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For many working moms, partner relationships tend to take a backseat. Instead, the job, childcare, housework and sleep (if you’re lucky), often comes first.
Yes, the relationship with your partner inevitably changes after kids. But relationship therapist Dr. Laura Berman stressed that keeping the spark alive is critical for the well-being of their partners, children and themselves.
“Where women get in the most trouble is redirecting 90 percent of their energy to the baby - but six to eight weeks after the baby is born, that ratio should start changing. Couples run into trouble when they don’t change it.”
The host of “In the bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on the Oprah Winfrey Network, outlined the most common obstacles working moms with young children face when it comes to their partner relationships and shared ways to keep the romance alive.
1. Make time to talk about non-logistical things.
According to Berman, most couples with young children only talk about the day-to-day logistics. Berman suggested setting time aside to discuss other matters.
“Turn off all technology, and just talk about things other than logistics,” Berman said. “Talk about where you see yourself in five years. List the five things you still love about each other. Don’t talk about the kids, work, diapers — just do that for 30 minutes three times a week and you’ll be doing significantly more than a lot of couples.”
2. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Women don’t prioritize their partner after they have children, but they also don’t pay attention to their own well-being. This is detrimental to everybody, including partners.
“Where most women go wrong is not recognizing how hugely crucial it is to put on their own oxygen mask first,” Berman said. “A lot of working mothers say ‘I spend so little time with my kids, every waking moment should be with them.’ But you suffer, your relationship suffers, you lose touch with who you really are and depression and exhaustion sets in.”
When women take time for themselves, it benefits the whole family unit, according to Berman.
“Women won’t take an hour of their time to go to the gym or hang out with their girlfriends because it feels like a waste of time. But women who really take that time for themselves have a better mood, more energy, focus and playfulness with their kid,” she said.
3. Actively invest in sex.
When a baby is born, sex will likely diminish, according to Berman. There are a number of reasons for this in addition to the requisite break from sex that doctors issue after birth.
“On the emotional side, there are body image issues, weight, changing in the breasts,” said Berman. “You’ve got a 24-hour need machine, you no longer want to be touched because you’re being touched all day, you’ve gone from being together to being a triangle.”
Yet, sex is still very important in a relationship, according to Berman. Working women have to recalibrate their expectations and invest the time.
“If you’re waiting for sex to happen spontaneously like it used to, you’re going to be waiting for a long time because it’s not going to happen,” said Berman. “Make those date nights, even if you’d rather do something else on your to-do list. Give your partner your attention physically and otherwise, because even if you don’t have the hard-core energy you once did, if you continue to invest in it, you continue to receive their emotional connection — and the more in the mood for physical intimacy you’re going to be.”
4. Prioritize sleep.
Physically, having a baby takes an unavoidable toll on couples.
“Especially for first-time parents, having a newborn does the same thing to your body that being at war does,” said Berman. “You’re on constant vigilance, you’re sleep deprived, your body aches, the stakes feel really high, the insecurities are coming up. It’s a constant barrage. There’s no rest, no escape.”
It’s of utmost importance to get sleep however you can, usually by enlisting family or babysitters, according to Berman.
“Sleep is better than sex,” said Berman. “When you have sleep, nothing is as serious or frustrating or horrific as it seems when you’re sleep-deprived.”
5. Ease up on housework competition.
After having a kid, chores and housework often becomes a major battleground.
“You lose sight of yourselves as allies and you start to compete with each other,” Berman said.
Working women in particular might see themselves as cleaner or more responsible, and will feel resentment toward their partner, which is counterproductive.
“You’ve got choices,” Berman said. “One: you huff and puff and complain as you walk around cleaning up because he didn’t see it or clean it up for you. Two: You can try to divide chores up but that rarely works. Three: hire someone if you can. Four: do what I did and what a lot of people do and just lower your standards significantly, and realize you can’t be mad all the time and realize that it’s not that bad if there are dishes in the sink or crap on the floor.”
The competition aspect might also diminish the partner’s role in the house, which is not the ultimate goal.
“A very involved father is not a mother’s helper, and you are going to have to hand things over to him even...if it seems backwards or roundabout or stupid or weird,” said Berman.
Berman said one day she came home to find her husband bathing their children while they wore new underwear. At first, she balked, then she shrugged it off. They were having fun.
“Unless it’s putting the baby at risk, let it happen,” said Berman. “You have to train yourself not to be so controlling and for most women, especially successful women in the workplace, the way you got there was by being a type-A alpha woman.” Let that notion go at home, she advised.
6. Ease the fights: get a babysitter.
Many couples fight over who has to watch the child. Often women might be saddled with more childcare if they are breastfeeding. Or, the person with the most flexible job takes on the brunt of responsibilities.
Dr. Berman insisted that anyone with “even a little bit” of disposable income should invest in some help to ease fighting and tension over childcare.
“When the chips are down, if you don’t have family near you, you need someone you can call in a pinch,” said Berman. “For some people it’s the neighborhood, or in their building, or a college kid. Have someone as a backup plan, at least for half the day. Or they can be there while you’re still around, like a mother’s helper.”
7. Get couples counseling.
Most couples with kids can gain a lot from counseling, according to Berman. And you don’t have to be in crisis to benefit from counseling, she added.
“If you notice that you’re in some discord, like the romance isn’t where it was, the sexual connection — get some help because it won’t take long and you’ll get skills that will see you through the rest of your life, and model for your child what a healthy relationship looks like.”