How to save your marriage when you have young kids

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

It's no secret that having young children is tough. No matter what you were doing before, having these tiny new people living in your house is a massive adjustment. Add to that a lack of sleep, economic stress, and sometimes an identity crisis, and you've got the makings of some difficult years.

Some relationships survive, but some don't. This new life can uncover differences that are just too difficult to overcome.

But sometimes, small issues become big issues and things can spiral out of control as resentment builds and nobody knows how to fix a pair of tired and broken parents, who can only just muster enough love and affection for their kids, leaving their partner out in the cold.

It's a situation family lawyer Jennifer Franklin sees all too often. She regularly represents parents whose relationships have failed in those early years of parenting.

Jennifer says there are four common problems she sees in these couples: "Poor communication; unrealistic expectations; undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues such as post-natal depression, anxiety or depression; and lack of sleep!"

Jennifer says some couples think their marriage is over when they really just need more support and a new way to relate to one another. 

"Sometimes I send couples to counselling in the hope they can grow or rekindle mutual respect," she says. "I have known many couples who can make it work again but it takes courage and maturity."

"Some couples get bogged down in the trenches that is the 24/7 grind of parenting and it's hard to remember the 'why' in your relationship – why you started the relationship in the first place, why you chose each other, why you decided to have kids, why you decided to build a family and home together and why you hang in there."

To parents who are currently struggling in those early years, Jennifer's advice is to, "Hang in there!

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"I heard an interview recently with a woman who had been a US marine and had done active duty in Afghanistan. She now has three young children and reckons it's worse than being in a combat zone!

"The secrets are humour, friendship and patience!"

Relationship counsellor Clinton Power agrees the early years are tough. He says once you have babies, your relationship can never be the same.

"You go from being adults with complete freedom in your everyday life to having a child who is completely dependant on you," he says. "You're sleep deprived, exhausted, and barely have time to take care of yourself let alone have quality one-on-one relationship with your partner.

"It's this massive life change that makes you more vulnerable to relationship problems because as much as you might try to imagine it, you can't prepare for the reality of having a child and the changes it brings."

Clinton says if you want to pull your relationship back from the brink of disaster, there are five things you can do as a couple:

1. Invest in a babysitter

"Yes, it costs money, but think of it as an investment in our relationship," Clinton says. "You need to have adult time together where you don't talk about anything stressful or negative, and you can remember why you chose each other as partners."

2. Divide and conquer

"If you're getting ready for your date night, divide the tasks so one of you sorts out the social activity and the bookings, and the other partner sorts out the arrangements for the child," he says. "You'll work more effectively when you have clearly delineated tasks."

3. Give your partner a break

"Offer to look after your child while your partner does something that is just for themselves," Clinton says. "Maybe they will get a pedicure treatment, or maybe they'll catch up with friends. The activity doesn't matter, but it's great for them to know you're there for cover the bases while they do something nurturing for themselves."

4. Schedule sex

"The idea sounds unsexy to some people but if you don't schedule sex in your busy lives after having a child, it probably won't happen," he says. "Put aside time to physically connect, but remove any pressure to perform or achieve. Sometimes lying with each other, gazing into your partner's eyes, and gently talking and caressing them can be enormously fulfilling and satisfying, particularly if you're both exhausted and sleep deprived."

5. Seek counselling

"If you find that you're still struggling to get your relationship back on track, it may be time to work with a couples' therapist," says Clinton.

"A professional marriage therapist or couples counsellor is trained to help couples stop the negative patterns that are breaking down your relationship – and they frequently work with couples who have recently had a child. You can learn effective communication tools and relationship strategies that can help you quickly improve the safety and security of your relationship and strengthen your relationship so you can create a happy family for your child."

For support, contact Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or go to relationships.org.au