Loads of couples find their relationships lose their steam once baby arrives. Here's a new dad's guide to avoiding that fate.
I find it hard to believe there is any dad out there who hasn’t at some stage, particularly in that first year, been struck by the idea that he and his beloved are now living very much like co-workers who’ve been employed by a ruthless, merciless and very small dictator.
Other than, occasionally, waking up in the same bed together, a lot of the things you used to take for granted as part of your relationship, and physical intimacy in particular, have disappeared under a pile of soiled nappies and fully sick clothing.
It’s also true that you if you don’t stop this slide into mild despair (albeit enlivened by moments of shared ecstatic joy, thanks to your beautiful, gurgling dictator/baby), your relationship can be irreparably damaged.
Clearly it’s incumbent on you, the one without nipple soreness and a ripped and ravaged undercarriage, to work on this.
So how do you avoid going from loved-up couple to housemates merely raising a baby together?
Here are our Top Six Tips, with help from sex and relationship therapist, and straight-talker, Cyndi Darnell.
1. Be prepared – things will change
“Waltzing blithely into babyhood without a care in the world is about as wise as stapling a credit card to your penis and walking into a brothel before calling your wife to say goodnight,” Cyndi says.
The less prepared you are for the changes to come, the more they will shock and unman you. So think, and talk it through, and not just with your increasingly rotund partner (don’t talk that bit through, whatever you do).
Speak to any mates who’ve been through the baby thing before you. There seems to be a cruel kind of omertà about this, a code of silence taken by dads everywhere. Many of them will only tell you some of the truth.
This could be a primal DNA thing, designed to ensure the continuation of the human race, because finding out exactly what those first few months are like might put some blokes off breeding at all.
So ask your mates to give it to you straight; how bad is it, and how long did it stay that way?
Try to think of the first few months, and even the first year, as a kind of anti-holiday, one where you stay home more than you ever have (glandular fevers aside), don’t spend much money, weep quietly into your late-night drink, and end up pale skinned and dark eyed.
Like all bad holidays, fortunately, it will end. Be prepared for that day, and hold onto the thought. Tightly.
2. Sex is coming but you need to be patient
“Finding yourself living like housemates rather than lovers is a chronic problem, not because there’s a whole slew of losers out there, but because people don’t get proper sex education,” Cyndi explains.
“Once upon a time you were footloose and fancy free, but you can’t rely on that any more. Someone else is demanding your time and your attention, and all the stuff that used to be feasible is out the window.”
Cyndi tells us we need to accept that our sex lives “are not going to look the same” for the first six to twelve months. When I exhale loudly about this she snaps back, “Come on, if you’d just pushed something the size of a watermelon out the eye of your penis, would you want sex? Men need to get real.”
As if that wasn’t a chilling enough thought, she went on.
“Waiting for lust and desire to be the driver of your sex life again, you could be waiting for the rest of your life. There’s no point waiting for that bus to arrive, you need to find another mode of transport,” she warns.
3. Leave your dick out of it
So, that ‘other mode of transport’. Cyndi’s theory might be hard to, er, swallow, but she says men need to realise that they can’t let sex go, because it will “dwindle away”, but they can’t expect sex to be the same either.
“Many new mothers lose interest in sex, they’ve had their vaginas ripped open and they don’t want you poking around in there. So you have to get creative and inquisitive and, to a degree, you have to leave your dick out of it,” she says.
“Men have this sense of entitlement. That their dick has to be involved. But when the vagina has been ripped, they have to accept there’s a period of time she won’t want anything going in or out of there.
“Good sex doesn’t need to involve a penis going into a vagina. Look at other things, focus on her pleasure, focus on giving her the kind of enjoyment that’s about her. Create scenarios that are more inviting for her so she doesn’t have to please you. Your job is to please her, until she’s able to come back to you.
In short, remember that, for once, it’s not all about you.
4. Work (at) it
Cyndi says some women report feeling “all touched out”, with a baby always attached to them. And then when she doesn’t want to be touched, dads get all ‘she doesn’t love me any more!’.
“But the fact is, her body has ceased to be a place of erotic wonder, and now it’s more like an episode of MasterChef,” she says.
Consider also that, while it’s quite understandable for your wife to have body issues after the extended experience that is pregnancy, and to feel flabby or saggy, the answer may not be as simple as showering her with physical affection to show her she’s still sexy.
“Everyone thinks sex is natural, that it just happens; no it doesn’t. It takes work, it has to be organised, you still have to plan it. Even if you’re single, you have to at least get on Tinder and have a shower.
“The notion of spontaneous sex is a bit of a myth. And you have to let the myths go.”
5. Run away – do it now
Not literally, of course, but you both need to take some time away from the baby.
Book it in, organise it and, if you don’t have relatives nearby, rope in your friends. It’s not optional to have a night or two out as a couple – to remind you that’s what you are, not just what you were – it’s vital.
“The reality is for couples with new babies in isolation, they are really the most vulnerable. The pressure builds on them, the mother in particular. Sex is too much pressure and she will snap, not because she doesn’t love you, but it’s just too much pressure,” Cyndi says.
“It’s absolutely essential to spend some time away from the baby. As much you love it, you need to reconnect as a couple again.
“You can’t just de-prioritise the relationship entirely.”
6. Reach out for help if you’re struggling
No matter how bad things get, remember that it’s not a lost cause. The early steps are the hardest. From there the path through the mysterious forest of parenthood gets easier and sunnier.
As Cyndi says, keep in mind why you’re doing this. “Remember, you chose this, few people today have a baby by accident, so you’ve made this choice. And it’s not a lost cause, you just need to be diligent.”
If you really think you need help and the two of you aren’t working it out, seek help. Suggest couples counseling. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of, and it has helped thousands of people before you.
If you find yourselves living like housemates, realise you’re at least still living together. You’ve got something worth fighting for.