We all know that children make a huge difference to life – nothing is ever the same once those ‘tiny feet’ start to patter. Lots of advice is provided for new parents who have sleepless nights and nappies to contend with – but what about the other end of the process?03-03-2010
By the time they’re ready to fly the nest, partners have been managing stress and strain for years on end. So where does that leave you when rattling around an empty house?
Partnerships are fuelled by love and attraction – we take time out, enjoy each other, party and adventure together. We work hard to be attractive, to find ways to please and it pays off in appreciation and affection. So far, so good.
Then kids come along. The peace we knew is shattered. Absorbing, fascinating and frustrating – a full time job in a small package – they take over and demand all our attention. In the early days, there’s little time to enjoy each other or even speak. Old joggers and tee-shirts covered in sick and dribble are good enough and it’s hard to remember how you ever managed a leisurely bath! Yet that first smile makes it all worthwhile and life soon settles into some sort of routine.
Eventually an evening out is possible, thanks to a good baby sitter, but the conversation is probably about the kids, the house or how to manage potty training. The relationship has gone through a change – now you are parents as well as partners. The focus has changed, demands are totally different, an adjustment has been made - unconsciously and with little awareness of the implications.
What has happened?
The new contract includes implicit agreements about how life will work from now on. Few couples set out to do this – it just happens by default. There’s little food in the fridge, so you order a carry out and Thursday become carry out night; you hate that your partner can sleep through a crying baby, but can’t follow suit, so you become the night time carer; the kids get upset if you row, so you leave problems to fester and the backlog builds up. The list is endless, full of subtle agreements that apparently ‘make life easier’ but in fact slowly diminish your couple status.
Magazines, books and newspaper articles are full of helpful ideas for stopping the rot, but you have to catch it before that point of no return when the ‘will’ to take action is low. The less time you have together, the more self sufficient you become and the less time you want together. So now it takes real determination to change the course of events.
What to do?
Habits become increasingly hard wired with every repetition – and, like any computer, old material is kept in good condition for a long time and can always be called up when you need ammunition. So if you want to move on, some deleting has to be done to make way for new ‘software’.
A good start is to remember what you liked about each other. Add in some present day appreciations – after all, you’ve worked hard to bring up a family together and that’s no small achievement! There’s no need for this to be contrived – just take a trip down memory lane, then chat about how well the family is doing – you’ll soon begin to recognise what you’ve done.
Then take a look at the habits that get in your way. This isn’t about blame. Remember - all decisions were made for good reason at the time, so this is just time to re-assess. The discussion may be quite challenging – if it was easy, you’d have done it long ago – so you’ll both need to contain your natural irritation. Take a look at the articles on listening and constructive arguing for ideas on how to manage it productively.
Then do some dreaming about your relationship – what do you want it to be like? What do you need by way of fun, companionship, closeness? What adventures might you have together – in or out of the home?
You have built a family and that’s no mean feat, so you can achieve other wonderful things together. It just needs both of you to be part of the change. www.changeexpert.tv
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