underlying culprit behind all of these arguments is a lack of communication. “Both people are tired—communication can really go down the tubes,” explains Dr. Snyder. “If you internalize everything, it’s going to explode.”
How To Reconnect After Having Kids
Whether you have newborns or teenagers, it’s normal for a little distance to wedge its way in between you and your partner.
“Remember that every stage in parenthood is transient,” says Dr. Snyder. “The newborn phase is not forever, the toddler phase is not forever—[it’s about] being comfortable with the fact that things are going to change.”
So, as things continue to change, how do you stay connected? Here are four ways to focus on your relationship and restore any lost intimacy.
Take Time at the End of the Day to Talk
“Communication is so important. Don’t presume your partner knows how you’re feeling, because they may not—then you’re going to get angry when they don’t know,” stresses Dr. Snyder.
Her solution? Talk it out! “It’s important to put a premium on communication and make a point not to hold anything in. Talk about it when it’s happening, rather than waiting and blowing up about it later.”
Jenn and Robbie, who have been together a decade and married eight years, have four kids ages 12, 8, 6, and 4. They revealed to us that the biggest communication issue for them was deciding how to discipline the children.
“Our parents disciplined us differently,” says Jenn. “I don’t agree with yelling at the children and during early years, I had arguments with my husband over being too harsh over little things. We eventually learned to communicate better and choose our battles.”
Carly Snyder, MD
It’s important to put a premium on communication and make a point not to hold anything in.
— Carly Snyder, MD
For Sean and Kristin, who have been married 14 years and have three kids—ages 7, 10, and 13—the key is to always keep the line of communication open. In their experience, they believe you should never be afraid of telling your partner how you feel.
“[You need] open and clear communication, even if it’s what the other person does not want to hear,” says Kristin.
By taking time at the end of every day to voice concerns, emotions, or simply talk about the weather, you’re focusing on each other instead of who’s going to change the next diaper. Talk about what happened at work, the dreams you had last night, a new restaurant you want to try, or any lingering worries. (Even if it’s just for 10 minutes!) It’s a chance to give your relationship the attention it deserves.
Embrace the Little Moments
As any parent knows, having a few moments of peace to lay down or drink a cup of coffee is everything. Before kids, it was easy to take those moments for granted. Once they’re born, it’s imperative to acknowledge and appreciate the little things that help get you through the day.
The same goes for you and your partner. Make it a point to show appreciation or affection in small yet impactful ways. For Sean and Kristin, little texts throughout the day help keep them feeling connected.
“[We send things like] ‘miss you,’ or ‘can’t wait for you to get home,” says Kristin. Because of Sean’s military career, they spent the majority of two years long-distance, and Kristin has some advice for that, too: “Old-fashioned communication! Writing letters, cards, notes,” she says. “I would leave hand-written notes in his suitcase.”
Simple Ways to Show Your Partner Love
- Small acts of physical intimacy, like holding hands or a kiss on the cheek
- Leave love notes around the house for them to find
- Tell them to take a nap or shower while you watch the kids
- Make a cup of coffee for them before work
- Take care of a household chore they don’t like to do
- Say “thank you” for a gesture they didn’t think you noticed
- Make their favorite meal (or order their favorite takeout)
- Give them a back massage
For Jenn and Robbie, downloading a relationship app was a simple way to boost emotional intimacy.
Jenn explains, “It has been so helpful because it asks us each questions, and we can’t see our partner’s answer until we have answered the same question. After a decade of being with my husband, [it] helps me learn even more about him and has [improved] communication in our relationship.”
Prioritize Date Night
Your hectic schedule with the kids makes it easy for date night to slip through the cracks. As soon as you’re comfortable leaving them with a family member, close friend, or sitter, plan a night just for the two of you!
Date night doesn’t need to be elaborate. The key is to make the night about the two of you—not the kids. Grab dinner or a few drinks, see a movie or comedy show, stay in and make dinner together, or sit on the porch with a bottle of wine.
Carly Snyder, MD
It’s not healthy for anyone to divorce themselves from their previous lives and only focus on the baby.
— Carly Snyder, MD
And here’s the good news: There’s no need to feel guilty for taking time for yourselves. “It’s not healthy for anyone to divorce themselves from their previous lives and only focus on the baby,” says Dr. Snyder. “There needs to be a conscious effort to talk about other things because otherwise, the baby gets all the air time even when they’re asleep, which can be frustrating.”
Ashley and Scott, who have been dating for four years and are raising three children together (ages 12, 7, and 6) also stress the importance of “me time,” along with regular date nights. “We do a girl’s night and guy’s night each week to have some ‘us’ time,” they said.
Reignite the Physical Spark
Sometimes, reconnecting in the bedroom takes time, and that’s okay. When you have a newborn, Dr. Snyder explains that women often need more time to get back into the mood. Between breastfeeding (if they choose to), feeling uncomfortable with their bodies, or the overall pain, it’s important to take it slow. “There are so many reasons that it needs to go slow and be fully directed by the woman,” she says.
On the other hand, if the kids are a little older, it’s all about switching up the scenery, according to Sean and Kristin.
“The closet, the bathroom…get creative,” says Kristin. The way to make that happen more, which Sean wishes they tried sooner, is to set boundaries (stop co-sleeping, set earlier bedtimes). “We couldn’t do anything we wanted to do because the kids were always around,” he says.
If a lack of privacy isn’t the issue, why not try something new? “We have done some sexual experimentation,” says Jenn and Robbie. “This [has] kept it fresh and exciting for us.” As long as you’re both on the same page, it can be fun to look up some sexy games to play or new positions to try.
Lastly, if you have to schedule sex, that’s okay! A study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science revealed that those who had sex once a week felt more relationship satisfaction than those who did it less.
What’s more, they found that doing it more than once a week didn’t add to relationship satisfaction. Bottom line? Scheduling sex once a week might be all you need to get your physical intimacy back on track.
A Word From Verywell
By making an effort to focus on your relationship after kids, you’ll help rekindle emotional intimacy, strengthen your bond, and remind each other that you’re still the same couple you were before kids.
Strong communication is the key to making it all work. “Being comfortable talking about it with one another is incredibly crucial because it’s almost too easy to fall into the trap of complacency,” explains Dr. Snyder. “You have to keep on working through things.”
The relationship you have with your partner was important before having kids, and it’s just as important after. “Your relationship is at the core of everything. You need to invest in it just as much as you do parenthood.
In Ashley and Scott’s eyes, doing what makes you happy is the best way to ensure happiness for the kids: “Always make time for self-care. Do what makes you and your [significant other] happy. The rest doesn’t matter. Happy parents lead to happy childhoods.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that having kids may change the way you navigate your relationship, but it doesn’t have to change the love you have for each other.