When Yvonne and Mark were newlyweds, they remember the fire-works that flew across the room.
‘He could be standing anywhere’ Yvonne recalls and I swear I could feel his presence.
‘I know it sounds corny and our friends used to tease us, but I could literally sense which direction she was in,’ Mark laughs.
They were in sync.
Fulfilled by each other and progressing in their professional lives, they would often work late, still make time to exercise or socialise and at the end of the day race home to be together.
‘We’d pop open a bottle after dinner and watch box sets while debriefing and chatting about our day,’ Mark says.
‘It was just our time and Vonnie would always say it didn’t matter what kind of day we’d had, as long as we had each other and our comfy couch to come home to.’
Fast forward 19 months and life for Yvonne and Mark is very different. The couple have blazing rows often ending in a few days of stone silence.
Yvonne feels exhausted with a nine-month old, a part-time job that doesn’t offer her career growth and what feels like a never-ending mountain of housework and washing that lives atop her beloved couch.
Mark is putting in extra hours at work, having recently been promoted but feeling overwhelmed with all the new responsibility both at work and on the home front. He says that when he comes home now, Vonnie seems too busy or distracted to show any interest in what’s happened in his day.
‘Things changed after we had Maddie. I knew they would, but I didn’t realise how much our relationship dynamic would shift. We were totally unprepared for the new realities of life. Vonnie is an amazing mum and I can’t fault her mothering but as the girls strengthen their bond, mine and Vonnie’s dwindles. Our intimacy has taken a hit and without sounding petulant, I kind of feel like I come last.’ Mark says.
‘Maybe second last,’ Yvonne responds, ‘because after looking after Maddie and your needs, making dinner, cleaning the house and trying to stay on top of my own work, I don’t really have a second to myself. And yes, the last thing I have energy for at the moment is intimacy.
I was never terribly vain but I can’t actually remember the last time I had my hair coloured, went out with my friends or just hung out doing nothing.’
Yvonne and Mark are not alone. A high percentage of new parents find themselves in stressful unchartered waters when making the transition from ‘just the two of us’ to ‘and baby makes three.’
A recent finding by the Relationship Institute in Seattle found that within three years of the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of couples find that the quality of their relationship declines.
Additionally, it found that within five years of the birth of a first child, 13 percent of marriages end in divorce for couples who were married at the time of the child?s birth.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
According to Relationships Australia NSW’s Elisabeth Shaw, maintaining a marriage or relationship after you’ve had a baby takes a lot of time and energy which ironically is what you feel you have the least time for.
‘Take the time to hear each other out before responding. If you do lose your temper in the moment, apologise and make amends when you have calmed down. The blame game is a slippery slope and if you can try communicate openly and calmly with each other, it will go a long way in repairing and rebuilding the relationship.’ she suggests.
‘In most cases, if parents can come to an agreement on the decision-making process, it will ease the tension. With a new baby there are differing opinions – we all know how we were brought up and may not agree with our partners approach.
Negotiate and co-operate with respect and you’ll surprise yourselves at how something that usually triggers you both, can actually be discussed calmly.’
Yvonne and Mark have been in weekly marriage counselling for the last four weeks and are already taking steps that are healing some of the wounds.
‘Date nights,’ Yvonne quips. ‘We’re usually knackered and bleary-eyed and it’s just a trip to the local sushi-train, but we’re laughing again and communicating without distractions, even if it’s just for an hour or two.’
They’ve also drawn up a budget which gives them both peace of mind about the month-to-month expenses and are committed to keeping the tough conversations calm, even when they feel the urge to react otherwise.
‘Sunday mornings are now ‘daddy-daughter’ time and Vonnie gets to sleep-in while Maddie and I have some time together at our local park. We now spend Sunday afternoons together as a family, a ritual that is fun and easy to maintain.
I feel like we’re getting back on track and I guess most importantly, working as a team again,’ Mark proudly declares.
Relationships Australia offer counselling, mediation and group programs that could help with issues relating to your family relationships. RA are committed to social justice and inclusion, and respect the rights of all people, in all their diversity, to live with dignity and safety and to enjoy healthy relationships.
If you’d like to access to their free services, please call 1300 364 277.