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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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February 20, 2024

October 18, 2023

Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges

E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship

What You'll Learn

  • How the Distribution of Labor Impacts Our Emotional Intimacy After Baby
  • How Family Systems Can Help Us Share Labor Fairly
  • Why Accountability Matters When It Comes to Relationships
  • Why the Postpartum Period Is So Hard on Relationships
  • How to Maintain Connection and Emotional Intimacy After Baby
  • Understanding Each Other’s Emotional Needs

New parents are often blindsided at the toll having a baby takes on their relationship. What once came easy—sharing labor and working together—can now feel like an uphill battle. And we might feel like connection and intimacy after baby are impossible. 

I’ve seen this pattern play out for so many of my clients. Their expectations of what their relationship will look like as a parent often don’t match reality. 

There are many reasons why this happens—gender norms, a lack of foundational communication skills, and societal pressures placed on both partners. The distribution of labor and the resentment that comes with it can drive a wedge before we even realize it’s happening.

When this happens, couples often find themselves doubting their relationship. But more often than not, there are ways to work together to navigate these challenges. It takes intention, communication, and connection—all of which are difficult to focus on with young children. 

But what if we could lay the foundation for stronger connection and communication before we became parents? What if we could create family systems that allowed everyone to feel heard and valued? Navigating those challenges could be much easier. 

Today, I’m joined by Aaron Steinberg, MA, co-founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship

Aaron came into the space fascinated by relationship dynamics. He ended up becoming a relationship coach, often helping couples reconnect through the difficult transition into parenthood. 

I was excited to chat with Aaron to discuss family systems, staying connected after baby, and how we can come together to share the invisible load in the home. 

How the Distribution of Labor Impacts Our Emotional Intimacy After Baby

Aaron pointed out that becoming parents is the largest voluntary transition we ever go through. It's a metamorphosis that not only reshapes individuals but also profoundly impacts relationships. It’s hard to be prepared for what is to come. 

So when we encounter new invisible labor and responsibilities, we often fall back on the gender roles that were modeled for us—especially in a society where we are largely undersupported as new parents. 

Before parenthood, many couples may have had a fairly equal distribution of responsibilities. But the dynamics shift dramatically when a baby enters the picture. Moms often begin bearing the brunt of the invisible load as early as conception, then continue to carry the bulk of the labor in the postpartum period. 

Moms often begin bearing the brunt of the invisible load as early as conception.

When we fall into this pattern unintentionally, resentment can breed. Aaron pointed out that it’s hard for a relationship to thrive when we’re harboring a feeling of disconnection and resentment. 

That’s why it’s important to be intentional about how we share the labor and who handles not just the physical tasks, but also the mental and emotional ones. Aaron’s work often focuses on developing family systems for distributing labor. 

How Family Systems Can Help Us Share Labor Fairly

Aaron said that family systems are a foundation for anything that each partner, and even each child as they get older, cares for, owns, or maintains. 

But creating a family system is also about stepping back and establishing structure, systems, and processes that ease the burden of labor and allow everyone in the family to have space for their wellbeing.

Aaron said that an important piece of the puzzle is addressing feelings of connection and a sense of teamwork. When we build connection into the system, we can create structures and processes that support everyone and foster mental and emotional wellness for everyone. 

If we don’t focus on connection and teamwork, it’s common to slip into scorekeeping, gatekeeping, or generally not being on the same page. Both partners might feel resentful of relationship dynamics and the distribution of labor. We can start to feel as if it’s us against our partner rather than us and our partner trying to figure something out together. 

We can start to feel as if it’s us against our partner rather than us and our partner on a team. 

But leading with connection and teamwork can help us validate each other's feelings, maintain a more neutral perspective and grace for each other, and avoid falling into patterns of resentment. 

Why Accountability Matters When It Comes to Relationships

Two foundational pieces of fostering connection and emotional intimacy after baby are accountability and agency. We should hold our partners accountable for their part—but that doesn’t mean we should position them as the problem. 

Aaron said that he has seen countless couples who put the blame on their partner. This can feel like the right thing to do if we’re living with resentment. But if we view our partner as the problem, there is no solution—it’s a lose/lose situation. Instead, we can work together to problem-solve. 

That requires acknowledging our own agency and our own contribution. Relationship dynamics are co-created—and more often than not we’re being impacted by our upbringing, past relationships, and societal pressure. 

For example, if we’ve fallen into an overfunctioning and underfunctioning dynamic, where it feels like we are taking everything on and our partner isn’t pulling their weight, it’s easy to blame them. But in reality, we’ve co-created the situation unintentionally. And we’re not likely to feel emotionally intimate or connected when we’re maintaining that dynamic. 

The more we criticize or blame, the greater the problem becomes

The more we criticize or blame, the greater the problem becomes. But if we can work together and release the blame, acknowledging both our personal responsibility and external influences, we can troubleshoot the issue together. 

Why the Postpartum Period Is So Hard on Relationships

One of the reasons why we find ourselves falling into patterns of unequal distribution of labor and resentment is that the postpartum period often feels like survival mode. We’re sleep-deprived, physically and mentally exhausted, and consumed by our babies—it’s hard to find the time to feel connected or prioritize our relationship. 

It can be helpful to remember that this is a temporary season. When we feel more conflict or struggle during this time, it feels very high-stakes. But the truth is that we’re in a difficult time—a time where we are both learning, changing, developing skills, and figuring things out. 

We also often have body image issues or identity loss during this time. And when we’re already not feeling the best about ourselves, it’s easy to interpret our partner’s behavior through a negative lens. 

But we might both be feeling like we’re drowning. We might both struggle to meet our emotional needs during this time. When we feel like our needs aren’t being met, we might be hurt. It’s okay to feel anger or hurt or confusion—but it’s important to come together and openly discuss our needs, our feelings, and how we can support each other. 

One of the small things we can do that can pay off for our relationship is to pause and practice curiosity rather than falling into knee-jerk reactions. For instance, if our partner walks by us without acknowledging us, we might feel like it’s a personal slight. But what if we asked, “Hmm, I wonder what’s going on with them? Maybe they’re distracted? Maybe they need something? Let’s talk about this together.” 

When we approach with curiosity instead of blame it makes it easier to see the good in our partner. 

When we approach with curiosity instead of blame it makes it easier to see the good in our partner. 

How to Maintain Connection and Emotional Intimacy After Baby

Aaron said that maintaining a connection through the difficult stages of having young children is important. When we’re in survival mode, we might both be tempted to focus on other things. Our relationship might not be the top priority. 

But if we overlook our relationship for years, we might find ourselves feeling like strangers by the time our kids are older. If we can acknowledge what’s happening and work together to stay connected in little ways along the way, it becomes easier. 

Our connection and intimacy might not look like they once did. Spontaneous intimacy or regular date nights could be unattainable. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be connected and intimate. 

Aaron shared that when he and his wife are exhausted after a long day with the kids, often all they want to do is watch TV and turn off their brains. But they have committed to spending just ten minutes talking first, checking in with each other and connecting. Even just that little time and effort go a long way to fostering emotional intimacy and a sense of teamwork. 

Think of the little things you can do to recreate connection.

If you and your partner are unable to plan big date nights or trips together, or if you’re touched out and just want your space, that’s okay. Think of the little things you can do to recreate connection. It might be sitting down to drink your coffee together in the morning before the kids wake up, or checking in with each other, or writing a quick positive message to one another. 

The more we do to build up our connection, the less high-stakes it will feel when we do experience conflict or disconnection. 

Understanding Each Other’s Emotional Needs

It’s also important to remember that our emotional needs are not always the same as our partner’s. We need to spend time thinking about what we need, what our partner needs, and what adjustments we can each make to meet each other where we’re at. 

For example, if one partner craves affirmation or connection and the other one values alone time, neither partner is wrong. Perhaps each partner has to work to offer their partner what they need. Maybe the two come together for 20 minutes of quality time and then go off and do their own thing, so that each feels that their needs are being met. 

Aaron said that even if it seems like you have opposing needs, and even if it seems like there’s no time, there is enough time to give each other the gift of what you each need for at least a few minutes. 

There is enough time to give each other the gift of what you each need for at least a few minutes. 

It also might involve some self-exploration of our own needs and creativity for how we can work to meet them in different ways. If we really need to talk about our day but our partner needs some alone time, perhaps we can call a friend first to meet our need to be heard. Our partner doesn’t have to be the sole meeter of our needs. 

Ultimately, if we prioritize the connection, if we think about our partner’s needs, if we are both upfront about ours, and if we approach connection with openness and creativity, it becomes much easier to stay connected and maintain a strong relationship, even when it feels like our lives are consumed by the current season. 

If you’re feeling disconnected in your relationship, our mom therapists can help! We offer virtual relationship support to couples and individuals. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today.

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Tags:

Intimacy, Relationships, Mental labor

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship

Aaron F. Steinberg, MA, PCC is a relationship coach, group facilitator, and father of two young boys. He is the Co-Founder of a relationship education and support organization, Babyproofing Your Relationship. In addition to his MA in Psychology, he has certificates in leadership development and sex education, is a NARM Complex and Developmental Trauma Practitioner, and is trained in couples counseling through the Gottman Institute and the Couples Institute. He has helped thousands of people learn to feel truly fulfilled in romantic relationships through individual and couples counseling, group workshops and courses, and his guidebook to working through romantic conflict called The Honesty Practice.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.

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