What is it exactly that makes a committed relationship work, after kids come into the picture? Obviously, the answers are hard to implement in practice, which is why so many marriages turn into empty shells or fail altogether. But its the little things that can spoil (or save) a marriage (or loving partnership) after we become parents.
First and most importantly, your intimate relationship with your partner has to come first. Most of us have to work, and some of us even enjoy our work. And we all have to take good care of our children. But if your partner always takes last priority, even a good relationship may fail, which will impact both your children and your financial future. A committed partnership takes love, commitment and hard work, and it's a rare one that can stand many years of neglect.
Most of us want to be the best parents we can, but we don't always realize that keeping our relationship successful is one of the most important things we can do for our children's current and future well-being. This means finding a way to spend time together away from the kids, as well as doing things together as a family. It also means keeping your sex life alive and kicking, whatever that takes. And it means working through your parenting and relationship difficulties and finding a way to accept your partner as a human being and a parent, as imperfect as they (and we all) may be. Studies show that children fare much better in a family in which the parents' relationship is solid, even if the parents do an imperfect job.
Communication is crucial. In the short run, it is always easier to bury resentments and avoid conflict. But in the long run, resentments build up and fester - killing intimacy and poisoning your sexual relationship. Learning how to communicate clearly while remaining responsible for your own feelings and reactions can save your relationship.
For example, if your partner spends time caring for the baby and you're annoyed that you find him sitting in front of the TV watching football, take a minute to think about how you want to respond. Angrily attacking him for not being engaged with the baby will only drive a wedge between you. On the other hand, biting your lip may be even worse, if it will lead to you feeling resentful and unloving toward your mate. If, after letting yourself cool down, you find that you are still resentful about it, one way to start a conversation is by saying something like: "I know you have had a hard day and you enjoy watching football to unwind. And your time with the baby is yours, so I don't want to tell you how to do it. But I can't help feeling resentful, after spending the day entertaining and caring for the baby, when I see you watching TV rather than playing with her."
It may be that this discussing will involve some conflict, and your partner may express anger, but he also might acknowledge that he is at a loss for how to interact with the baby, or that he feels somewhat inadequate or inexperienced with parenting a baby. And you might express your concerns about exposing the baby to too much TV, and your desire for both of you to be good parents, while acknowledging that a football game probably won't ruin your child for life. After such a discussion, you might find that you don't feel angry anymore, because you understand where your partner is coming from and recognize that the baby will survive some football-watching with Dad. Or, the discussing may spark the idea of giving Dad more time with the baby to improve his confidence. But either way, your feelings of resentment will be less if you work through the issues and understand each others' feelings.
This is not to say that there are never times when it pays to let something go rather than discussing it with your partner. But the important question to ask yourself is: "will I truly be able to let this go?" If the answer is no, then you have to talk about it, preferably when you are both feeling calm, so you can move past the feelings of resentment and reconnect with your partner.
Remember that there is no intimate relationship that can remain loving without dealing with some conflict. Expressing feelings in a sensitive way is how you grow closer and resolve difficult situations. If you find that these discussions are unproductive, get the help of a qualified couples' counselor sooner rather than later, so there is enough good will between the two of you to work on making the relationship better.
Meri Hanson Levy, CLE is a Coach-Parenting™ Certified Coach and Certified Lactation Educator, the mother of three children, as well as the former Executive Director of The Nurture Center. Visit her website at www.BondingCoach.com.