Be prepared to overcome the challenges that kids pose to your relationship

Having and raising children can be one of the most rewarding endeavors of your life. But it can also create significant challenges for your intimate relationship. One study showed that relationship satisfaction drops with the arrival of children, and it doesn’t go up again significantly until after they leave the house. Maybe if someone told you this ahead of time, you’d rethink your decision to have kids! As much as they can be a joy and the light of our lives, having children often affects the relationship and sex life between partners.

Here are some of the most likely ways you and your partner will struggle and what to do about it.

Birth recovery

If you have physically carried and delivered a child, you will have experienced at least some physical strain or trauma. While the standard belief that you must wait 6 weeks before having sex is not based in science, you will need time to recover. If you had surgery or tissue damage, it may take quite a bit more than 6 weeks before you’re able to enjoy penetrative sex again. Some women experience pain with sex for quite a while after delivering the baby. And many women are nervous about resuming sex, worried that it will hurt or that their functioning has changed, and they may avoid sex as a result. It’s important to be open with both your partner and your medical provider about what you’re experiencing. It will be helpful to enjoy a variety of ways of being sexual with your partner without a singular focus on penetrative sex, at least until that is enjoyable again.

Emotional adjustment to parenthood

Any parent in the household can suffer from post-partum depression or adjustment issues, regardless of whether they have birthed the baby or not. The transition to parenthood is a huge step. As joyous as having a baby can be, you may also feel sadness, fear, anxiety, stress, or completely overwhelmed. Those feelings may isolate you from your partner, creating a distance or lack of connection between the two of you. If either one of you is struggling with your adjustment to being a parent, seek professional help. Talk to your doctor or to a therapist to get the support you need. Talk to each other, too; set yourself up as allies in this process of growing your family. Give yourselves permission to have negative feelings along with the happy ones.

Time will be at a premium

Life gets busy once you add kids to the mix. Where you may have had time to take trips or spontaneous outings before you had a family, now things tend to be scheduled. If you have young children, you know that they require almost constant care and attention. Once your kids are older, they may be more independent, but their activities and demands get a little more complicated. Once you add in work and career, life gets full. Many couples struggle to prioritize their relationship amidst the demands of life and parenting. This is where scheduling will be your best friend. Find regular times to be together, even if it’s just 10 minutes over your morning coffee, where you can connect with each other and talk about anything but the children. Find a way to have regular dates and occasional get-aways. Make sure your calendar reflects the importance of your relationship.

You’ll likely feel exhausted

When you are living a life that includes jobs and kids, I think it’s fair to say that there just isn’t enough. Not enough time, not enough resources, and not enough energy. People end up depleted and completely exhausted by the end of the day, falling into bed and falling right asleep. This is a phase where people tend to neglect their partner and their sex life because they just haven’t got any gas in the tank. Consider simplifying your life in any way you can – use paper plates, hire in help, outsource tasks, and adjust your expectations to let some chores go completely. Then, put your intimate life at the top of the pile sometimes. Rather than wait until everything else is done, spend time being physically intimate before you get to the mundane tasks of life. Try different times of day, too, instead of leaving your sex life to the end of the day when you’re spent. And be willing to show up for physical intimacy without pressure or expectation. Sometimes, once you get going, you end up in the mood for sexual activity even though you didn’t expect to.

Parenting can be a source of conflict

Some of the differences you have with your partner won’t show up until you have children. Your own family background and experiences shape how you will want to parent, and the two of you may have very different approaches and expectations about how to raise the kids. You may also come into conflict about money, sex and in-laws (the rest of the “big 4”). People tend to feel strongly about these things, too, so it can be very difficult to collaborate when it comes to these important issues. Having kids and the complexities they bring can expose the fault lines in your ability to work together, to communicate effectively, and to resolve conflict with your partner. These differences can then cause a rift in your relationship. This is a rift that the kids can later learn to exploit, pitting one of you against the other. If you are having struggles with your partner about any of the big topics and you are stuck in your ability to resolve the issues, consider seeing a therapist. Getting help early, before resentment builds, can make a big difference in your happiness and in your effectiveness as a parent.

Despite the challenges, kids do not need to be a threat to your relationship. You can keep your bond strong by anticipating the difficulties you may face and by being intentional about maintaining the emotional and sexual connection with your partner. Besides being good for the two of you, a strong partnership is one of the best gifts you can give your children. They flourish in a stable, secure household where love, communication, and commitment are present.