No one warned me that becoming a parent would seriously hinder my ability to be a connected partner.
I am a wife and a mother of 2 beautiful beach loving boys. My family lives by the ocean in Portugal. Life is mostly sunny and, like all new adventures, my experience becoming a mama has had unexpected curve balls. There were many challenges I anticipated as I imagined myself as a mom: Sleepless nights, constant diaper changes, a lack of privacy in the bathroom…etc. But no one warned me about the challenges that this new life could put on my partnership, much rather on how to prepare for them.
In short, the spark of lust and fun that once danced through our days, dimmed with the arrival of our first born.
Jay Jones was born in 2018, 7 months after Colin and I were married. Soon after he was born our marriage had more bickering and less romance. There was more blame. We were less supportive and rarely intimate (breastfeeding was just about all the touching I could handle!). Daily life had a new heaviness. We had some serious work to do in order to be the parents and have the marriage that we once knew was possible.
But why was this? I thought it was that we had different mother tongues, my husband is German and I am American, so our communication was more difficult. I thought maybe it was that we live as expats in Portugal so things are somehow less familiar. I just wasn’t sure why my marriage was struggling with the beautiful addition of our son. Was something wrong with our marriage? Was Colin not my person? These thoughts circled my mind.
Once I began sharing this struggle and the concern that came with it, I heard loud and clear that I was not alone. This was reassuring but I still had no idea how my marriage could blossom and flourish while navigating this unfamiliar territory as new parents. My parenting books did not touch on this subject and I was eager for some support.
I made it my mission to alter the trajectory of my marriage.
It pretty much sucks to live with tension in the house and on this point Colin and I were in agreement. So I hunted around and did some digging. Together we implemented strategies to support us. It may sound odd but hey, it worked.
Our relationship is stronger and I once again see Colin, absolutely and without a doubt, as the person I want to spend my life with. Our boys are now 1.5 and 3.5. My days are adventurous and fun but also peaceful and at some points even calm. Of course there are still obstacles and tough moments but I feel supported. Both Colin and I support each other and this allows us to thrive in many facets of life: as parents, as partners, in business (yes we work together!), and in overall health and well being.
We all will experience ups and downs, so is life, but I found some tools that really carry me through the low points of parenting and partnering.
I don’t know if any of this “couples work” is in parenting books so I feel called to share what is working in my household.
There are 4 specific tools that have been game changers for me. I assure you that these can be wholly and completely the best days of our lives, but it doesn’t just happen. I hope that these tools offer a blanket of support because let’s face it, we all could use an extra hand at times.
Here are 4 powerful tools that strengthen trust and support in all relationships, specifically in partnerships as new parents.
Instant Check-in 1-10
Set up a convenient 1 (very tired, low energy) -10 (highest self, joy) energy level scale for when you want to quickly evaluate your energy levels as a couple. I may feel depleted and tired and say, “Hey Colin, 1-10 where are you at right now?” He would respond and then I can express that actually I am at a 2 and I could use some support with the kids.
What happens when you are both scaling in at a low number? You combine forces for the easiest solution. This may look like ordering delivery for dinner rather than cooking or putting on the television for the kids instead of active play.
This strategy puts you and your partner on the same team and allows you to find the next best move.
This imaginary card can be pulled in the midst of an argument and all conversation must pause. This allows both people to breathe, cool down, and level out before addressing the issue at hand.
You get 2 Joker cards per day and it is understood that pulling the Joker Card must be respected. You not only pause the conversation but you also instantly release the bad mood for at least 30 minutes.
WARNING: this can be very difficult! But it totally fizzles out the fire and quiets any yelling and screaming.
Put energy into other relationships, communities, or activities
Let’s face it, especially since living in lockdown, our household and family life can seem like our everything.
Go to that yoga class, call up your girlfriend, participate in a community like Bumpdate. Your world expands and you have more to share with your partner.
My partner has not taken to this but I swear by it. Make it a non-negotiable to sit down and let your thoughts flow out on to paper for 10 minutes a day. This can be an opportunity to release what you are holding on to or a space to marvel at the wonders of your life. Allow this process to be cathartic.