Ask the expert: How can we keep our relationship strong after having children?
Remember life before kids, when it was just the two of you? It's all toO easy to forget... Claire Spreadbury catches up with relationship expert Lucy Beresford, who reveals the importance of making time for each other
IT'S easy for parents to become wrapped up in the everyday. But when you're enormously busy juggling kids, work, admin, housework and general life, how do you keep the love alive between you and your partner?
"It's vital that parents make a conscious effort to prioritise their relationship," says Lucy Beresford – psychotherapist, TEDx speaker, This Morning Agony Aunt and author of Happy Relationships: At Home, Work & Play (lucyberesford.co.uk).
"It's like the advice on an aeroplane, to fit your own air-mask before helping others with theirs. Prioritising your partner means you get back to feeling cherished and valued, which improves wellbeing and in turn gives you amazing, positive energy to bring to your role as a parent.
"Plus, you and your partner are setting a fantastic example to your children about how important your joint relationship is, which gives them good role models to take into their future relationships as they grow up."
:: Show the love
Prioritising isn't just about doing things together, but also being aware of how you interact with your partner, she says. When we're stressed, it's so easy to snap at our nearest and dearest.
"Be conscious of how you communicate and make an effort to speak to your partner with respect and kindness – not just in front of your kids. Also, watch out for siding with your children against your partner, or going back on a parenting issue you've already agreed with your partner. The win-win here is that presenting a united front not only helps keep your relationship strong, it sets healthy boundaries with your children, so they don't learn to play one parent off against the other," says Beresford.
"Above all, remember that research in 2018 by the Children's Society showed that if children see their parents are happy, they are content too."
"Skin-on-skin contact and kissing stimulates our brain's pleasure and reward system, so carving out time for this makes us feel both connected and supported, which helps lower stress and anxiety," she notes.
"Stroking your partner's hand when talking to them, or giving their shoulder a rub if you're in the supermarket queue, their bum a squeeze as you pass in the bathroom, are all gentle acts of intimacy."
:: Date nights
You need to be selfish to fulfil your couples' needs – and date nights should be sacrosanct, says Beresford. "Couples who want long-term passion can protect their sexual connection by creating boundaries with the outside world. Dates should go in the diary a minimum of once a week, and never be rescheduled. You may experience push-back from those close to you – especially your children or relatives – but if you don't put a priority on your relationship, no-one else will.
"Obviously, you'll need help with babysitting, but if you don't have a ready pool of relatives, or cash-poor teenagers in your area, do what my mother did and start a babysitting circle with like-minded parents, who will understand the value of a night off.
"Take it in turns to plan the date night (or weekend afternoon), and don't just go for the obvious meal in a pub, where you might be tempted to just talk about your children the whole time. Find amusing things to do, such as free open evenings at local museums, an evening at a comedy club, a spot of bird-watching, window shopping while holding hands, or a weekly cookery course. Anything, to get you alone together, giving you new things to talk about and refreshing your joint memory bank."
"Sex is meant to be fun, even funny, so what better way to laugh about life than having some playful, shake-up-the-routine nookie? Sex toys help introduce elements of playfulness, spontaneity and, above all, hilarity into the bedroom/bathroom/car (select as appropriate...)."
She recommends trying Lelo's Sona Cruise (£89, lelo.com), which provides stimulation via sonic waves, or trying friskylane.com, who curate gift boxes, so you can introduce variety in terms of what you touch with what, and where you do it.
Nicky and Stuart Clough started the company because they believe everyone deserves to have some fun: "We all know that life (and kids!) can get in the way, and that's why it's important to reconnect with that special someone and rekindle the fun and romance in your life." Items start from £4.99, while the sets range from the Fly With Me box at £60, to the Ultimate Pleasure Set at £150.
Plus, Beresford says: "Not only do the chemicals released at orgasm make you feel loved, they also make you feel relaxed, which can help you sleep – fantastic news for sleep-deprived parents."
Talking is so important – not just to own how you're feeling but also to listen to your partner, Beresford advises. "That way, any niggling resentments or frustrations can be dealt with early on. These may range from not feeling great about your body post-birth, to feeling a bit neglected once children arrive. Or there might be parenting styles you're not on the same page with. Feeling heard by your partner is an important way to keep the love alive, as it makes us feel understood and therefore more secure.
"Set aside 30 minutes each evening, switch off the phones, and just talk about how you feel. It will do wonders for making you feel stronger together."