• Whole Heart Relationships: Finding relationship satisfaction post children

    Nothing can truly prepare you for becoming a parent and the life changes that come with it. Sleep becomes a thing of the past and there never seem enough hours in the day to complete everything you had planned to. You have a whole new sense of love and responsibility for this precious new family member and your own needs (and often the needs of your partner) may take a back seat. So many parents want the best for their children when it comes to their mental, emotional and physical development. They will move mountains to give them the best start in life, yet they neglect one of the most vital factors which influences their kids: Their relationship wellbeing. 
    As parents, we should be as invested in the satisfaction of our relationship with our partner as we are in the development of our children. This is a major element in how we function as parents and the quality of this relationship has a direct impact on the relationship we have with our children and how we nurture our parental behaviour.
    The overall health of this relationship is the foundation for family cohesion and quality of life.
    Often, when couples have relationship therapy, they can track back to when the problem started, which is usually around the birth of their first child. 
    Without properly navigating this family life cycle, resentments and hurts are left to build up over time, causing them to drift apart.  
    If this key relationship is an unhappy or unsatisfactory one, it can have a ripple effect on all other areas of life, such as parenting, mental health,  wellbeing and even work productivity.
    When a couple goes from being able to focus their attention on each other, to adding a child or two to the family, the dynamic changes significantly and they are required to adapt and stretch to make way for their additional family members. This can be extremely challenging as they work through these changes in focus.
    Some of the challenges that might arise include having to negotiate their shared household and parenting tasks, learning how to communicate their hurts and concerns and proactively spending time together as a family, as well as figuring out their new identities as parents. 
    A high number of couples report a dip in relationship satisfaction post children, but researchers have identified some “protective factors” that seem to help couples through these challenging times. They include: 
    • Behavioural factors such as showing one another affection, supporting each other, making times for one another, establishing couple and individual identities and the expressing of emotions.  
    • Expressing positive cognition such as realistic beliefs and expectations, knowing and understanding your partner, equality, consensus and positive attribution bias. 
    It is completely normal to experience growing pains, even for couples who successfully navigate their changing circumstances. These changes are significant – like working out who is responsible for running the new-look household and the emotional labour of the family; how to spend time together as a couple and alone; and attempting to not get bogged down in the daily tasks. Research shows that couples who were able to spend less time in conflict with one another about such matters reported much higher levels of satisfaction and repair.
    These couples were able to negotiate any issues and proactively invest in each other’s emotional wellbeing. They still managed to inject fun, laughter and intimacy into their relationship, were more compassionate when communicating and their expectations were aligned.
     Their strong friendship and trust helped them to create solid rituals that established them as both a couple and a family. 
    It is easy to become complacent and to rely on the positive beliefs and behaviours prior to having children; after all, most couples ignore the problem in the hope it’ll go away. How the couple treat their relationship within the first few years of parenthood is the blueprint to how their relationship will function in the future. Simply wanting the relationship to be better isn’t enough.   
    It is important to remember that the success of the family relies on the happiness of the couple. For all family members to come out thriving, couples need to establish protective factors in their relationship which establish intimacy, trust, compassion and connection. Couples who invest in their relationship through education are likely to continue to have positive attributes (like communication) for four years after learning. 
    Addressing any issues early on will avoid heartache further down the line and will protect your children from negative energy at home.  
    To find out more about how to upskill your relationship skills and increase the sense of fun, intimacy and connection, head to the Whole Heart Relationships website and view their Intimacy Bootcamp Back to Basics course. It is a 5-week online course helping couples get back to the basics of what makes a marriage work well. Most people know instinctively that they should manage their conflict and spend more time together, but no one ever provided a “user manual” on how to do it and this course will do that for you. 

    Julia Nowland is a Relationship Therapist and founder of Whole Heart Relationships. She specialises in helping couples with young children prioritise their relationship and strengthen their love.  She is a trained Family Systems Therapist with a Masters in Social Health,  and over a decade of experience helping couples and families. She is regularly called upon as a relationship expert, has appeared on National TV and radio and featured in major publications including Woman’s Day and Psych Central. 
    More than ten years’ experience in the therapeutic industry didn’t prepare her for life with a toddler! The challenges that her beautiful relationship would face as it stretched and grew, welcoming in a new addition, led her to research how couples manage this transition, coming out stronger than ever. She wanted to know what the important factors are that contribute to keeping the style in your lifestyle. 
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