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5 ways to connect with your partner when parenthood feels like too much

I was a 17-year-old kid when I met my partner in a high school art class. Two kids, five homes, seven job changes, and nearly 24 years later, we have learned a lot about what it takes to stay connected. Some of those jobs required us to be on opposite shifts. We passed each other on the road each evening as I was headed home and he was headed to work. Others required such long hours and overnight stays out of town that we barely saw each other at all.

Parenting together, as you know, presents a whole different set of challenges for couples to remain strong and connected.

In Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, I share 15 simple tips for staying connected with your partner or spouse through the trials of parenthood.

Here are five of those hard-earned nuggets of wisdom.

1. Fill up emotional tanks.

Every human being has an emotional tank that needs filling. Just like your vehicle will sputter to a halt if the tank runs dry, relationships also suffer if the emotional tanks are not filled regularly.

Some also refer to this as the "love tank." We all have a deep longing for connection, and when that connection is weakened or broken, our relationships suffer. By paying attention to your partner's emotional tank, you can ensure it doesn't get emptied.

Here are some ways to keep your partner's tank full:

  • Be attuned to their emotions. It's important to know your partner's cues and be able to recognize when they are feeling sad, happy, worried, frustrated, etc. Likewise, it's also important to be attuned to your own emotions because you have to understand yourselves before you can understand each other.
  • Learn your partner's love language. Check out The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
  • Make daily emotional deposits. These are words of encouragement or loving gestures such as a kind text, a back rub, a handwritten note, or a compliment. These small deposits keep the tank from getting too low.
  • Share in your partner's hopes and dreams. Listen to their desires and ideas. Part of doing life together is supporting each other as you reach for the sky!

2. Focus on the positives.

You wish they'd do the dishes. They wish you'd have more sex. Focusing on what you're not getting creates a negative mindset toward your partner. Focus instead on their positive qualities, and make a point to express your appreciation and admiration. Remember, what you focus on grows. Rather than stewing on things that are bothering you about the relationship, engage in an honest but respectful conversation about it. Then, shift your focus back to the positive aspects of your relationship. If you spend your mental energy consumed by what is wrong with your partner or missing in your relationship, it will be impossible to feel happy or content.

I've heard this idea described as having two channels. Imagine there are just two channels on TV, one which was broadcasting all positive negatives and another which only broadcasts negative messages. If you have a habit of tuning in to the negative channel, resentments will build up and you may even forget to switch the channel.

Remember, you always have a choice on where your focus lies. When you see the best in others, you bring out the best in them and in yourself as well. Take charge of your mental space and choose to tune in to the positive channel.

3. Hear them out and see things from their point of view.

While occasional conflict is inevitable, connected couples set ground rules for solving disputes. Here are some good ground rules:

  • If you are too upset to fight fairly, agree to take a cooling off period and come back to the issue later.
  • Don't use your knowledge of your partner's insecurities or insensitivities against them.
  • Own your feelings and state them without laying blame on the other person.
  • When disagreements arise, rather than insisting on getting your own way, look for common ground to work toward a win-win solution.
  • Don't attack or criticize your partner. Use positive communication skills such as using "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example, "I'm feeling a little cooped up. I would like if we could drop the kids off and go out to dinner," instead of "You never take me anywhere anymore!"
  • Listen to understand, not to respond. This is often a mistake we make during conflict. We are formulating our counter-argument before the other is even finished speaking. We are really seeking to hear, we are seeking instead to be heard.

According to science, a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments during conflict predicts long-term marriage stability. Examples of a positive interaction during conflict include affection, empathizing, apologizing, looking for common ground, and listening to your partner's perspective. Negative interactions include criticism, stonewalling, contempt (disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, etc.), and defensiveness. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman calls these behaviors the four horsemen. Read more about the four horsemen here.

4. Show appreciation.

It's easy to fall into the habit of assuming your partner knows that you are appreciative, particularly when you're in the trenches of parenthood together or if you've been together for a long time. To be honest, it's also pretty easy to stop appreciating the little things altogether, but appreciation is an important key in relationships because it shows that we are paying attention, that we notice the good things they bring to our lives, and that we are grateful.

You may be thinking why should I tell them "thanks" for doing something they're supposed to be doing? After all, I don't feel appreciated for all I do! To that I would say, it may as well start with you. A study published in the journal Personal Relationships in 2015 found that two words might be a key ingredient to improving marriages. Those two words are "thank you." Study co-author Ted Futris said, "We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last." The study's lead author, Allen Barton, said, "It goes to show you the power of thank you. Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes." He goes on to say, "This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages."

5. Have fun together.

Not surprisingly, research has found that people are happier when they have more fun. The happiest couples report that the reason they are happy is because they have fun together. The challenge for new parents, in particular, is finding the time and energy to do fun things with each other.

Sometimes this means you need to reinvent date night by finding ways to connect and laugh together in the free moments you can find throughout the day. My husband and I quickly learned a candlelight dinner at home when the kids were asleep could be just as enjoyable and strengthening as a night out. It really isn't about the location; it's about connection.

As you tend to the routine tasks of married life such as errands, work, and household chores, don't forget to have fun. Laugh together. Play together. When possible, get out for a new and exciting adventure, but always remember that joy is a choice. Fun can be created in your ordinary every day with the right perspective and a little determination.

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Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

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This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

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Allover roller

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This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

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Kombucha making kit

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What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

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This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

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Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

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If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

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Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

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This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

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Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

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Bath soak infusion kit

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Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

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Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

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It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

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With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

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We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

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Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

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Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

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Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

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Lansinoh milk storage bags

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Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

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boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

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Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

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A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

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Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

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Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

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Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


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