When it comes to romance, having a baby changes everything. There literally can be a baby between you. This doesn't mean romance is dead but it does mean you will have to go the extra mile and revitalize your relationship. This requires ASSERTIVE communication which is not easy when you are well-rested and in the throes of new love, and it is especially tricky when you are tired, sore, and emotional from the hormonal fluctuations that affect both parents.
Too quickly, parents can feel the pressure to "get back to normal" which can feel overwhelming and worsen mood and anxiety symptoms. Adding pressure to a transition can be defeating. Instead, the postpartum and early parenting periods are a great time for reflection, communication, and creation. When thoughts like "I should want to be intimate with my partner" or "I need to start acting like myself again" show up, guilt and shame usually follow. Instead of defaulting to the "ordinary", may I suggest an experiment with "extraordinary"...
Step 1- Reflection
When a new baby enters the picture, most parents report that, no matter how excited and in love with their baby they are, they grieve some of what was lost. Whether this is privacy, time, independence, physical attributes, financial resources, or social support, something has changed. It is ok to think about, discuss, and long for these things. It does not diminish your love for your baby and it does not diminish your capacity as a parent.
When parents think back to pre-baby romance, they may notice that intimacy in the form of physical touch, loving communication, praise, shared time, and collaboration have been misplaced. These interactions serve a vital purpose in the relationship, providing acceptance, security, comfort, physical pleasure, and improving the self-concept of each partner. It can be helpful to reflect, not only on the specifics of what has diminished but WHY this interaction was important or valued, and remember that these attributes are not irrecoverable.
When we allow ourselves the gift of reflection, we may also notice that there are new changes that are positive in the relationship that we have been remiss in appreciating. When we feel tired and overwhelmed it can be easy to take for granted what we have and miss opportunities for gratitude. In some ways, intimacy after a baby may be better described as DIFFERENT rather than DIMINISHED.
Step 2- Communication
Assertive communication refers to a manner of using both verbal and nonverbal cues to convey the message that the needs of both parties are important. Verbal attributes of assertive communication include using a respectful tone, a reasonable volume, an intentional word choice, and enunciating your words so you can be easily heard. Nonverbal attributes of assertive communication include using a relaxed posture, maintaining natural eye contact, respectful spacing, and consented soothing touch. When emotions are high and sleep and privacy are low, it may be necessary to schedule communication about the relationship specifically.
OOOhhh, that sounds awkward. It doesn't doesn't it?! Here's how to make sure it isn't...
Keep in mind that this meeting-of-the-minds about your relationship isn't meant to be formal and stiff or feel like a therapy session. (Hopefully, if you are in therapy, your therapy doesn't feel formal or stiff either)! The idea of scheduling just refers to the concept of intentionally making the time to check it in. You may only want to take 5 minutes/week for this activity and that is perfect. Please feel encouraged to be your usual goofy, fun, sarcastic, humorous, profane self when you show up to the meeting. After all, this is the person your partner loves.
This is not a problem-solving session-this is more like circle time for friends-with-benefits. The goal is to show your interest in your partner. Proceed from a place of curiosity and hope.
Start with something specific and positive. For example, "I've been feeling self-conscious about the way my body has changed but when you rub my back it reminds me that you care about me and this helps me relax and be kinder to myself. I miss our ability to have alone time whenever we want it but these small gestures are fantastic."
Be ready to listen WITHOUT reacting. This one is tricky. Open-ended sentences can help. It might be helpful to start with "if we could do anything together this weekend, what would you want it to be?" The goal is to listen. Take a pause then later (at least several hours) use what you have learned.
Step 3- Creation
As you begin to check in intentionally with your partner and you learn what you both have missed and why, you will have an opportunity to get creative and start sneaking romance back into your relationship. Making this a challenge and fun can be very helpful. For example, if your partner shares something like "I felt closer to you when we would talk before bed. Now you are with the baby and I miss this time." You might start looking for times to add this back in. Likewise, if you partner reports they are struggling with libido, you may want to experiment with more foreplay, sending texts, or adding in massage. The fun part is you can do this in whatever way works best for you and your partner. For some, this may mean tweaking the bedtime routine. For others, this may mean taking a walk together after dinner with the baby in a stroller. Even if you don't always hit your target, the act of intentionally addressing romance, in of itself, can be a game-changer for your relationship.