Staying In Love When Baby Comes

Katie Young
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Wednesday - September 05, 2007

So you’ve just had a baby and everything is wonderful. Your family is growing and the new experience of having this precious life to care for is like nothing you have ever experienced.

You care for your baby 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It’s wonderful, but it’s also exhausting. Life will be this way for quite some time, where all your energy is focused on this one tiny being who is completely dependent on you.

It’s obvious now that since you and your spouse have a child to care for, your relationship with each other will change. But by how much? And in what ways?

I think women spend a fair amount of time thinking about their own “needs” in a relationship. But men have needs too.

I’ve heard many complaints from men who are fathers that once their child (or children) come along, their wives no longer pay them the kind of attention they did before. They miss it. And they need it.

“She’s a wonderful mother,” my friend, Troy explained. “She’s the best. But it’s almost like she has no desire for me anymore.”

Troy missed the spontaneity of his romantic life with his wife B.C. (before child). He also wished his wife seemed more interested in many of the intimate moments they used to share before the baby came along.

But Troy’s wife was not interested. In fact, she seemed far from it. So what is Troy to do?

“Taking care of a child is emotionally and physically exhausting,” says Donald Kopf, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice and a member of the Hawaii Psychological Association. “Throw in sleep deprivation, hormone changes, body changes and trying to work your job still, and there really isn’t a lot of time left for desire for your partner at first. In fact, the desire may not be there for both partners for a while for these reasons. You both have focused on the needs of the child and your own relationship keeps getting further back on the to-do list.”

And in this situation, sleep can often be far more important than physical intimacy at first.

“I think it’s something a lot of couples don’t think about until further down the line when the baby is older,” says Kopf.

Lack of physical intimacy may be a complaint for more men than women because men haven’t gone through the same hormone and body changes that the woman does during pregnancy. However, at some point, the question for men becomes, “Is this just an excuse?”

This is where communication is key.

“Having an open and trusting relationship and communicating your needs and what you expect is essential,” says Kopf. “Just making demands is not going to cut it. Communicate what you’d like from your partner, tell them, ‘This is what I’d like. Are you ready for that? And if you’re not, let’s talk about where you are with things.’”

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own needs and wants, but it’s important also to focus on what the other person in your relationship needs. Men might need more physical attention and women might need more emotional connection.

“So after the child gets a little older, you have to try to nurture your relationship by setting aside time as a couple,” suggests Kopf. “Hire a babysitter for the evening. The little things make a big difference. Send each other little love notes or give hugs and kisses.”

Kopf says that for a lot of couples, even as the kids grow up, they still take priority over the parents’ relationship.

“In the long run that’s not good for you, the relationship or the kids,” he says. “Kids benefit from parents who are affectionate and love each other and can communicate with each other. This means taking time away from the kids to nurture your love.

“For couples who had that spontaneity before, they expect to go into their post-child relationship having that spontaneity just pop up again. If that’s the case, they’re going to be waiting for a very long time. It takes a conscious effort to set aside that time for each other. And romance starts way, way ahead.”

Kopf says that having a child changes things in a way that you can’t possibly imagine until you’re there. In an ideal world, a child will make your relationship better, not worse.

Yes, it changes where some of your focus is, but it shouldn’t take all your focus away from your partner, who you created that new life with, from love, in the first place.

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