What You'll Learn
- How the Postpartum Period Impacts Relationships
- Why Our Search for “Passion” in Our Relationships Can Backfire
- The Role of the Unconscious Mind in Our Relationships
- How Communication Can Help With Relationship Struggles
- Why the Idea of “the One” Can Be Damaging
- How Fear Impacts Our Relationship Dynamics
- What to Do When the Relationship Is Actually Not Sustainable
Many new parents find themselves coping with relationship changes after baby, leaving them afraid that the passion is gone forever. They might wonder if their partner is “the one” or question the entire foundation of the relationship.
Today, I’m joined by holistic psychotherapist Vanessa Bennett to discuss how to navigate changes in our relationship after baby.
Having a Baby Changes So Much in Our Lives
When I look back on my postpartum periods, I’m not even sure how I survived. Everything that I had valued before changed. My priorities transformed overnight. I temporarily lost a side of myself that I loved. On top of the identity loss, I was struggling with PPD that didn’t get diagnosed until after my third son was born and ADHD that wouldn’t be diagnosed for several years.
It was a hard time. Everything had changed. And the idea of sex or intimacy wasn’t always easy to wrap my mind around.
It took me a while to find my footing in motherhood. Even once I did, my relationship didn’t look like it once had—carefree, spontaneous, and devoid of tiny humans that seemed to need me constantly.
I often hear from moms who face relationship struggles after having a baby. They are often coping with unequal distribution of the invisible load, having a hard time navigating sex and intimacy, or concerned about the lack of passion. Relationship struggle seems to be a common theme for new parents.
In fact, 67% of parents report a decline in relationship satisfaction in the three years after a baby is born.
For some of us, this is just a temporary setback. But for others, the relationship changes can have longlasting effects. I often hear from moms who feel like they are at the end of their rope. They’re questioning their relationship altogether.
It’s sometimes hard to parse out where the real issue lies, and whether the relationship is struggling or has simply entered a new phase.
Vanessa often speaks about this topic. She and her husband are both therapists, and have written about what love looks like after a baby. I couldn’t wait to hear her thoughts on navigating relationship changes after a baby is born.
How the Postpartum Period Impacts Relationships
One of the common things I hear moms say is that they feel like their relationship fizzles out after having a baby—there isn’t the same passion, spark, and heat there once was.
It can be very hard to see your relationship in a new light and compare it to the one you once had. But it’s important to remember just how many changes everyone is going through during the postpartum period.
It’s important to remember how many changes everyone is going through during the postpartum period.
Vanessa pointed out that the isolation and lack of support can be a foundation for relationship conflict. We often feel as if our partners are supposed to be our everything—the confidante, the funloving friend, the protector, the lover, the listener. We sometimes turn to them to fulfill needs we once had an entire village for.
This sets our partner up for failure because nobody can be expected to fulfill all those roles.
Vanessa also said that some of the issue lies in masculine energy versus feminine energy (these traits are not gender-specific—we all have “masculine” and “feminine” energy.)
She said that motherhood often forces us to adopt masculine energy, such as structure and survival. When we do that, we can lose touch with our feminine energy—including fluidity and sensuality. In turn, our partners might start inhibiting more feminine energy, sometimes embodying neediness.
Vanessa said that this can result in us feeling as if our partner is acting like another child—which can make it even more difficult to embrace the idea of sex and intimacy. This dynamic often breeds resentment in relationships.
Vanessa said that if we can figure out how to soften and reclaim some of the feminine nature, find a balance that allows us to be in a different headspace about sensuality and intimacy.
Why Our Search for “Passion” in Our Relationships Can Backfire
When I watch reality TV shows like The Perfect Match or Love Is Blind, which are centered around finding “the one,” I wonder if we’re being conditioned to think that love should always look like butterflies and flutters every time our partner looks our way.
If we believe that is the goal in our relationship, it can feel like failure when the “Honeymoon” phase is over—especially when we have kids and are navigating parenthood.
Vanessa pointed out that love and lust are two very different things. We fall in lust, and when it goes away we can feel empty. But biologically and evolutionarily, those “butterflies” will most likely go away over time. That’s not to say we won’t feel passionate about our partner—but it won’t always look the way it did in the beginning.
But when we constantly compare or become obsessed with what love “should” look like or feel like, it’s easy to be disappointed or to fantasize about something outside of our reality.
Vanessa said that we are constantly seeking things that feel good, but that in many ways we are all addicts. It might be alcohol, it might be people-pleasing, it might be sex and love—but we are searching for that “good” feeling.
Rather than beating up ourselves or questioning everything, we can embrace the evolution of our relationship.
But that passionate feeling doesn’t always equate to love. In fact, Vanessa believes that sometimes it is actually dysfunction. This occurs in relationships with high highs and low lows, which often don’t leave us feeling safe or secure.
It’s important to think beyond the passion. Rather than beating up ourselves or questioning everything, we can embrace the evolution of our relationship.
The Role of the Unconscious Mind in Our Relationships
Sometimes we don’t realize the role of our unconscious mind in our relationships. We are all bringing our childhood wounds, unresolved trauma, emotional baggage, and attachment styles into relationships. We often don’t realize how deeply these run or how largely they impact our relationship dynamics.
Vanessa said that there are always four people in a relationship—you, your partner, and each of your unconscious minds. Often, the unconscious minds are the ones calling the shots.
There are always four people in a relationship—you, your partner, and each of your unconscious minds.
For example, we might not understand that our upbringing left us with an anxious attachment style, needing validation from our partner. What we’re really looking for is the validation we didn’t receive as children.
That’s why self-work is so vital in our relationships. If we haven’t done the work, when we hit a relationship struggle or plateau after having a baby, it’s easy to fall back into unhealthy patterns. We might self-sabotage or fail to set boundaries or struggle because we don’t want to engage in any conflict.
If we look deeper and understand what is fueling our actions and desires, we might realize that what seems boring or predictable is actually calm and safe—it just might feel uncomfortable if we’ve never taken the time to self-reflect.
How Communication Can Help With Relationship Struggles
If you’re feeling disappointed, unfilfilled, or unsure in your relationship, some self-reflection is in order. Vanessa pointed out that relationships are always going to be changing—you and your partner change and grow over time. Your relationship isn’t necessarily lacking just because it has changed or the “spark” isn’t the same as it once was.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our feelings. The key lies in communication. We should talk to our partner openly and honestly about our feelings, our fears, and our desires, rather than letting resentment build.
When we do start to communicate and see the other person’s perspective, we can find solutions together.
For example, if Partner A feels as if they are “a parent” to Partner B, and Partner B is frustrated by a lack of affection, it could get easy to get lost in resentment. But with communication, perhaps Partner B starts taking more initiative in the household labor, and Partner A feels less overwhelmed and more desire to express affection.
Vanessa also pointed out that while communicating our feelings is important, it’s also crucial to remember that the season of life we are in is temporary. The period of time when our children are little can be exhausting and difficult to navigate. But we won’t always be sleep-deprived or drowning in bottles and diapers. We won’t always feel touched out.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if the problem is really a problem, or simply frustration from the phase of life we are in.
Why the Idea of “the One” Can Be Damaging
I often hear clients express doubt in their relationship based on current struggles. They sometimes wonder if they made the right choice of if their partner simply isn’t “the one.” But this idea of “the one” can be very damaging.
Vanessa said that when people say “the one,” what they are really looking for is just safety and security. We don’t like to be reminded that our time here is temporary or fleeting. We try to stick to black-or-white thinking so we can make the “right choice.”
When people say “the one,” what they are really looking for is just safety and security.
She believes that when we cling to the idea of “the one,” we are trying to create that feeling of security. If we think that we are with “the one,” then we will always be cared for and never have to worry about being alone.
It can be scary to accept that things change or that life and our relationships are less black-and-white and all-or-nothing. But just because we might be struggling doesn’t mean that our partner isn’t “right” for us.
Vanessa said that when we can reframe our thinking and acknowledge that nothing is guaranteed, it allows us to enjoy the moments we have and look at our life differently.
Instead of thinking that our partner, or even our child, “owes” us certain behaviors, we can understand that there is nuance in relationships, with ups and downs and independent beings.
How Fear Impacts Our Relationship Dynamics
Ultimately, so much of our relationship concerns comes from a place of fear. I remember that early on in my relationship, I had a very anxious attachment style. I had a core fear of being left. It was hard for me to feel secure in my relationship. Even after I got engaged, I had nightmares that none of this was real.
When we bring those fears into our parenting relationship, and we add comparison fueled by media, friends, or even comparing to our relationship as it used to look, it can feel rocky. It’s easy to doubt your relationship when you’re alone in the middle of the night, breastfeeding, and feeling resentful because you’re exhausted.
But when we can work on ourselves, on our own fears and desires and patterns, and overcome our past wounds, we can feel more grounded where we are.
Vanessa recommends catching ourselves when we start to spiral into questioning our relationship. Take a step back and wonder why these thoughts or feelings are coming up. Getting curious can help us tune into those fears that are fueling our concerns.
She encourages her clients to lean into the fears and let them play out. If you are afraid your partner might leave you, think about what it would look like if they did. Would it be hard? Would it be scary? Would it be uncomfortable? Yes, but we would make it through.
Curiosity can help us take the potency out of the panic thoughts.
Vanessa said that curiosity can help us take the potency out of the panic thoughts. Sometimes visualizing the scenario and sitting with our discomfort can help us overcome the fears and uncertainties.
All relationships will have their ups and downs. But we can overcome the hardships—no matter what happens or how the situation unfolds.
What to Do When the Relationship Is Actually Not Sustainable
There are times when our relationships struggles aren’t just the product of a temporary season or can’t be helped by communication.
But sometimes it’s a good thing to re-evaluate your relationship over time and acknowledge if it is no longer right for you. Just as we might question our relationship out of fear, we also might stay too long because of it.
We might fear the impact that ending a relationship will have on our children. But if the relationship isn’t healthy or fulfilling, we might end up doing more harm than good by staying—not just for ourselves, but for our children.
Vanessa pointed out that it is the ongoing unhealthy conflict that leads to pain for our children, not necessarily the end of a relationship. It might be the best and happiest decision for everyone to walk away with an ability to engage in healthy co-parenting.
Whatever the outcome ends up being, it’s important to make decisions not from a place of fear, but from a place of curiosity and understanding.
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