With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I planned to post a load of tips on how to continue to nurture your relationship with your partner while navigating the first few years of parenthood together. But when I actually sat down to write it, I realised that I’m as stumped for ideas as the next sleep-deprived mum.
Increasingly, Juan and I communicate via handover notes. Between getting Oscar fed and ready for bed, preparing dinner, hitting the gym or the pool, and catching up on emails and other life admin, there’s so much to fit into our Oscar-free time that we tend to operate in parallel to each other. If we can find the energy to sit down together for dinner (instead of slumping in front of the TV), our conversation sometimes resembles a progress meeting as we fill each other in on everything from important upcoming dates to Oscar’s bowel movements.
We used to be quite romantic in a low-key kind of way. I remember camping trips to virgin beaches, weekends in posh hotels, the odd unexpected bunch of flowers. Juan’s proposal was top-drawer romance (at least in my mind). And don’t get me wrong: we still love each other and make each other laugh, and, as homebirds, neither of us is unhappy with collapsing on the sofa in front of a box-set most nights. I’m just conscious that, before we know it, we’ll be 45 and the TV will be the third person in our marriage.
- DO get out of the house. Date nights are quite the cliché, but if you don’t start scheduling in some time à deux, you’ll be stuck in the house for the next 18 years. Find a babysitter who you trust so that you can relax when you’re out. If you haven’t any spare cash, try a date at home (a Friday-night curry, for example) or ask a friend to sit for you – Rachel and I have a reciprocal babysitting agreement and that works really well.
- DO remember the little kindnesses. Well-timed cups of tea, unsolicited back rubs, throwaway compliments and letting your other half lie in once in a while make such a difference when you haven’t the time, energy or money for anything more ostentatiously romantic. I buy Juan a bottle of red wine after a hard day, or pack him off to the gym to unwind while I make dinner.
- DO talk to each other. And when you talk, try to include topics other than the baby. If you were meeting a friend you wouldn’t talk exclusively about your child, so pay your partner the same courtesy.
- DO treat each other as allies. I’m often guilty of snapping at Juan, but lately I’ve been trying to keep in mind the advice of my best friend, which is to treat your partner as you would your best friend. If I’m tired or have had a bad day and I meet up with her, I don’t act like a queen bitch – I make an effort to chat, joke and show an interest in her life. So why should it be any different with the person I married?
- DO forget spontaneity. Sorry, but like it or not, when you have a young baby, romance has to be booked in like anything else. This has never been a problem for me because I’m the least spontaneous creature you’ll ever meet. I would even go so far as to say it’s a good idea to schedule sex, or you’ll never get round to it – but since my mum’s a regular reader, I’ll leave it there…
- DO make the most of your together time. Sit down for dinner at the table even if you’re tired, try to have fun together as a couple, and don’t forget to be silly from time to time. Humour lightens even the heaviest day. So does rum punch, we find.
- DO share the load. The consensus within my group of friends is that the more helpful and involved their partners are with childcare, the more attractive they become and the happier we feel. When I watch Juan telling Oscar a story at night, he seems like the most gorgeous man in the world to me, so I’m instantly put in a more romantic frame of mind.
- DON’T keep score. Try your damnedest not to be petty about who has changed the most nappies or been on-call most nights. Resentment is the death of romance. We realised this pretty early on, but it’s still a struggle not to fall into the ‘I always…’/’You never…’ trap.
- DON’T take your tiredness and frustrations out on each other. This is very hard at the beginning, but your aim should be to unite and conquer, as one friend put it.
- DON’T stress. Romance will return of its own accord once you’ve all got a few nights of decent sleep under your belts. Until then, keep the pressure off.
Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and shared their stories for this post!
What advice do you have for keeping the romance and passion alive when two become three?