How can we stay connected after children come along?January 03, 2017
They walk in the door. He is red faced. She is anxious.
They report they haven’t been doing too well over the last couple of years. Petty arguments which sometimes turn into arguments that hurt for days. She reports he won’t talk to her – disconnects. He says she is critical. They have two small children – good parents – but they don’t know what happened to their relationship.
They have come to see me for couples counselling.
They both say they are stressed and have little time in between managing the lives of their children and their respective work.
Do you talk? I ask.
No not really they say. We have so little time and by the time the children are in bed we are exhausted.
I feel unappreciated he says.
He doesn’t listen to me she says.
They are more like flatmates. No intimacy. Sometimes not even a kiss hello (the kids get in the way of that). Both lonely in the relationship.
I see so many couples like this in my work as a marriage counsellor. They are the couples who are a few years down the track after a child/children are born. Some are managing two careers, others don’t have any family support. Most are typical families struggling with the groundhog day of keeping up with housework, cooking, working, childcare, homework etc. Let’s face it, it’s hard. Typically, the couples I see are tired and time-poor and their relationships are running on empty.
So what do you need to do to keep connected after your baby arrives?
There is no doubt about it, children truly are a gift to a couple. These little people bring immense joy to parents’ lives. A child consolidates a family for a couple. Parents fall in love with their children. But what about their first love? Their partner?
The trick is to keep your eye on your relationship connection.
You will have less time for your relationship but it’s what you do with that time you have together both on your own as a couple and within the family dynamic that will make a big difference to the way you feel about each other.
I tell couples that they need to keep investing in your relationship bank account so that when stress happens and they debit out of that account it doesn’t leave their relationship in the red.
Here are some small things you can both do to invest in your relationship bank account after baby comes along:
- Divide up the work between you so it is fair and balanced. Play to your strengths so that you both feel good about the contribution in the family. Then thank and acknowledge each other often for the things you are both doing for the family.
- Don’t compete – instead think about the two of you as a team. This includes not completing for the affection from a child and extended family time.
- Watch criticism which very quickly comes into any relationship that is under extra stress. Be mindful of saying mostly positive things to your partner. If you need to make a complaint, set aside a time to talk to your partner about the issue.
- Don’t allow a child to have too much power in the family. It should be the parents not the child who decide what family time looks like.
- Plan a regular weekend meeting where you catch up and go through any tasks that you both need to be across in the coming week. Ask each other how you can help out with these tasks.
- Book in a regular babysitter – if you don’t have the money for it do a swap with a trusted parent you know. This needs to be at least once a month.
- Ensure you both get social time with other adults so you can connect on an adult level and not just a parent level.
- When one of you walks through the door, kiss and greet your partner first. Your children will be wide eyed and perhaps feel slighted but they will understand that your relationship is important which is good modelling and will make them feel safe.
- Make eye contact with your partner. There are so many couples I see who are not stopping still enough to make eye contact when they are speaking to their partner. Eye contact is intimacy.
- Switch off the devices and TV and enjoy some background music and a glass of wine.
- Ask each other about your work, day, goals and dreams?
- Hold hands.
- Have turns at setting up a surprise date for each other.
- Make sure you sleep in the same bed – don’t get into a bad habit and allow a child to push one parent out of a bed. This starts off innocently enough and turns to resentment down the track. And it creates the ultimate triangle in a family which is not good for a child let alone a relationship.
Sometimes couples are so overwhelmed and stressed they find themselves in constant conflict. Criticism typically dominates the conversation between them. If this is your relationship then it’s time to get help. A couples’ counsellor can help each of you be heard, can teach you how to communicate again and will help you work out ways to manage your time and your stress. This will lead you back to each other and help you reconnect.
I rarely see time poor couples who are not parenting well. But I do see a lot of time-poor couples who are not looking after their relationship. Don’t let your relationship come second. A close relationship between parents is a long-lasting gift to a child.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.