Romance After Baby
by: Ashley Mariani, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist
Let’s be honest, life is busy and as a parent it’s easy to get stuck in the Groundhog Day routine of life. Sleep deprivation, chronic exhaustion and over scheduling of ‘empty’ slots on the family calendar. Not to mention, meals, dishes, laundry, oil changes, family events…the list goes on. We pride ourselves on being busy. The question is, do we prioritize our partner? Are they placed at the bottom of the totem? What is cost of doing this?
The first year with a new baby is the most encumbering. All of our attention, focus and energy is directed to caring or providing for them while our own needs and the needs of our partners get misplaced. Admittedly, I am not a Hallmark Holiday believer. I feel that love for one’s partner should be celebrated outside of consumerism, ten-dollar cards and twenty-dollar roses. However, with the postpartum brain fog and memory loss I was thankful for the reminder of Valentines Day while shuffling through the grocery store on a blistery January afternoon. As I caressed the overpriced plush teddy bears, I was reminded that my partner and I needed to get back to celebrating our gratitude for one another more frequently. I understood, in that moment, the need for such a “holiday” given the madness of new parenthood and the ease to which couples can become complacent and mindless.
Mindfulness is a skill and tool that allows us to become observers of our lives. It challenges us to view our day to day through a new lens. Mindfulness can become an aid in rediscovering romance in your relationship; slowing down time to appreciate the qualities of our partner that we initially fell in love with. Even if the process has to be intentional to get the ball rolling on habitual romantic behaviours and expressions of admiration, intentions that are motivated by the genuine desire to connect will create connection.
Communication with your partner about your insecurities, your desires, wants and needs are important to rekindling the romance. It may feel counterintuitive to the desired outcome, but establishing clear communication about what your expectations are regarding romance and intimacy is important. This might look like sitting down once a week for a discussion about the upcoming weekly activities and where you will schedule in “me” time “romance time” and if needed, sex. If sex needs to be scheduled for it to happen, then there should be no shame around that. By scheduling it you’re making it a priority, which communicates to each other your commitment to connection.
Next, it’s important to take time to understand what your partners love language is. If its gift giving then perhaps flowers and chocolates will elate them. If their love language is quality time, a weekend or day trip to a romantic place could spark romance. A partner who’s love language is physical touch may enjoy a couple’s massage and soft caressing under the stars. The person who feels most loved through acts of service would enjoy breakfast in bed, a candle lit home-made dinner (including clean dishes and kitchen), and finally a partner whose primary love language is words of affirmation may feel most loved by a well thought-out and hand-written card or love letter. Gary Chapman, Author of Love Languages offers a handy quiz that can be found at https://www.5lovelanguages.com/ It is a good resource to help us narrow down how we can connect deeply with our partner.
We also must take into consideration mental health challenges that either you or your partner may be facing. Both chronic stress and postpartum anxiety/depression can be hard on a relationship. Quality and stability of a relationship has been associated with the severity of postpartum depression. Emotional and practical support during this vulnerable time has a direct impact on optimal mental health functioning for new parents. When a birth parent has a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder “their feelings not only influence their perception of the baby but…they report inadequate communication with their partners and feel less likely to openly talk about problems in the relationship” (Kleinman, 2014). Postpartum mental health diagnosis can cause parents to withdraw and retreat from their relationship while also rejecting the emotional connection with their spouse. “Intimacy can feel raw, like touching an open wound” (2014).
The take home message is that intimacy and romance need to be prioritized and communicated in a way that feels good to the recipient. If you’re feeling like perhaps there is a wall between the two of you, it will be important to rule out any postpartum mental health diagnosis before placing expectations on one another that are unrealistic. Educate yourselves about the postpartum body and mind and offer support in whichever way works for the other. Don’t forget the importance of therapy and how it can help facilitate the difficult conversations around romance and intimacy. Finding a safe non-judgemental therapist who’s experience in both couples and perinatal mental health will be an asset in moving forward in your relationship.
We are delighted that Ashley will be providing clinical services at Exhale Academy, she is also the owner of Mind Online an innovative way to make therapy more accessible.
“The Married State.” Therapy and the Postpartum Woman: Notes on Healing Postpartum Depression for Clinicians and the ... Women Who Seek Their Help, by Karen Kleiman, Routledge, 2014, pp. 201–205.