Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

May 20, 2024

The Couple’s Side of Parenting

By: Katie Goldsmith, LCMHCA

What a wonderful experience it can be to build a family with a partner, the person you are choosing to spend your life with. Parenting comes with both immense joy and strong challenges, and having a co-parenting partner to be there through each side can allow for effective teamwork. Of course, parenting is hard work, and will take a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy from both partners. So, with this knowledge, it’s important to think about how parenting will impact the romantic relationship between two partners, and what couples can do to maintain relational satisfaction throughout parenthood.

Research often shows that couples are likely to experience a decrease in relational satisfaction after transitioning to parenthood, given the rise in responsibility and decreased availability for quality couple time. Different factors and concerns such as post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, and the other consistent demands of a young child can impact a couple’s ability to focus on intimacy, connection, and communication in the same way that was evident prior to having children. Let’s discuss a few ways in which couples can put in effort to maintain relational satisfaction and connection throughout parenthood.

  1. Engage in couples therapy. A misconception people may have is that couples therapy is only for married couples who are on the brink of divorce. While this may be the case for some couples that participate in therapy, any type of couple can benefit from therapy, including dating, engaged, or co-habiting partners that are not married. Couples therapy can be beneficial for couples navigating parenthood and wanting to work on maintaining or strengthening communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and overall relationship intimacy.
  2. Emphasize the partnership. I always find it helpful to remind the couples that I work with that the idea is Partner 1 and Partner 2 versus the conflict, not Partner 1 versus Partner 2. In times of parenting stress, partners may be quick to snap at or blame each other for things that may not have been a point of discussion prior to having children. When there are new additions to the family, expectations and needs across the partners will change, and will need to be communicated effectively to one another. It’s important to remind each other that you are in this together- for example, Partner 1 may say, “I’ve noticed that I have been getting up in the night with the baby more often than not, and I’m feeling really tired. Can we make time to figure out a night-time schedule together that will work for both of us?”
  3. Get intentional about couple time. A lot of couples that are parents may feel very secure in their effective co-parenting styles, but have realized that they have lost sight of their romantic relationship in the midst of focusing on parenting. It’s important to nurture both the identities of being a parent and being a partner. Partners may benefit from discussing what makes them feel loved and connected in the relationship, outside of a parenting aspect. Set aside time as a couple, and get creative! Babysitters may not always be easy to come by, but an at-home date night after the kids go to bed can go a long way when one-on-one time is valued in the relationship.

Any couple who is navigating parenthood, whether of newborns or teenagers, is likely to experience changes and challenges in their romantic relationship. New roles, new responsibilities, and new needs will continue to arise. A couple experiencing these changes is not alone, and it does not have to be damaging to the relationship. Mutual effort, investment, and intentionality from both partners to remain committed in both the romantic relationship and the co-parenting relationship will be significant factors in allowing the couple to thrive and connect with each other throughout parenthood.