Overcoming relationship issues after having your first baby

Overcoming relationship issues after having your first baby – Mig Bennett

I recently met with a client, Marga, 29, who felt she’d lost all attraction to her partner since the birth of their first child 12 months before. She wanted to talk about the nagging fear that the relationship was over. She’d begun to wonder if she even liked Stefan anymore, despite his great efforts to be a helpful father and partner. “He’s a good, kind man.”  Eventually she’d told him that she really didn’t want any more sex.

This sexual scenario isn’t uncommon – it’s one of the life-stage ‘crunches’ that often bring a couple to seek help. Parenthood is uncharted territory; new parents need security and stability through connections yet often they are away from supportive families and are struggling alone.  A pregnancy can also coincide with many losses and instabilities around job security, income, relocation and more.

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AFTER HAVING YOUR FIRST BABY

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Let’s look, simplistically, at the biology. Females are programmed to have a strong physiological response to infants. We fall in love with our babies, caressing, smelling and staring, entranced, for hours … just as we once did with our partner! Biologically this ensures the baby’s survival but, for some, it can temporarily impact the adult intimate bond, especially sexually. Biologically, once the seed is sown, the male will go off and mate again – his drive is to spread his seed and maintain the species.  It’s as if, biologically we know we must get a replacement joy and pleasure from the infant bond while our mate is off procreating. Not many creatures mate for life. We humans aren’t one of them. Social norms and survival over many centuries have brought us to attempt to be.

So, has Marga gone off Stefan? She’s not depressed, though I fear lots of women presenting for help with a similar problem will get given anti-depressants when couple therapy is what’s needed.  They need help to listen and talk about their relationship and their sexual history and needs.

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Marga did mention some of the feelings I often hear, listed below, which can be pointers to loss of feeling and connection in a relationship:

  • Regularly thinking the feelings will return … after Christmas … after weaning … after anything-else-you-can-conjure-up in the hope the feeling is transitory.
  • Thinking about other men, colleagues, friends, old flames.
  • Nit-picking at small annoyances, creating arguments so you can justify your uncertainty.
  • The absence of smiles, laughter, eye-contact, touch and FUN.

Often it’s very hard for a partner to understood the effect of a birth on a woman and therefore avoid addressing their changed mood, not knowing how to deal with the distance. With Marga, sex is not something they ever talk about. It just happens. I’m regularly surprised by the lack of talk about their sex life amongst the twenty and thirty somethings. But then I only see the ones who come for help! 

In talking more with Marga I learnt that, when sex didn’t resume, Stefan didn’t tell her gently how much he missed feeling close. He termed it in critical words that sounded like a demand for something SHE wasn’t giving HIM. So, communication hasn’t helped. In fact, once she had the courage to speak out, she tells me that he retreated helplessly into silence. He probably doesn’t know what to say or where to start. That’s sad.

I hope Marga won’t call off the relationship, yet.

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AFTER HAVING YOUR FIRST BABY

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Why? Because she has a child? Correct; but also because she hasn’t tried to find a starting place and to learn what to say and how to listen to each other. Difficult conversations, yes, because her statement about not wanting sex has opened up a chasm between them.

However, that chasm may be just what they need right now! Esther Perel, an expert couple therapist, talks about needing a distance, or separateness, in order to see our partners afresh and as unconnected individuals, which was what this couple once were. I’m always optimistic that re-connection and a new, better, relationship could be on the cards.

So, I will encourage Marga, and others in the same boat, to take that difficult conversation further and ask Stefan some questions. How did what I said affect you? Can we talk about the last few years? If she suggests counselling and he agrees, great! The relationship is of value to him. A good counsellor won’t try to persuade them to stay together but will facilitate a process of positive listening and responding to help them manage the sexual issues and to make decisions about their future, together or apart.

If this rings bells for you, please don’t find just any counsellor. Nearly all say they see couples and work with sex. Find a counsellor with rigorous qualifications and experience in couple work and sexual issues. Start with either Relate, the relationship experts (or someone who was trained by them) or COSRT, the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, who list qualified counsellors.

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AFTER HAVING YOUR FIRST BABY

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Resources

COSRT.org.uk

relate.org.uk

Books

Esther Perel – Mating in Captivity

Andrew G Marshall – I Love You but I’m not in love with you

Mig Bennett is a fully qualified relationship counsellor specialising in relationship problems, sexual issues and sex addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, both in her own private practice – Mig Bennett Relationship Counselling (www.migbennettrelationshipcounselling.co.uk) and Relate. She is able to provide relationship counselling online and face-to-face.

Contact Mig on info@migbennettrelationshipcounselling.co.uk

Names changes to protect identity

OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AFTER HAVING YOUR FIRST BABY

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