Motherhood & Marriage: strengthening your relationship after baby
June 6, 2023
Laura Greenwood, our resident matrescence coach and psychotherapist gives tips to help you maintain a healthy, happy relationship with your significant other while juggling the joys and challenges of parenthood.
How does Motherhood affect marriage?
Motherhood begins well before giving birth and can affect every aspect of your life. Suddenly, your time and energy are devoted to caring for a whole new life, leaving little room for much else.
Recognising this shift is essential to nurturing yourself, your relationship, and, ultimately, your children. We set a precedent for how our children will function in relationships in the future. So, giving them tools to manage the rupture-repair cycle of their own future romantic relationships is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. We can teach them that it doesn’t end at the Disney kiss!
If you regularly find yourself saying ‘WTF!?’, Nat Biviano, the marriage and motherhood expert behind Spine Tingling Marriage, shares her wisdom and experience in the anthology Navigating Motherhood: A Practical Guide for Everyday Mums. She explores how nurturing yourself is nurturing your marriage, alongside relatable knowledge shared by 16 other incredible Mamas.
Signs of a disconnected marriage in parenthood
Security in your marriage is beautiful and essential. There’s also a fine line between security due to taking care of your relationship and security due to taking each other for granted.
Between household tasks, work, running a business, meal prep, kids’ activities, family admin, and commitments to extended family (the list goes on!), life is guaranteed to make you drift in your romantic relationship. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that parents can experience a disconnect in their marriage at any stage of their parenting journey.
There’s a natural give-and-take momentum in romantic relationships that we often cognitively understand (‘I get it, work’s busy, his mother’s ill, I’m tired,’ etc.), but this often doesn’t translate to our emotional knowledge. This can show up in various ways:
- A lack of patience
- Not prioritising spending time with each other, resulting in the sense of being more like housemates or ships passing in the night, or like you’re just receiving your spouse’s leftover energy and attention.
- Internal dialogue that sounds like: ‘She’s spending so much time at work nowadays,’ or ‘He knows all about his workmates’ lives but never asks how my day was.’
- Being snappy or sarcastic in your interactions with each other (‘Thanks for asking about my day!’)
If you’re experiencing any of the above, read on for tips to create a better balance in Motherhood and marriage!
1. Remember that you’re a team
First things first, Mama. You and your partner are on the same side! So it’s essential to approach parenthood as a team and work together to tackle the challenges that come your way. Part of this is celebrating your victories together – big and small!
“I realised one of the best ways I can help children is by altering the way their parents relate to each other. By shifting those relationships from the adversarial context we inherited, to the partnerships that are now possible, parents can create home environments in which their children flourish.”
Through her work, Armstrong has found that men genuinely want to make their wives happy. But how often do we really feel that intention? When they load the dishwasher the wrong way, get your toddler worked up before bedtime, or take forever to get the kids bathed and dressed, it can seem easier to do it yourself. We’ve all felt that way, Lovely! But if your partner ‘can’t win’, they can feel undervalued and underappreciated. Sound familiar?
How to be a team in marriage and parenthood
Analyse and be vulnerable about what you need to increase your connection. This could look like:
- Having a one-minute hug where you’re completely present with each other
- Discussing each other’s love languages and dedicating time to showing appreciation in that currency. Some ideas for this are:
- Set aside a specific day of the week when you communicate with and about each other.
- Send a flirty text.
- Buy or make a small gift.
- Leave a sweet note.
- Unprompted, complete one of your partner’s chores.
Considering your communication style in disconnected moments, and honestly asking yourself whether you’re responding or reacting. Are you promoting connection by explaining what you need, or have your emotions taken over and put you in defence/attack mode?
It’s about how each partner perceives and receives love rather than how they want to show it, Mama!
2. The cost of control
Motherhood is a season of uncertainty. It’s common to want to control whatever you can to increase feelings of safety. The problem is it’s impossible to control everything and trying to can lead to longer-term, damaging consequences for your marriage.
One way this can manifest is through micromanaging your partner. This might look like jumping in and taking over with tasks or pre-empting that ‘they’ll do it wrong’ or ‘they never help, so I may as well just do it myself’. How often have you felt inexplicable anxiety or anger at how your partner’s loading the dishwasher or changing the baby’s nappy?
Taking over or criticising how your partner shows up suggests, however unwittingly, that you’re right, they’re wrong, and that your priority in that moment is winning. This is operating as a competitor. If you want to win the race, it becomes less about ‘you and me as a team’ with the same goal in mind and more about needing to protect yourself.
Our subconscious actions can be driven by the idea that being ‘wrong’ threatens your identity and, therefore, your safety. So, to protect yourself, you feel you have to maintain that your way is the right way. When this happens, any other way becomes the wrong way. This threatens your partner’s identity and feelings of safety, and round and round it goes!
Most parents want teamship. But you’re unlikely to feel connected if there’s a disparity between how you want to function as a couple and how you actually function. Focusing on ‘being right’ creates a deficit in partnership and increases separateness.
How to let go of control so you can move towards true partnership
Now that you understand why and how control happens in parenting and relationships, here are some simple ways to practice letting go:
- Recognise your own need to feel valued and appreciated as well as your partner’s.
- Take stock – is your way the only right way? If your spouse does something differently, will the consequences be dangerous? Is the fact they’ve made an effort to load the dishwasher better than it being done your way?
- Build a stronger relationship with uncertainty. Practice with unrelated areas of your life:
- Take a new route on your way home
- Try a new meal option when you order at your favourite restaurant
- Say ‘no’ to invitations, coffee dates, play dates, etc., especially if you’re a yes person
- Say ‘yes’ more if you’re usually a no person
- Celebrate that your spouse is being your partner in their way!
- Communicate with each other about contributing to your team effort without controlling how the other person does it. I know it’s tough, but let your partner learn from their mistakes. Allow them to experience and solve any natural consequences that arise. Not only will this give your relationship a sense of teamship, but it will also increase your spouse’s appreciation and understanding of your contributions. And, Darling, it’ll give you that well-deserved break!
Respect that, with most things in life, there’s no single right way, Mama. Accept that you’re going to do things differently, as you’re different people!
3. Different parenting styles
Your parenting style can be influenced by your childhood. Perhaps you want to bring certain aspects of how you were parented to your own Mothering, and there are likely to be things your parents did that you know you want to avoid.
When we criticise our partner’s parenting style, it can easily sound like, ‘I want you to lose yourself.’ You’re asking your partner to be you rather than accepting them for who they are. This encourages a competitive-opponent style of relationship-ing!
Mothers are usually the primary caregivers, so tend to have more time to learn. Stepping back from the instructive role allows your partner to learn at their own pace (and I’ll say it again…it gives you a little more time and space to be you for a while!). Coercing someone to your way of thinking and doing removes their agency. A huge shift is possible when you allow and trust people to make their own observations and conclusions.
How to cope with different parenting styles while nurturing your marriage
- Make an agreement that you won’t contradict what your partner has put in place in a given situation. We all know that kids try to play parents off one another! Unless there’s a genuine concern around safety or abuse, trust that your spouse isn’t going to put your child in danger.
- Decide whether being right is more important than being collaborative (hint: Collaboration increases connection, togetherness, and closeness).
- Assume that the bigger goal is the same for each partner; you both want what’s best for your children!
- Explore whether there’s a way to reconcile both styles. Parenting styles don’t have to be rigid. Can you build flexibility into each approach? Instead of ‘How can I bring them round to my way of thinking’ (which, let’s face it, takes up time and energy we don’t really have!), accept the uncertainty.
Respecting and seeing the merit in each other’s styles will strengthen the partnership in your marriage.
4. Sex and intimacy in marriage after having children
I’ve found sex and intimacy to be among the least discussed areas in my sessions with Mothers. Perhaps there’s a discomfort with the vulnerability it brings, but it also genuinely seems to be one of the last things on the minds of Mothers!
Time restrictions, fears around the kids walking in, exhaustion…throw in that feeling of being completely touched out by your children and you can see how parenthood can lead to a decline in sex and intimacy within your marriage.
On top of this, there’s often a disconnect between the needs and expectations of each partner when it comes to sexual connection. This can lead you to feel like sex and intimacy in parenthood is just another item on the to-do list!
The societal messages we’re given about what success is (such as demonstrable productivity, striving, and financial gain) mean that the feminine energies of nurturing, being, and intuition are often drowned out by the masculine energies of attainment and achievement. This is often reflected in Mothers operating in hyper-independence – over-functioning and on the go all. the. time. Operating in masculine energy can contribute to all-or-nothing thinking, such as, ‘He wants sex seven days a week, and I can’t meet that expectation; therefore, it’ll be nothing at all’.
Kacey and Meygan from Marriage365 explain that, in this regard, men are like microwaves and women are like ovens. You need time to pre-heat! The benefit is that the option to turn on the pre-heat mode is always on. This doesn’t have to be the traditional idea of foreplay; it can be as simple as your partner saying, ‘Tell me more about that.’ Understanding your own and your partner’s love languages can be the difference between a dry, microwaved potato and a creamy, oven-cooked jacket. The ping doesn’t have to be rushed!
How can we feel more sexually connected to our partners and ourselves in parenthood?
Sex educator Emily Nagoski says it comes down to prioritising friendship and intentionality. Mothers don’t tend to suddenly want to be intimate; there needs to be a deliberately curated mindset to create that desire.
You can do this by:
- creating a shared definition of intimacy within your marriage. Intimacy is more than just penetrative sex!
- stepping into pleasure and allowing yourself to be present. To just ‘be’. You can’t relax into intimacy if your mind is focused on your to-do list.
- recognising your unique balance of masculine and feminine energy, and allowing both to receive attention.
- acknowledging intimacy as an opportunity to recharge.
- finding a middle ground and getting comfortable with the idea of compromise.
5. Equity in parenting and your marriage
The social and cultural narrative around what parenting looks like is changing. More Fathers than ever want to be more involved in parenting, and many Mothers welcome this!
How you can increase equity in parenting and your marriage
In her podcast, Monica Packer spoke to Dr Julie Hanks and Dr Jennifer Finlayson-Fife about moving towards an equitable partnership model in parenthood. To encourage this:
- Both partners’ needs, wants, and contributions need to be equally valued, supported, and honoured. Define what success looks like for you, and do the work of communicating that openly and non-defensively with your partner. Do you both want to participate in income generation? Does one or both of you want to stay home?
- Take an honest inventory of the impact. This starts with valuing your needs, wants, and contributions yourself and supporting your spouse to also recognise that value.
- Consider the obstacles to achieving that success. If there’s less money coming in, what will that mean? Are you trying to maintain a certain status or enjoy specific experiences that you won’t be able to uphold with less income coming into the home? Acknowledge how that could affect your relationship.
- Have ongoing conversations about your needs, and be courageous and tolerant of the discomfort that may come. Be willing to truly listen. Show each other how to be vulnerable and increase your trust and intimacy by openly sharing your goals.
You teach others your value by valuing yourself, so own it, Mama! This brings you into a space of improving your own outcomes and experience and inspiring others to do that for themselves – including your partner. This encourages connection.
One motivation for keeping your marriage strong through parenthood often comes from wanting better outcomes for your children. The great news is that your children will benefit from the work you do on yourself and your relationship.
Despite talking about the benefits of letting go of control, Darling, recognise that you can choose to connect in your marriage while being an incredible Mother! One thing you can take control of is how you show up in your marriage and connect with yourself and your partner.
All my love,
If you want to listen to the full conversation Laura had with Nat on this topic (it’s a goodie!!!!) then sign up to her newsletter on her website at the bottom of this page –