For years, we imagine a future, a family, a lifetime of happiness with our partner. Then, when the day arrives that two become three, everything changes. And while this often means seeing your partner through adoring eyes as they thrive in parenthood, it can also mean seeing your partner less—period—as the demands of a baby can feel overwhelming.
Statistics prove it: 41% of parents with a baby younger than one reported they “can’t remember” the last time they had kid-free time together, according to a new survey by Plum Organics. On average, parents go two months without connecting as a couple outside of the house.
While much of this is natural, it doesn’t mean we should passively accept the demotion of our romantic relationship, says Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity and an expert for Plum Organic’s “Keeping it Together” campaign.
“A child enters the system and a child needs to integrate into the system. The system needs to adapt to the fact that there is a new child, but the system doesn’t have to stop existing,” Perel tells Motherly. “This is the way I tell it to parents: I say, ‘You adore your baby... But, today, the only reason your family will survive is because the couple is happy.’”
And if intimacy—both physical and emotional—seems to be a bigger priority for one partner than the other, Perel says that’s okay.
“If your partner wants to remain intimate with you, instead of telling them, ‘How can you think about this right now? I’m so not interested,’ actually thank them for thinking about something that you’re not able to think about,” Perel says. “What the other person is holding up is probably a piece that you’re not holding up, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not needed.”
Rather than worrying you aren’t on the same page, Perel suggests leaning on your individual strengths by having one person plan the details of a date and the other one shore up the logistics—because this is a partnership, after all.
“One person is attending more to the provider needs and the other one is attending also to the belonging needs of the couple and you straddle that ladder,” Perel says. “Since the resources are more thin, you can’t attend to everything.”
What else can you do to bond as a couple? Here are some ideas:
1. Don’t take it too seriously
Working together, make that effort to break out of the roles of parents and back into the roles of two fun-loving people.
While dinner and a movie may be the old standard, Perel says to look for ways to move, whether with dancing, hiking, biking or whatever else that is “actually more playful.” This, she says, allows you to engage “with each other around something else than just the two of you.” (And, chances are, you won’t be as preoccupied with thoughts of what baby is doing when you’re focused on getting the footing right for the rumba.)
2. Look for little opportunities to connect
As important as these grounding moments are to the health of your relationship, there are dozens more small ways to connect on a daily basis: It can be something as simple as having coffee together in the morning or asking a friend to watch an evening television show at your house while you and your partner sneak out for a post-bedtime ice cream date.
3. Leave baby talk out of check-ins
On a daily basis, Perel says to do a deliberate check-in—where you don’t answer the question “How are you?” with a description of how the baby is doing. Rather, allow yourself to open up and give your partner the space to do the same. As she says, “It’s very interesting what starts to happen because people start to feel like they’re not taken for granted.”
Remember, making an effort to spend quality, one-on-one time together helps you to enjoy the best of both worlds: The love that brought you and your partner together in the first place plus a deeper sense of gratitude for the partner you get to experience parenthood alongside.