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Sink or Swim: Can your relationship survive children?

Relationships are hard enough with the every day challenges of money, work and the now ever-popular ‘busy lifestyle’. Being pregnant and having a baby will add to these challenges. At some time or another, your relationship with your partner will come under strain due to the stress of impending doom the monumental change that occurs when having a baby. That’s the funny thing about stress – even positive events like having a baby can be stressful. If you take on board some of this relationship advice, maybe your relationship will flourish after having children.

If you are a perfectionist like me, you would have thought that your solid, pre-pregnancy relationship rocked, and that it would hardly be impacted by children. But I can almost guarantee that even if you think your relationship is more solid than Beyonce and Jay-Z’s, and longer lasting than any Kardashian marriage (okay, bad example), the unique stressors that having a baby brings will eventually affect your relationship in some way.

Young couple in love, Attractive man and woman enjoying romantic

There are some couples who during their pregnancies and in the first twelve to twenty-four months of playing parents will be on the precipice of sinking, whether it be having major blow-outs, separating or divorce. I’m not exaggerating…. have you seen divorce rate? Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, many relationships aren’t tested prior to having children. These relationships haven’t been built on resilience by surviving grief, loss, poverty, major stress etc. This was the same for my own relationship. We were lucky enough to not have experienced major stressors (thank god). While we are very fortunate, however, it also meant that in many respects our relationship hadn’t been ‘tested’ in rough waters. So, how did we know our relationship would cope with a major life changing event, such as having a baby? And why did we think that it would all be smooth sailing?

Despite the perceived strength of relationships, couples experience many issues post-baby. These may include having disagreements over parenting decisions or having mutual feelings of frustration towards each other’s lack of understanding around whatever the issue is. Many couples stop communicating effectively due to sleepless nights and the responsibility of a dependent. This situation, together with the disappointment of not being able to calm an unsettled baby (as an example), means all the small everyday tasks, such as cooking dinner, become massive, burdensome duties. Plus, couples’ individual identities change. Couples spend less time socialising and more trying to figure out what kind of parent they want to be, and more time wiping poo off a baby’s bum, legs, clothes, and on occasion, the walls.  While this all sounds very traumatic, it isn’t the same for everyone. At least it appears that way anyway.

Upset frustrated and bored couple lying in bed having no sex

But never fear, there are many ways to see whether your relationship will last the course of children and many more ways to improve it.

So regardless of whether you think you are in a solid relationship or not, or whether you plan on having children now or in the future, take some time to ask yourself the following questions.

ARE YOU IN A STRONG RELATIONSHIP?

Clear expectations:

  • Have we discussed whether we both want children?
  • And if so, how many? 

I am continually surprised by how many couples don’t have this conversation prior to committing themselves to each other for the long term. This is a make or break situation for many couples. Do you know if your partner wants children? And how many? And if you have two of the same sex, would you consider having a third? These are all important questions to discuss and agree on prior to having children. It can minimise a lot of unexpected surprises later on if you do.

Effective communication:

  • How do we resolve problems in our relationship?
  • Do we communicate clearly, openly and regularly? 

It isn’t a question of whether you have any problems, but rather a question of when problems occur, how do you resolve them? Do you ignore the issue until one day all hell breaks lose and you explode with all your issues? Do you communicate your concerns right away or spend time apart to decipher how you feel and then discuss? Or, do you just ignore it completely and never discuss it? You will need effective ways to manage problems in your relationship. You will be faced with many more problems once babies come along and you better be damn well equipped to effectively manage them as no child deserves to hear you yelling at each other because you can’t communicate effectively. Blunt…. but true!

Agreed upon gender roles:

  • Do we have similar views on how children should be raised.
  • Do we have similar views on what the role of each parent should be?

Do you see yourself as an ‘attachment’ parent (i.e. lots of baby wearing, breastfeeding), or would you prefer your baby to have more independence from an early age? What about gender roles? Do you want to return to full time work as soon as bub has popped or do you want you to be a stay at home mum for a few years? What does your partner want? It is hard to know what kind of parent you will be until you are one, however, you still may have strong opinions about some things. Before I was a parent I had strong opinions against photos of my bub on the internet. I also had clear views about both hubby and I taking on an equal parenting role when it came to rearing our little ones. He shared these less than traditional views, and it is working for us so far.

Similar Values:

  • Do we hold similar values?
  • Is family as important to my partner as it is to me?

People have many different values. What is important to one person, may not be important to another. Let’s look at familial values as an example. Some people foster a sense of belonging with a ‘blood is thicker than water’ attitude. Whereas others see their friends as their family and have little to do with their blood relatives. Others still have little sense of belonging and loyalty to anyone, regardless of the relationship. Where do you lie, and importantly, does this coincide with your partner’s values? Many relationships flourish when the couple’s values are similar. Maybe it is time to sit down with you loved one what work out what is important to both of you.

Suitability:

  • Would I be proud of my son if he grew up to be just like his dad?

Your partner will be a role model for your child. Therefore, there is a high likelihood that he will grow up to mirror your husband/boyfriend. With this in mind, ask yourself whether you would be proud of the man your son grows into if he was to be like your partner? Your babies will be your…. everything! Is your partner worthy of having your babies?

Life goals and priorities:

  • What are our life goals, and have we expressed them to each other?
  • What are the main priorities in our life, and do they coincide with each others?

Having goals in our life gives us purpose. Therefore, have you set out what you want to achieve in your life and expressed your goals to your partner? Does he support them? This is also the case for priorities: what are yours, what are his, and do they coincide? You don’t have to have the same piorities to have a strong relationship (although it helps), but if you communicate them and support one another, then that is what is most important.

I would love there to be an easy solution to relationship problems, but there isn’t. Some couples thrive post children, other couples seem to drown. Relationships are hard work, and effort needs to be put into them to make them work well. These questions are by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully they will trigger some reflection about your life and prompt a discussion with your partner about ways to improve your relationship so it can swim post children.

Did you find this article helpful? Have you had similar discussions with your partner?

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About Lauren Jackman (157 Articles)
Lauren Jackman is the author of Canberra Mummy. A self-confessed perfectionist, Lauren writes about the truth about pregnancy and parenting for perfectionist mummies. Lauren is a mum, wife, author, runner and a not a bad cook