10 May Prioritising Your Relationship when you Have a Family
After a couple become parents, their perception of their relationship can shift to incorporate their children. It’s easy to see how this shift can happen. Children, especially in the early days, demand a lot of time and energy, and the focus a couple used to have on each other is redirected to the child. It is important to remember that although children help form the family structure they are not a part of a couple’s relationship.
A couple’s relationship is at the core of the family structure and the health of the relationship can contribute significantly to the overall health and functioning of the family unit. This is why the relationship needs to be recognised and valued as a stand-alone structure, separate from the children. In the early days of parenthood, the all-consuming focus on the new baby can eat in to time for the relationship. Although this is a fairly common occurrence, it still needs to be addressed.
The balance between family and the relationship can continue to be skewed for a number of reasons. Family needs are clear, measurable, make themselves known (i.e. i need to get the kids to school by 8.30am) and consequently are often met by default. Relationship needs on the other hand are often not immediately obvious and therefore can easily be sidelined. The whole family can benefit from a couple taking the time to look at their relationship and figuring out where the gaps are. Failing to prioritise the relationship can become detrimental to it.
So what can you do to start tipping the relationship family balance towards the relationship?
Communicate with your partner in a language you know they will understand. Make a conscious effort to do away with self-defeating mind games, such as saying you are OK when you’re not, or saying you don’t want to talk when you do. Perhaps you can talk about the relationship; what you’d like to see more of and how to achieve that; more sex, more time away, or maybe just more conversation. By talking in this way you are taking the first steps towards creating a safe space for yourselves. Don’t forget to talk about things other than your domestic lives! Couples, especially in the early stages of family building, can forget about the world outside their family structure, and this can be un-stimulating in the long term. Talk about your interests, current affairs, things you would like to know more about. This allows you to see each other as individuals and not simply as a co-parent.
- TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF
Be patient with your relationship and allow the relationship to evolve without insisting that it does so at a particular pace, and in a particular way. Being patient does not mean you stop trying, it just means you try more gently, with kindness.
- ENGAGE IN CONSCIOUS INTIMACY
The acts of seeing and touching one another can become more habitual than conscious as a couple becomes more comfortable, and more immersed in demands they perceive as greater than the relationship. The basis of intimacy and connection can often lie in seeing and touching with awareness, noticing the ways the senses are stimulated. So, look at your partner, notice their hair and how it falls, their body and face when they are absorbed in a task or just laughing. When you hold their hand, really hold it-feel the texture of the skin, the warmth.
- DON’T UNDERESTIMATE FUN
I’m always having to remind couples I work with to have fun! Yes, effective communication is important. Yes, sex is vital. Yes, please focus on intimacy. But have fun whilst doing these things. Be silly, laugh again, turn to the in-jokes and create opportunities to make new ones.
- LET YOUR KIDS IN ON THE SECRET
Children are meant to be self-focused; their conviction that they are the centre of the universe is part of a healthy survival mechanism. It is however ok to let your children know that you are not only their parents but each other’s lovers and friends. How can you let them see this? Give time and priority to conversations which each other; let them hear you talk about things other than the home, family and them; kiss and touch each other in ways that aren’t just cursory. By letting your children see that you value each other, you allow them to see what a healthy relationship looks like, and enable yourselves to recognise that being attentive to each other does not equate to being neglectful of your children.
This article was written by Vida Psychology’s relationship Psychologist Ishma Alvi. If you would like to make an appointment with Ishma or any of our other psychologists please call 03 9328 3636, or go to vidapsychology.com.