What is the biggest indicator of happiness in a long-term relationship? Intimacy! Intimacy can be physical, yes, but the intimacy that makes for a solid long lasting relationship is related to the feeling that your partner ‘knows’ you and that you have somewhere safe to seek support and comfort. For many, relationship intimacy and connection declines during the first few years of parenthood. Moms and Dads become entangled in the everyday woes of trying to keep the kids fed and well, alive. They spend their spare moments together discussing daycare, carpool, grocery lists, and the like. And because they are exhausted and spread way too thin, they often become short tempered with each other and have little left to give at the end of the day. If this hits close to home, then know that just a few small steps can help you regain that intimacy and communicate better with your partner – starting right now.
Give your partner your full attention when talking.
How often do you hear your partner talking and realize you haven’t heard a word they’ve said? Just me? It’s very easy to let this happen – especially when there is a baby to tend to, kids running around in the background, dinner to make…the list could go on and on. But setting aside time for each other and trying to pay attention and make eye contact can make a world of difference in feeling connected to each other. If there’s just too much going on, try to take 15 minutes in the evening - turn off the television, put down your phones and check in.
Ask for what you need. Share your thoughts and feelings. You cannot expect another person to truly get you if you don’t ever tell them how you’re feeling. The best way to be assertive is to use “I” statements when talking. When my daughter was first born, one of our biggest arguments was over freedom of time (or rather, the loss of freedom over our time). After holding a colicky baby all day and waiting for the clock to hit 7pm (my husband was supposed to walk through the door), it would enrage me to receive a text saying “I’m running late.” But using “I” statements can really help that message be heard. Think, “I’m so exhausted and it makes me frustrated when I get a last minute notice that you’re going to be home late.” As opposed to “You’re always late. You must not care that I’ve been here with a screaming baby all day.” ;)
Avoid criticism and blame.
As tough as this one can be, communicating positively with your partner helps get your needs met way more effectively than criticizing and blaming them. In fact, according to research done by the Gottman Institute, criticism is one of the four top predictors of divorce (in addition to contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling). Instead, try to ease into your complaint by reframing it in a softer tone; making it about the issue and not the person. For instance instead of “You’re so lazy. You always leave your clothes in a pile on the floor” try “When the house is messy, it makes me feel so overwhelmed. I would feel so much better if you’d try to remember to put your clothes in the hamper.”
Listen to understand, not to judge.
When you’re discussing big issues with your partner, use your active listening skills. Listen to your partner and then summarize what they’ve said before expressing your own thoughts and emotions. By reflecting back to each other throughout the conversation, you can avoid getting into the blame game and listening with “back history” (where everything you hear is heard in the framework of all of your partner’s past mistakes). Once you’ve both truly heard each other, you can work together to find a solution or compromise. Remember that it’s ok to take a break and/or schedule a time to revisit the conversation if it becomes too heated!
If your issues feel too much to resolve together, then know that it’s also ok to seek outside support. Doing so before the issues become too big - or long standing - can help reinforce your commitment to each other.
Marriage is a team sport. You either win together or lose together.
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Disclaimer: Although Jennifer Howard is a licensed therapist, this podcast/blog - or any information listed on this site - is not a substitute for therapy or professional medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum or perinatal mental health disorders, please schedule an appointment with a therapist or doctor in your area. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or seek assistance from your local emergency room.
Additionally, Postpartum Support International has a wealth of online information and local support for new parents. You can call their Helpline (1-800-944-4773) or text (503-894-9453) anytime for support. You are not alone.
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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