So – you’re a new mom. And you’re exhausted. What to do to keep a relationship alive might not be high up on your to-do list – if it’s on there at all.
There’s no shame in keeping it that way if that’s what you need right now to survive. And I really mean that.
If you, however, feel like you want to do something – anything, really – to keep your relationship afloat amidst all the nappies and incessant feedings – this one’s for you.
Becoming a parent is challenging for everyone – regardless of their gender. However, for first-time moms it can be especially hard.
If you’re a biological mother, you’ve just gone through 9 months of growing a tiny human. Even if you had an easy pregnancy, it probably still had its tough moments – a loss of sleep, feeling heavy and uncomfortable, experiencing restless legs or pain in your lower back.
Then there’s the labour – whether you had a vaginal delivery or a caesarean section – it was hard work, and quite possibly traumatic. And for many women there are the added complications after giving birth such as pain or an infection.
After all of this, there’s no holiday, no time to recover in peace and quiet.
You’re thrown headfirst into sleepless nights, difficulties feeding, and dirty nappies.
You’re getting to know your baby and trying to differentiate between their different noises (which, frustratingly, all sound the same anyway).
Somehow, in the middle of all of this, you’re meant to explore this new part of yourself and figure out what kind of mother you are and want to be.
Oh, and then there’s your partner too.
You’re meant to be a mother, a partner, a friend, a sister, a daughter, maybe an auntie, perhaps even a boss, an employee or a co-worker.
You’re also meant to be sexy.
It is too much.
It’s ok to have forgotten completely about what triggers sexual desire – a lot of women feel like they lose touch with what gets them going after pregnancy.
And It’s ok for your love life not to look the way it did before.
It’s ok to not want to want to have sex.
Having sex regularly isn’t essential to your relationship surviving throughout this very short, yet incredibly long, period of time.
If you however want to know how you can connect with your partner again, it is possible, and can be done in small ways. Even though you’re exhausted.
Now’s not the time to implement lots of new strategies and tips. Now is the time to choose a simple one thing and run with it.
Self-care is a buzz word – but it’s also so much more. It’s the route to mental well-being, calm – and a better relationship.
It’s easy to feel like there’s no time for it.
Or like there’s no point – that it will get you nowhere.
And what even is self-care?
Self-care can be difficult but it’s made a lot easier if you understand which system you’re in and which system you’re trying to get to.
Let me explain.
In order to know what to do to keep a relationship alive and to practice self-care, we often need to switch systems.
The three systems are:
The Threat System
Activated by stress, this system is important for our survival. It is constantly on the look-out for threats – both psychological ones and physical ones. Our brain is living by the motto “better safe than sorry” and therefore being in this system makes both intimacy and self-care difficult as we need to be able to relax to experience them..
If you had a traumatic pregnancy or birth, this system might be more easily triggered right now. If you’re critical of yourself – for not wanting sex, for not prioritizing your relationship enough, for not being the mother you think you should be – you’re likely in the threat system.
The Drive System
This is the system where we experience the need to work and grow. It activates motivation, focus and enthusiasm. Western societies value this system highly as it is in this system we achieve things.
The Care-Giving System
In this system we seek comfort in others and relax. We experience safety, soothing and calm. It is here we cultivate compassion, safety, emotional intimacy and love. It is in this system we are accepting of what is.
When you’re a first-time mom, you’re likely to constantly be in the threat system – checking to see if your baby is breathing, looking-out for speeding cars, or wondering whether your relationship will survive.
You’re stressed and tired (one of the most common causes of low libido in women). You can’t possibly know what to do to keep a relationship alive when the alarm bells are ringing. It’s near impossible to prioritize your relationship and sexuality when your brain thinks there’s a chance you might die.
Some experts mean our sexuality exists only in the drive system – as the drive system is all about being active, and seeking out excitement and rewards.
However, the idea that our sex drive is in fact a pure drive, is a bit of an antiquated way of viewing human sexuality.
Sexological research has shown that our sex drive is more like any other emotion. It’s triggered by internal and external stimuli, meaning we need to see, taste, smell, feel or hear something that gets our libido going. It doesn’t always just spring into action spontaneously.
Furthermore, the drive system is all about achievements and “doing”. For some, sex is all about compassion, caring and relaxing, which is what the care-giving system is all about – not the drive system.
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In order to keep it simple, you’ll first want to understand which of the systems is responsible for your sexuality and your experience of intimacy.
If sex for you is all about excitement, novelty or experimenting – perhaps your sexuality lies in the drive system.
If sex is all about caring, calm and showing and expressing your love – maybe sex is all about the care-giving system.
If you feel like your sexuality is a mix of both of or if it shifts and changes – then you might be going from one system to another and then back again, during sex.
Activating the drive system is not about throwing in a few sex toys or trying a new position. In fact – if you’re in the threat system, this will probably be more stressful than helpful.
In order to activate the drive system and keep your relationship alive, you can make it easy for yourself by asking the question: what can I do right now to improve my relationship?
It’s a simple – yet effective question.
By asking yourself what you can do to improve your relationship, you’re shifting into action mode. And the best part is, you’re asking yourself what you can do here and now, which means it probably can’t be elaborate, expensive or take three hours.
It’s about finding the small ways in which you can practice self-care in your relationship, to inject energy and happiness into it.
You could try:
Writing a note about how much you love your partner and sticking it in their jeans pocket.
Texting your partner about a favourite memory of yours.
Giving your partner a heart-felt hug.
Going for a walk together.
Giving your partner a quick foot rub.
Doing these things doesn’t necessarily help you get directly in contact with your sexuality. They however help you get out of the threat system and into the drive system – so you can take steps to activate your sexuality (if that’s what you want to do).
The care-giving system is often forgotten during new motherhood. At least as it relates to self-care for yourself.
When you practice self-care, you’re moving yourself out of your role as a mother and coming into your own identity.
When you’re yourself – and not only a mom – you can more easily come in contact with the sensual and sexual part of yourself. This cultivates intimacy and makes it easier for your to connect with your partner.
In order to get into this system there are a few things you can do.
You could try:
Redirecting your thoughts.
When you criticize yourself or your partner, you’re stimulating your threat system. By trying to cultivate compassion, you’re stimulating your care-giving system. Try thinking about what you like about yourself or your partner and be generous. It will probably be difficult in the beginning, but by noticing when you’re being harsh and redirecting your thoughts, you’ll be helping yourself into the care-giving system.
Focusing on your breathing.
Our breath anchors us to the here and now. Instead of worrying about the future or being harsh towards yourself – focus on the way your breath flows in and out of your body. Breathing exercises can be found for free on youtube or on popular apps such as Headspace.
Doing a quick body scan.
Start from your toes and work your way up your body, focusing on the sensations you can feel (or lack thereof). Perhaps you notice tingling, warmth or sore muscles. If you want a guided exercise, you’ll find a wide selection of short body scans on youtube.
Becoming a mother can be challenging, complicated and tough. What to do to keep a relationship alive as a first-time mom, doesn’t have to be.
By removing yourself from the threat system and into the drive or care-giving system – you can awaken your relationship, keep it on course and connect intimately.
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