Why trying to be the perfect parent can ruin your relationship
Finding it hard to maintain your relationship after kids? You’re not alone. Photo / Getty Images
Welcome to season two of the Herald’s parenting podcast: One Day You’ll Thank Me. Join parents and hosts Jenni Mortimer and Rebecca Haszard as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of parenting today with help from experts and well-known mums and dads from across Aotearoa.
Maintaining a happy relationship with your significant other can be tough at the best of times. So when children are added to the mix and you find yourself more exhausted and short-tempered than ever before, how do you ensure your partnership and any sort of intimacy survive parenthood?
Dr Justin Coulson is a father of six, author, podcaster, founder of parenting resource, Happy Families and husband to Kylie.
And despite juggling many hats, Coulson shares there’s one big relationship myth he’s really keen to bust.
“We’ve got this misconception, this myth that exists that you can enter into a relationship with someone and if you’re right for each other, it’s going to be okay.”
But Coulson describes this as “such an unhealthy way to consider that a relationship would work.
“Anything that is worth building takes time and intention and effort. Whether it’s a family, a relationship, a business, your retirement fund … it’s going to take you years and years of steady, consistent work.”
And this is the process Coulson says he and his wife have adopted.
“We know that every single day we have to invest. It requires that intention, that presence, that willingness. As we’ve learned that lesson we’ve had to learn how to let go of petty grievances. We’ve had to learn what works for each other.”
But making these “investments” is extra tough as parents and often we’re so caught up giving everything to our kids that we find ourselves neglecting our significant other.
“Research shows we’re investing more in our kids than we ever have before,” says Coulson.
“I think there’s also this expectation with our husband, wife, partner, or significant other that, well, they’ve made this commitment to us already, there just always going to be there. It’s not a healthy way to live your life, to take the other person for granted.”
Coulson also noted that parents are so obsessed with optimising their kids and ensuring they reach their potential, but there’s an important question they should consider first.
“I’m sure you want your kids to fulfil their potential, but, have you fulfilled yours yet?” he asks.
Rather than being so driven to “optimise your child’s potential”, getting them into extra activities and extended learning, parents should “slow down” and turn their attention to “the relationship that matters most”.
“Because once the kids move out, what have you got left if you haven’t got your relationship with your partner? If they’re not your favourite person in the whole wide world, you’re not going to get through this parenting thing anyway.”
When it comes to intimacy, Coulson says new parents especially will likely experience a change in this area.
“In relation to intimacy, this is really for men, but guys need to understand that your wife or partner’s sexual drivers are really different, especially once you’ve had a baby. Now there’s a baby and exhaustion and mastitis and breastfeeding. Or the fact that there’s so many things to do.
“The cognitive load shifts enormously. So guys need to make sure they give their female partner at least 30 to 40 minutes of warm-up before anything significant happens.”
Coulson says one “critical thing” that also makes a huge difference to the health of your relationship is “maintaining connection”.
“The way I define connection is when we feel seen and heard and valued. What often happens in our adult relationships once kids come along – and especially as they grow and demand more of us and tire us out – we stop seeing and hearing and valuing our partner.
“When our partner’s talking to us, if we can really see them, stop what we’re doing, put our phones down … you don’t need to hold your phone when you’re talking to the people you love the most in the world.”
And he says as cliche as it may sound, date nights are important.
“If you’ve got some kind of support around you, utilise it. Grandparents or aunties or uncles, whoever is nearby, if they can look after your little ones even for two or three hours on a Friday night or Saturday morning, get out and spend some time as a couple. It’s so important for restoring that relationship.”
• To learn more about how to maintain and enjoy your relationship when you have children, listen to today’s episode of One Day You’ll Thank Me.