Becoming new parents can be a wonderful milestone in your relationship, but it’s no secret that having children come with a unique set of challenges. As you adjust to your new life, it can be hard to stay emotionally (and physically) connected to your partner, so we share some expert tips on how to reconnect with your partner after having kids.
“For most couples, having a child symbolizes the start of a unique family bond,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired. “The birth of a child is experienced as a joyful event that is often fondly anticipated. It consolidates the couple's partnership and symbolizes a lifelong commitment.”
While this is a transition worth celebrating — and parenthood’s new routines can definitely bring you and your partner closer for many reasons — it doesn’t come easily.
“Research shows that the birth of a child is one of the key stressors in a relationship because the couple dynamic must shift as the rhythms of daily life become oriented around the needs — and demands — of a new baby,” says Dr. Gabb.
You may find it harder to spend alone time together or find meaningful ways to stay emotionally connected with your partner. Sleepless nights, teething, and diaper changes quickly replace regular date nights, spontaneous sex, and weekend naps.
Moreover, new parenthood can drastically impact your and your partner’s mental health. “Between 10-20% of women experience childbirth postpartum depression of some kind, and of fathers with depressed partners, 24-50% experience depression themselves,” says Dr. Gabb. “In these circumstances, parenting can be an extremely difficult and emotionally painful time.”
Working on your relationship isn’t just necessary for you and your partner, it’s important for your child as well. Having a strong, loving relationship will benefit your child in the long run and provide them with a model of what healthy romantic relationships look like.
Your relationship will definitely change after the birth of a baby, but prioritizing your relationship with your partner alongside parenthood can be done, even though it will take some work.
Below are 10 ways to keep a healthy relationship after having a baby.
The challenges of parenthood mean juggling a million things at once, on very little sleep. We know sleep deprivation is basically a guarantee with a new baby, but do your best to prioritize rest during this new phase of your relationship. “You may feel emotionally and physically spent, with nothing left to put into your relationship,” explains Dr. Gabb.
Research has found that you’re more likely to get irritated with your partner if you’re not well-rested. Meanwhile, better sleep is associated with more satisfying relationships.
Dr. Gabb recommends agreeing on how to manage disrupted sleep with your partner. Come up with a game plan on how to support each other and ensure you’re both as well-rested as possible. Whether that means taking turns at night, switching to formula instead of breastmilk, or sleeping in separate rooms.
“Days can pass by where you feel like you’ve not said two words to each other,” says Dr. Gabb. “This can quickly chip away at your closeness.” Make time for conversation with your partner, especially about something other than the baby.
In her research, relationship therapist and academic Dr. Terri Orbuch — aka The Love Doctor — found that in order to build intimacy, couples must practice “the art of conversation” for at least 10 minutes a day.
Real communication, she says, involves sharing your personal thoughts, opinions, feelings, goals, and desires, and leaving practical matters to one side. If your day is totally absorbed by talks about pediatric appointments, baby food, and sleep schedules, you’ll miss out on that profound connection all relationships need.
When the baby is down for a nap, sit down with your partner to just catch up on each other’s lives and make each other feel heard.
Whether your body is still recovering from childbirth, or you’re simply too exhausted for sex, you’ll have to get creative with intimacy rather than relying on your old routines.
It’s important to acknowledge that you’re both undergoing an intense change in your lives, so sexual desire might take a hit. It’s ok to want to the pressure off and take sex off the table completely.
Your sex life will change, so you’ll have to find other ways to be intimate with one another, for example, engage in non-sexual physical touch every day. Research suggests that being touched by your partner not only brings you closer but can also make you feel validated and understood.
Physical affection like backrubs and massages, caressing, kissing on the lips, and kissing on the face, is strongly associated with partner satisfaction.
Date nights might look nothing like they used to now, so find ways that you can create meaningful time together. Whether it's watching your favorite TV show together once the baby is sleeping, having a morning cuddle, or enjoying a meal together without distractions, set aside some regular couple time — and stick to that commitment.
“Alongside needing time for yourself, it’s important to carve out time for your partner and your relationship,” says Dr. Gabb. “The partnership-parenthood scales are hard to balance, but it’s vital to put aside some time and energy for your relationship.”
“Remember that doing your best is the best that you can do,” says Dr. Gabb. Parenthood is hard, so recognize this transition will be challenging for both of you. Acknowledging that will help you be more understanding — and patient — with one another.
Keep communicating with one another and be honest about how you’re feeling. Conflict is normal in every relationship, especially in times of high stress, but try to remain empathetic towards your partner and remember that you’re in this together.
Since you’ll have fewer chances to be alone with your partner, get intentional with your time and find other ways to be there for one another.
“It’s simple, small, everyday loving gestures and acts of kindness that are key to sustaining a healthy and happy relationship,” explains Dr. Gabb. As turns out, partners don’t need grandiose gestures in order to feel appreciated, she says.
“Think about what would make your partner feel more appreciated,” adds Dr. Gabb. Small things like pouring them a cup of coffee if they’re tired, doing their least favorite chore for them, greeting them at the door with a hug when they get home, or texting them a funny meme during the day all add up over time.
Now’s the time to show appreciation for one another, even more than usual. “There are many ways of expressing gratitude in relationships, but sometimes a genuine, well-delivered ‘thank you’ is the most powerful way to show appreciation for your partner,” says Dr. Gabb.
As we get more comfortable in a relationship, it’s common to start taking little things for granted. Practice gratitude by acknowledging when they’ve done something for you. It could be something small like “thank you for making me coffee when I was tired this afternoon”, or “thank you for taking the dog out for a walk.”
Even if you expected your partner to do those things for you, acknowledging them will show your partner you’re grateful to have them by your side while you navigate parenthood.
Your partner is not a mind reader, and now’s not the time to be subtle. Be transparent about how your partner can support you through this transition and don’t wait for someone to ask you what you need. Instead, practice communicating your needs explicitly.
This can sound like, “I need 15 minutes to myself, could you hold the baby while I go lay down?” or “I really miss spending time with you, can we watch a movie tonight?”. Practicing this type of open communication will avoid common postpartum pitfalls like resentment and defensiveness, and ensure you’re both looking after yourselves.
Practicing self-care benefits both you and your relationship. Your world will now be around someone else's needs, but don’t lose sight of your own well-being. Take time to nurture your mental and physical health as much as you can, and ask your partner for help when you start to feel too overwhelmed.
Lastly, make time for fun! Playfulness is vital to a relationship, so find ways to bring humor back into your life and laugh together. There are so many highlights to parenthood and moments to cherish together, don’t let the stress of raising a baby get in the way of fun times.
If you want to feel more connected to your partner after having a baby, download the Paired app and complete our library of relationship questions, couple games, quizzes, and exercises designed by relationship therapists and academics.