It’s possible that you both look so drawn and dire that even the idea of finding each other attractive again seems remote, but you can find romance again.
Romance is a curious and seemingly ephemeral beast — fantastic and fiery at first, it is the hot molten stuff that forges what feels like an unbreakable bond between you and your partner.
And yet it can turn out to be more fleeting and fragile than first thought — easily injured and even subject to sudden and mysterious mortal wounds. It is also one of those things that ebbs and flows in relationships, with one of its more bottom-scraping lows definitely likely to assail you in the early years of parenting.
Nappies are not romantic, nor are caterwauling babies, or shouting matches, or bleary-eyed mornings, or panicked hospital visits, or the feeling that you are in the midst of some kind of torture that’s going on for months, nor what’s inside those nappies.
Your relationship will suffer, and anyone who tells you otherwise is so rich they have a team of nannies on duty and do very little of the baby stuff themselves. But the good news is, this isn’t just happening to you. Literally billions of couples have been through this before and come out the other side not only still together, but willing to have more children.
No, there’s not a lot of romance right now, and it’s possible that you both look so drawn and dire that even the idea of finding each other attractive again seems remote, but you can find it again. Here’s how.
Relax, you’ve been through this before
If you’ve been together long enough to have kids, chances are you’ve already lived through the marvellous and unforgettable ‘honeymoon phase’, also known as the first couple of years of any relationship.
This is no myth, it’s science, and researchers using functional MRI have been able to identify what’s going on in our brains in this period of “intense feelings of attraction and ecstasy” and “idealisation of one’s partner”.
People in this honeymoon period show altered brain chemistry with higher levels of Nerve Growth Factor and cortisol. When tested two years later, however, their levels were the same as anyone else.
Or, as Scientific American puts it, rather beautifully: “These findings suggest that romantic love is an arousing but stressful experience. These physiological changes are short-lived, perhaps because we become acclimated to our partner with time.”
Fortunately they do also quote research that shows some couples can maintain the honeymoon-period feelings “by challenging each other with new activities, such as biking or dance”.
This seems like very specific advice, but it could be worth a try. What’s almost certain is that you’ve been through one of these periods where your ardour for one another has dimmed (sadly, this is often only happening for one of you), and full-fired romance has cooled to the comfort of companionship.
Bringing it back is about time, but not just in the waiting sense; it’s about making time.
Look, we don’t set out to be mean here, but life is never going to be exactly the same as it was before children came along. It’s probably just best to cut terms like “carefree” from your lexicon once your first baby arrives.
And the fact is that you do become, in some surprising and irreversible ways, a new person when you’re a parent. It changes you, and your attitudes, and continues to do so for years. Consider that not a single day will go past from now, nor often a single hour, when you won’t think about that child.
Effectively, then, you are now in a relationship with new versions of each other, so that should be exciting. And while kids certainly give you plenty to talk about, you don’t want to fall into the trap of that being all you discuss.
Finding time to talk at all, of course, is the tricky part, but this is the one thing you really must do — make time for one another.
The best way to work on your relationship is to take it out for a run, or at least a spin around the block, so that you can remember what it was about, what it felt like, before all this change.
The greatest thing you can do, when you feel comfortable leaving your child with someone else, is a night away, and if you have relatives you can lean on to make that happen, do it.
Even a single night apart from your new lives will give you a chance to re-engage and take stock of who you now are, as a couple and individuals. You don’t need to go biking, or dancing, and you may well want to just collapse in a hotel room somewhere, but just try and stay awake long enough to talk, for more than 10 minutes, without being interrupted.
“While kids certainly give you plenty to talk about, you don’t want to fall into the trap of that being all you discuss.”
If you can’t get away — and I know some couples who didn’t manage it for several years after the birth of a child, and I honestly wonder how they’ve survived — then at least work on having a date night. One a week would be great, and unrealistic, but one a month is ideal.
Again, not everyone has, can afford, or has access to babysitters, but at the very least, you can still set aside one notional night of the week as date night, and make the effort to have that one evening feel and operate differently to the rest of the mad blur.
Cook her a meal, or at least order a nice one, turn off all the screens, wipe the baby food off each other’s clothes and sit down together. You know, the way you used to.
Effectively, even if it’s a stay-at-home date, what you’re doing is dating again, the way you did way back when you were trying to find someone, and found each other.
Don’t aim so high
It’s important to remember that dates won’t be as carefree (sorry, there it goes again) as they used to be, nor as debauched (hangovers and children mix about as well as bourbon and dog shit).
But you don’t have to have the five-star, three-hour super meal at some posh restaurant — you’ll never stay awake for it all anyway — you just need to spend time eating something together.
The folks at AskMen have provided a list of less-stressful date options, including some that don’t involve shelling out for a babysitter, but their best advice is about being realistic.
“There’s no such thing as perfect when you’re married with kids. Settle for ‘good enough’ or ‘not quite the worst.’
“The key to marital bliss is to set your expectations as low as possible and then barely meet them. It’s literally the least you can do.”
Believe in love, after all
It may not be easy, it may take time, but the romance will come back again, particularly if you’re willing to work at it. And then it will leave again, for a while, when you have another kid. And come back again, and so forth.
Relationships, as we all know, are not set and forget, like buying a television, but they are more entertaining, even in the age of Netflix.
Unfortunately, even if science proves it to be the wise option, we’re just not the kind of animals that are going to start a new relationship every two years so we can ride that romantic high forever.
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