I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens to your romantic relationship after you have a baby.
One of the resounding pieces of advice I hear is something along the lines of: “you’ve got to put energy into your relationship, and yes you’ll be tired, but go on, muster up the strength, and just bloody do it.”
I can’t stress how wrong this is.
In my therapy practice I hear about so many women feeling guilty for not giving their relationships enough attention. They feel such a pressure to keep up the same level of attentiveness as before.
I’m here to tell you, this is just not possible for a new, and still emerging family. There’s a place for this advice, and it is in particular areas and phases of family life. The first 6 months are definitely not it, and beyond that there’s still generally a much longer period of having less time and energy. This can sound scary but it is something that you grow into.
The mother is primed by evolution to focus exclusively on her newborn baby. As maternal brain researcher Pilyoung Kim has explained: “Mothers actually report very high levels of patterns of thinking about things that they cannot control. They’re constantly thinking about baby. Is baby healthy? Sick? Full?” (Source: https://bit.ly/2pSrLNe) This doesn’t leave much space for herself, let alone her man.
But this is just scraping the surface. It is not just mums mind that has been hijacked (and this is how it can feel). Again, particularly in those early days, her body is unavailable. Many women feel touched out with breastfeeding, carrying or constantly holding their baby and all these things push her partner to the back of the queue.
But this is not bad; although it will of course feel overwhelming and difficult at times, it is not in any way a sign of something ‘going wrong’ or something else she needs to “fix”. This is a very normal and entirely appropriate phase. This is a mum attuning to the needs of her baby, and quite rightly, de- prioritising the needs of everyone else (except herself of course).
The mother’s job is to focus on the baby, almost to exclusion of all else in those early days. The father’s job is to give to the mother as selflessly as the mother does to the baby. It his job to look after her needs when she can’t. Getting her that glass of water or square of dark chocolate. It is his job to give to her emotionally, not only when she can’t return it, but especially when she can’t return it.
It is the man’s unwavering care that maintains the relationship. It is his giving despite not receiving (in this certain temporary phase of family life) that preserves the relationship. Men often feel lost as to what their role is in the new triad. This is it, and it is so incredibly vital.
So men, we need you.
And women, you don’t need to try any harder. Your job is to sit back and receive during this phase.