Your Relationship

 “The biggest surprise was how my life completely changed; nothing prepares you for how your life is going to change—as a wife, as a friend, at home, in every way.” –Veteran Mom

Your Relationship

 “The biggest surprise was how my life completely changed; nothing prepares you for how your life is going to change—as a wife, as a friend, at home, in every way.” –Veteran Mom

 Keeping Your Relationship Strong

By now, you’ve probably heard tales of sex and relationship shakeups for new parents and it’s true: two-thirds of marriages go downhill in satisfaction after the first baby is born. But with some advance planning and effort, you and Dad can be in the one-third that thrives and grows stronger.

While everyone’s experience is different, there’s usually a phase of “shock and awe” as you adjust to life with a newborn, and the first couple of months are mostly about survival. When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, small annoyances get magnified and make it hard to be at your best. As your relationship shifts, what matters most is knowing how to manage the changes. 

When you get down to the nuts and bolts of keeping your relationship strong, the big-ticket items are: communication, teamwork, romance, and sex. Before baby, it’s easy to nurture these areas since you’re only focused on each other, but when you’re bone tired and a party of three, it’s a different ballgame. So read on to arm yourself with solutions, and remember challenges are opportunities to make your relationship stronger. 

READ! The Science Behind a Happy Relationship

Communication

Couples who succeed in transitioning to parenthood tend to talk a lot, about everything. To parent as a team you’ve got to be on the same page, which means keeping communication open and respecting your differences. New moms at Boot Camp often say the idea of sitting down and talking can feel mentally exhausting when you’re already so worn out, but problem solving together is exactly what’s needed and makes a huge difference. It also keeps tension from reaching a boiling point and creates that loving, secure feeling that you’re in it together and you are!

“One thing we did that I think was helpful is we established weekly check-ins. Every single Tuesday at 6 o'clock—it  didn’t matter where we were or what was going one—we would stop for at least five minutes and ask, 'How are you doing? Is there anything we need to adjust? Is the schedule working out? Do you feel like you're doing too much? Are we working as a team? What was your high and what was your low?’ And just having that safe space and that ability made such a difference for our relationship, our marriage and our sanity.” –Veteran Mom

Tips for Positive Communication  

Get in the Habit. Taking time to sit down and talk will guarantee you’re both giving and getting the support you need and staying on track, so set aside time to do honest check ins with each other. 

Go First. Storing up frustrations builds negativity, so don’t stand on ceremony. Dr. Ashley Arn, relationship therapist and Boot Camp vet, suggests: “Instead of waiting for someone else to change, be proactive, take the first step, and you will be amazed by how quickly your relationships improve.” 

Be Strategic. When things get heated and your brain goes into fight or flight mode, it’s impossible to have productive talks. Better to hold a beat before getting into the conversation (ideally, when Baby’s asleep), so you have time to approach it calmly. 

Stay Supportive. Discussing conflict with a supportive mindset wards off defensiveness and reduces stress. This isn’t always easy to do when we’re worked up, but it will start the conversation in the right direction and be far more productive.

READ! Arguments All New Parents Have

“Just saying ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job,’ or ‘Hey, you look great today…’ Those little things help so much. It’s the same with Dad, so it’s important just to keep the communication open.” –Veteran Mom

Teamwork

Nurturing teamwork as you build a family has a huge impact on how much you and your partner enjoy spending time together and improves every aspect of raising kids. And studies show parenting as a team has long-term benefits for your child:

  • Makes kids feel safe and confident
  • Reduces anxiety, stress and behavioral issues
  • Models positive behavior and problem solving skills
  • Results in stronger pre-academic skills and greater self-reliance

Like most moms-to-be, you’re probably thinking: That’s what I plan to do: he’ll do his part, things will be split up, and we’ll have TEAMWORK!  But trust us, what you think will happen could look a whole lot different once the baby is here…

  • You might resent Dad because you feel the baby hasn’t impacted his life as much as yours
  • Dad may resent you because you micromanage his parenting (AKA gatekeeping DAN LINK)
  • You might feel you’re shouldering the bulk of baby care
  • Dad may feel his contributions are ignored 

READ! Encouraging Dad as Your Co-Pilot

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Then you factor in sleep deprivation and patience-worn-thin, and it’s easy to see how new parents get in a rut. Also, successful teamwork requires a specific skill set (communication, cooperation and organization) and happens in stages: failure at one stage makes it tough to succeed at the next. So, in short, you’ll need to work together much more than ever and expect a learning curve. 

“I think it’s good to establish shared responsibilities. We have been together for twenty years, and we were very established in our relationship. It was just, okay, how are we going to work together and manage both of us parenting? Rather than me mothering and him fathering, it was US parenting.” –Veteran Mom

READ! Is “Meeting Night” the secret to a happy marriage?

“Ultimately, the most helpful thing can be telling your partner what you need in that moment. Sometimes you don’t know and that’s okay. Just say, ‘I don’t know what I need, so can we work as a team and help me figure it out?’ It’s good to share your thoughts and how you’re feeling with your partner, because a lot of times they’re feeling the same.” –Veteran Mom

Teamwork Strategies

 

  • Have pre-baby planning talks to ward off frustration and resentment. Discuss ways to work together but stay flexible, as adjustments may be needed (see “Family Checklists”).DAN LINK
  • Laughter and Honesty. An important part of teamwork is feeling free to call each other out and see the humor in things. Laugh together (and at yourself) and keep it going through those trying teen years!
  • Avoid gatekeeping. If you’ve built a fortress around you and your baby and feel certain you’re the only one capable of taking care of her…hello, gatekeeping. This is when you want to remind yourself to take a step (or two) back and encourage Dad’s involvement: it benefits your baby and gives you the support you need. 

  • No chore wars. As new parents, it’s really easy to start score-boarding who’s doing what and let resentment take over. One parent may stay home with the baby while the other works and takes on more financial responsibility, and there’s no way to measure whose contribution is greater: they’re different jobs and equally important. 

  • Schedule down time. For stay-at-home parents, there’s little time for decompression during the day and usually an expectation for your spouse to jump right in on baby care once home. Teaming up and planning for each of you to get much needed down time (rest, exercise, see friends) gives you some control over your day and wards off major burnout. 
  • Create a “hall pass.” There will be times you or Dad has a hard day on the job—at the office or at home—so come up with a code word you can both use to say a break is needed STAT. If you were at the office, the hall pass means you walk through the door and get time to yourself to regroup; if you were home with the baby, you get to pass Little One right to Dad and go decompress. Like a real hall pass, you don’t want to over-use but know it’s there when needed.
  • Have a night system. To keep the ship running smoothly, you’ll need a routine for night feedings and baby care. Make a plan but be flexible: one of you may feel more up for the night shift or need solid sleep to function at work the next day. If you’re breastfeeding, Dad can handle diaper changes and getting Baby back to sleep after feedings. If you’re pumping, he can take a night shift while you sleep, or you can rotate shifts. Whatever works—go for it. 

  

  • Offer moral support. After a rough day on the job (at the office or home), sharing your challenges, listening, and being a shoulder for each other may be all that’s needed to feel better. From the start of parenthood, make a pact that you will allow each other to vent and be supportive.

Taking on a big endeavor and sharing a common vision brings people closer together and strengthens relationships. Celebrating the highs and weathering the lows as a united front will reflect your mutual trust and respect for each other and lifts your marriage and family to a whole new level. 

Sex & Romance

Romance is a big factor in a relationship, especially if you don’t want to end up feeling like roommates sharing baby care. As new parents, you’ll find there’s less time and energy to focus on intimacy, but it’s the glue that keeps your relationship strong. Romance can fall to the wayside for lots of reasons, but mostly it’s because the grind of caring for a newborn exhausts your physical and emotional resources. The good news is with some pre-baby planning and a commitment to nurturing your relationship, you can definitely keep romance alive.

Igniting Romance

Line Up a Sitter
New moms suggest finding a sitter before your baby is born so you aren’t scrambling when you’re dog-tired with brain fog. Start with your inner circle: Is there a family member or friend who would love to watch the baby while you two get out for dinner or a movie? Do you have a mom friend interested in a babysitting swap? Knowing you have sitter options in place will give you confidence that you’re keeping your relationship a priority. 

Schedule Your First Date
Put a date night on the calendar for about six to eight weeks after childbirth, and get in the habit of creating time for each other. The first couple of dates may be hard, like you’ve abandoned your baby, but this will pass and you’ll appreciate what date nights are doing for your marriage. Scheduling it warms up and re-engages romance. If you wait six months or a year to get around to it, your relationship muscle will atrophy and create a much harder road ahead.

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Date Night IN
If getting out of the house together is a challenge, remember spending one-on-one time together at home—AKA “date night in”—is great, too! Watch a movie, cook, listen to music, or pop open a bottle of vino; it keeps you connected, rekindles romance, and is cost-effective: no sitter needed!

Include Fun
When we’re busy, stressed, or overworked, fun is usually one of the first casualties but that’s when it’s needed the most. Fun leads to laughter and laughter releases endorphins, reduces cortisol, boosts immunity, and creates feelings of happiness and calm: fun is good for your marriage! 

Small Gestures, Big Meaning  
Sending a sweet text message or photo, or sneaking a note into his wallet…small gestures go a long way in stoking romance. Remember habits form over time, so when a behavior (daily connecting) is repeated over and over, pathways in your brain develop and make the positive behavior a go-to.

“There are little things you can do to bring romance back…putting the baby down and having a nice dinner; maybe watching a movie together. Things change, that’s just part of the transition you’re starting, but don’t be intimidated by it.”–Veteran Mom

“I got to the point where I realized I’m forgetting about him, and I started doing little things like making him a favorite dinner or getting him a new album by his favorite artist. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. I made the effort to let him know he is loved.” –Veteran Mom

Biology Will Hijack Your Sex Drive

It just does. It’s not usually the case that moms-to-be are pondering what their sex life will be like once the baby is born; our brains are too busy managing pregnancy, prepping for childbirth, and anticipating motherhood. 

During the first six to eight weeks after childbirth, you’ll be on doctor’s orders to hold off on sex while your body heals, but many new moms need to hold off for longer than that—sometimes a lot longer. When all you can think about is sleep, sex becomes just another roadblock to getting the rest you so desperately need. But it’s about more than just fatigue, so let’s take a look at what’s going on and strategies to re-spark that sexual connection.       

It starts right after childbirth when a host of hormones wash through your system and shrink your libido, especially when breastfeeding: 

  • TESTOSTERONE is a major libido regulator and shrinks in breastfeeding women
  • PROLACTIN facilitates the production of breast milk but decreases libido
  • ESTROGEN levels drop and results in a loss of vaginal lubrication and challenges arousal
  • PROGESTERONE also drops after childbirth and contributes to a waning libido

That’s a whole lot of hormones on the move. And it’s important to get that a temporarily lowered libido is not a sign that your body is broken. It’s rooted in a biological purpose: to keep you focused on your new baby for the survival of our species. 

Motherhood and Sexuality

A common misperception among new moms is the belief that I’ll be exactly who I’ve always been but with motherhood folded in…Yeah, not so much. Expecting to get back to your “old self” is wanting to revert to who you were before your body created another human being: not possible. Motherhood irreversibly changes your brain, your emotions, and your perspectives. So don’t fall into the mental trap that you’re supposed to bounce back to some past version of yourself: You’re a new, improved version!

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Plenty of women do pick up their sex life easily, but most new moms struggle with low-to-no desire for sex. And learning how to switch from mommy mode—all covered in spit up and touched out—to sexual woman mode will take some time. While there’s plenty of info on becoming a mother, there’s not a whole lot out there on navigating motherhood and sexuality, especially for moms with little to no support. Wherever you land on the spectrum, do not invite guilt or shame to the table. Stay positive and focus on identifying what you’re feeling so you can build a roadmap to get where you want to go. 

“We tried to work on our date nights every so often, but it was very difficult. Your relationship changes in such a huge way. He had to break down and say, ‘Look, it was us, and you were my best friend, and I don’t have you anymore.’ I didn’t know how to respond to that. I thought, ‘What do I do? How do I fix this?’ We started to watch TV or a movie together, and it helped but it’s hard to work out that time. It’s something I needed to put extra thought into and now I’m fixing it.” –Veteran Mom

He Misses You
We know that men and women approach sex from different emotional perspectives (the Mars/Venus thing), and communicating our differences can sometimes be challenging. Before writing this section, we sat down with dads for a roundtable discussion on the topic, and what followed were informative and often heated (not hot!) conversations. Sex and intimacy is definitely one of the most challenging issues new parents face. 

When the baby’s born, Dad may feel like he’s been demoted to “second best” and crave even a fraction of the attention he used to get from you—and it’s entirely understandable. Contrary to what you may think (or heard), it’s not just about sex for him; it’s about a whole lot more. He misses the closeness between you, and the oxytocin he got from intimacy between you may have dramatically stalled out after childbirth. Naturally, he’s feeling a physical and emotional loss and wants to regain that connection with you. 

Touch is the cornerstone of how we express love and a gateway to sex. If touch disappears, bringing your sex life back can become awkward and increasingly difficult. And while it’s true you’re getting a constant stream of touch from your baby, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned all interest in your husband—and he needs to know this. Without talking about it, he will assume he’s lost you to motherhood, so communicate what you’re feeling and let small gestures of affection—a hand on the cheek, a hug, a kiss or shoulder rub—show that your love for him is still strong. 

“You can still have little moments of intimacy. Like when I would talk to him, I made sure to touch him on the arm or something, and speak gently to him. Make time for a hug. The little things, like being gentle and kind...try to be mindful and remember that he has feelings too.”

Common Challenges & Solutions

BODY CHANGES & BREASTFEEDING

After childbirth, it’s normal to experience period-like bleeding (lochia) and night sweats. You may have hemorrhoids or experience incontinence from a weakened pelvic floor. Weight gain, loose skin, breast changes…all par for the course. Adapting to your post pregnancy body is a common challenge, and the idea of getting sexy-naked may induce anxiety more than desire.  

  • No pressure: Be patient with your body; it’s going through a huge healing process. 
  • Communicate so Dad can support you and bolster your self-esteem—he probably finds you more beautiful than ever.  
  • Reframe your thoughts: Creating and birthing a human is an incredible feat and your body is amazing.
  • Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the bladder; exercise and healthy foods benefit your body and increase overall well-being.
    • Initially, your breasts are tender and engorged and they’re in constant use, so it’s not likely you’ll be thrilled about anyone other than your baby touching them. In short, boobs morph into a source of food not source of pleasure. Again, this isn’t necessarily the case for every mom, but it’s the norm. If you’re worried about leakage, nurse or pump beforehand and wear a bra/nursing pad during sex. 

FATIGUE

The number one reason new moms aren’t in the mood. When you’re bone-tired and desperate for sleep, anything blocking your ability to grab it is enemy number one: Sleep will definitely seem more appealing than sex (often for Dad too!). So before your baby is born, strategize ways to make getting rest possible and know the fatigue you experience in the first three months is as temporary as the newborn phase. Eventually, your baby will sleep for longer stretches and so will you.

Make self-care a priority. Finding time to do things that recharge you (exercise, seeing friends, getting a massage) is huge in keeping mind-body balance. When you feel worn out and perpetually covered in milk and drool, it’s hard to feel sexy. So let Dad know getting time to yourself to shed “mommy mode” will majorly benefit your sex life.   

The short-but-sweet approach. Studies found that women who had sex when they preferred sleep were glad they did, because orgasms flood the body with feel-good hormones, release tension, and promote relaxation. In other words, you’ll sleep better. And it’s a positive cycle because getting solid sleep increases your sex drive. Also, nix any pressure that sex should be like it was in pre-baby days. As new parents, the fact that you’re actually having sex is success enough, and remember even small windows of time to connect will make a huge difference. 

“At the end of the day, I'm tired and I don't want intimacy; I don't have the energy. My husband does help out around the house and he's great about it, but I'm just too tired at night. Call him up and ask him to bring dinner home and a bottle of wine—you’ll have more energy.”  –Veteran Mom

HORMONES

Because motherhood naturally causes low libido and fatigue, it’s easy to miss an ongoing hormonal imbalance. Signs include: mood swings, brain fog, insomnia, anxiousness, swift weight gain or loss, constipation, migraines, hair loss, dry skin or acne, and (drumroll please)…loss of sex drive. If you suspect an imbalance, consult with your doctor about a postpartum blood work up and solutions.

PAIN (and fear of)

Whether you’re healing from an episiotomy, C-section, or experiencing vaginal dryness, tightness, or hemorrhoids, it’s common to feel temporary discomfort during postpartum sex (dyspareunia). 

  • Lube: your new best friend! Slather it on and try a few to see which one works best.
  • Stick with positions that give you maximum comfort. 
  • Before sex, take some time to focus on calming your mind and relaxing your body. 
  • Be sure your body is fully healed before having sex, and contact your physician if the pain persists. 

“After the first time we tried, I was like don’t get near me for a while. Then when my body started to go back to normal we tried it again, and I was so excited that I wasn’t in pain. It took me about 3 to 4 months.”–Veteran Mom

POSTPARTUM MOOD DISORDERS

While the baby blues and postpartum mood disorders (depression/anxiety/OCD) share similar symptoms, they’re very different beasts. The biggest difference is that with mood disorders, the feelings are more intense, longer lasting, and affect your ability to function and this includes sex. If you or your partner suspect a postpartum mood disorder, contact your doctor ASAP regarding support. 

READ! 6 Surprising Signs of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

PREGNANCY (fear of)

Breastfeeding is not a guaranteed form of birth control so if this is a concern, speak with your doctor about birth control options or use a condom for peace of mind. 

RELAXING (difficulty)

Nothing crushes the ability to enjoy sex like fearing your child will wake up any minute. It’s also impossible to focus on your partner when you’re watching the baby monitor like a hawk: a game plan is needed. 

  • Make sure your little one has a full belly before going to sleep to increase the odds that she’ll sleep longer. And if you’re breastfeeding, the hormones will help you relax.
  • If you can find time, get into relaxation mode, take a bath/shower, use essential oils, sip some wine, light a few candles…whatever does the trick. 
  • A full day or an overnighter alone with Dad is the Holy Grail, so if that option comes your way—jump on it! Both of you can leisurely decompress (at home or away) and take time to focus on each other and reconnecting. 
  • We love this suggestion from a dad at Boot Camp: The Double-Hitter. Ask your spouse to watch the baby on a Saturday afternoon so you can get downtime for yourself to relax, and the next night have a sitter lined up so you and Dad can get out together. The one-two punch will help you feel rested, renewed, and in the mood. 

READ! How to Have Sex When You Have Young Kids

TOUCHED OUT / STRESSED OUT

Parenting a human takes a lot of work, and when you’ve got a baby attached to your body around the clock—feeding, soothing, cuddling--it’s easy to feel stressed, “touched out” and on edge. When this happens, some self-care is a necessity—STAT! 

  • Communicate. Tell him what’s going on. Communication reduces stress and prevents Dad from blaming himself. Let him know your body is overtired and on edge and it’s a natural response to being “on” all day with the baby. It also helps to give him a heads up before he gets home from work so he knows what to expect before he walks in the door, and he will be ready to help you get the space you need to calm your mind and body. 
  • Recharge. We can’t say this enough: self-care is THE antidote. It will be hard to turn your attention to your partner if you’re feeling like you haven’t even got a moment to yourself. Take whatever time you can to de-stress. While your spouse is with the baby, take a soothing shower or bath; find a quiet space in the house where you can be alone (just you and your personal space!) and listen to calming music (wear headphones, if needed); put in earplugs and take a nap. It’s all about getting much needed physical space so your body can relax.
  • Get out. Grab something to eat or drink, go for a drive, head to the gym or stroll around Target—whatever helps you feel human again.

NO TIME: The “Schedule It” Strategy

Okay, this might not sound appealing but hear us out…Scheduling sex can actually free you from worrying about if/when it will happen, gives you a sense of control, and allows you to mentally and physically prep (hello, razor!). And just because it’s planned doesn’t mean it can’t be re-scheduled if it needs to be. Just keep it simple and say: “Tonight, we’re taking time for us.” If sex was had, congrats—success! 

Just know that with some patience and proactive planning, you and Dad can successfully revive a derailed sex life, and your challenges are a natural part of the new parent journey. The most important thing is making your relationship with each other a priority, which means you’re giving your baby the greatest gift of all: a happy family. And you just can’t overestimate the power of that!

“I try to keep in mind that my husband has intimacy needs. And, even though I’m not really on that wave length right now, there might be a time when its vice-versa. Just try to keep that in mind and keep that intimacy because I think it's really important.” –Veteran Mom

“Even though sex did change, the relationship got into a different dimension; it’s a deeper connection, and it’s so beautiful. I think I love him more now. Just the way I see him with the baby; the way he loves her and looks at her…it’s just really nice.”–Veteran Mom

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