“If we could do one thing differently, we would try to organize more time for us as a couple and as individuals.”
“We were married 5 years and together 10 when our son came. We had our own routines and really thought things could not change so much. We were surprised how much everything changed - including our relationship. It takes a while to get used to but now we can’t see our lives being any other way. It is just about communicating and making a new lifestyle and routines. It takes a while to get used to but it makes you stronger as a couple.”
COUPLES IN THIS SECTION
The Two of You
Your child will, of course, become the centre of your world and parenthood is bound to take up the majority of your time. But, it is important to realise that you are not only a parent and that your relationship with your spouse, as well as friendships with others, spending time with your family and having a social life of your own, is also crucial to ensuring the life satisfaction of both partners and a successful balance. We have therefore dedicated a part of this course to the two of you and how to cherish and strengthen your relationship.
The greatest gift that parents can give to their child is the example of a loving relationship, and it has been shown time and again that children who see their parents in a safe and happy partnership benefit tremendously. Children of happy homes, for example, excel at school and adapt to life situations in a better manner. In addition, parents involved in a happy relationship are more confident with their child, as they can rely on their partner for support. So, we can safely say that the key to the well-being of the family is the loving relationship of the parents, but how can we ensure this situation occurs? Why are some couples happier than others? What is the “secret” to a great relationship?
“Getting along as an intercultural couple is a big achievement. It's taken us a few years of fighting it out to establish our marriage, as the differences between the cultures create some tension. The reason this happens is because you don't understand each other properly, and it can cause some misunderstandings. We had our child quite late into our marriage, which for me was a blessing, because we got to sort out a lot of problems before he came along. So for people who are early into their marriage and having kids it is maybe more challenging.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Happy relationships are based on realistic expectations and take effort, time and commitment. Great relationships happen when two people not only love each other very much, but also value one another and are willing to continually invest time into the relationship. Couples in healthy and positive relationships understand that it is impossible for every day to be full of passion and romance. Similarly, they understand that rough spots in a relationship can be temporary if good communication is used to work through them.
People are happy when their expectations are met and unhappy when they aren’t. However, sometimes we don’t know what we except and when we do this information is not shared with our partner. We might assume our expectations are obvious and that our partner should understand us instinctively, but, you partner is not a mind-reader so think about your expectations as a partner, an individual and a parent and share your thoughts with your partner.
“Our entire focus has changed. There is hardly any time to be a couple (our baby is only 6 months old). We have to make an effort to have any quality time together, otherwise all our time goes on caring for the baby or doing jobs.”
ACCEPT AND EMBRACE CHANGE
A baby will both change your life for good and affect your relationship. New opportunities to learn things about yourself, your partner and your baby will arise daily and there will be a number of unforgettable experiences, but less one-on-one time for you and your partner will be an obvious consequence. The overwhelming majority of changes will be positive and offer you wonderful new experiences, while others may take some time to settle and take their course. As you get used to these changes, you may occasionally feel irritable, or perhaps slightly down, because of a lack of sleep or less free time, but this is completely normal.
Change happens to all couples, but couples differ in how they deal with new directions. The couples who have been shown to thrive in the midst of change are those who have a strong and loving relationship and support each other, while at the same time respecting individual differences and working together as a team to find solutions.
TALK TO EACH OTHER AND DEAL WITH DIFFERENCE
Communication is a key component of happy relationships, and happy couples make time to check in with one another on a regular basis. Happy couples talk about mundane everyday things, parenting and household issues, but they also talk about deeper or more personal subjects in order to stay connected with their partner.
Happy couples are also able to talk about difficult subjects and it’s not the lack of disagreements and arguments that count, but the way they deal with their differences – it is how you argue that matters rather than how much you argue. The first thing to do is avoid keeping concerns or problems to yourself because this can breed resentment, though it is worth being kind when you discuss difficult issues.
Researchers have found that a good, open and constructive communication style is a stronger predictor of relationship happiness and satisfaction than commitment levels or personality traits. In particular, destructive and negative communication patterns such as invalidation, anger, blame, personal criticism, escalation and contempt are linked to unhappiness. Examples of constructive strategies used to resolve disagreements include attempting to find out exactly what your partner is feeling, listening to his or her point of view and validating it (you don’t have to agree with your partner in order to empathise with them!), admitting your part in the argument and offering the olive branch - or, in other words, saying that you are sorry.
“We have come through challenging phases in our marriage since our son was born. My husband misses his own family a lot now that we have our own child. We have got to know (and had to!) each other better. We don´t have much time to spend together as couple and also the time to do our "own things" is short. It takes time to find a balance with family time, your own time and work. We have both matured and let go of some more selfish habits. Sometimes it´s better to sleep on the floor with a coughing baby than to wake up your partner who needs to wake up early to go to work the next morning!”
SHOW APPRECIATION AND PHYSICAL AFFECTION
People in happy relationships put effort into their relationships and regularly express their love through words of affirmation and affection, actions, gifts and physical touch. Showing appreciation means telling your partner what you like about them and thanking them for the little things they do. Showing appreciation is also about concrete actions, so ask yourself each day: “What can I do today to make my partner happy? What can I do to make her or him smile?” A little effort every day will accumulate over time and make a big difference. You can think of small, specific ways to express your love and appreciation, whether it’s making a meal for your loved one, telling your partner that you’re proud of him or her, or simply taking over a task he or she really doesn’t like to do.
Showing physical affection – such as cuddling, kissing, holding hands and caressing – is also important because this intimacy maintains closeness, keeps your relationship warm and helps to rebuild and restore your sex life.
RESTORE YOUR SEX LIFE
Having a baby is a wonderful, life-changing experience. But no matter how in love you are with your little one, caring for a new-born can take a serious toll on your sex life. Sex, of course, isn’t the only glue keeping relationships together, but a satisfying sex life is important because it is the one thing that makes your romantic relationship unique among all the other relationships in your life. Being intimate with your partner on a sexual level and giving your partner the sexual part of you is an expression of love and trust.
A lot of couples make the mistake of trying to return to a “normal” sex life as quickly as possible after the birth of their baby. However, it's common for women to have a low libido in the weeks or even months after having a baby. The mother’s body needs time to heal and they are likely to feel exhausted, and dads can be just as overwhelmed. Luckily, there are a number of other ways than intercourse to have a fun and enjoyable sex life, while there is so much more to physical affection than sex. So don’t stop touching because you are not ready to have sex yet. Instead, go back to the kind of physical relationship you had when you were first going out together, before you started having sex, and let things develop from there.
MAKE TIME FOR ONE ANOTHER
It is natural that your baby will initially take most of your time and attention, but as well as being a parent, you are also still an individual and a spouse. Paying attention not only to your baby, but also to yourself, your partner and other important areas of your life is essential to your overall well-being and happiness. So make time for your relationship and for one another. This means setting aside “couple time”, even if it means literally scheduling it in. You can, for example, maintain a regular monthly date night and organise another time, preferably in the morning when you are both fresh, to talk about what is going on in your lives and how you are feeling. When you are busy and tired, it can seem unimportant to talk about “trivial” matters, but sharing your daily joys, worries and experiences is of the utmost importance because only then can you really understand and support your partner (and your partner you!). Making time for your relationship and talking to each other is about cherishing your friendship and strengthening your connection.
Making time for one another is never easy, so utilise friends and grandparents and remember that they would also like some alone time with the new arrival – if they ask then take them up on their offer! A number of them know exactly what you are going through and will be happy to give you an hour or two off together.
TALK ABOUT THE PAST
Each and every intercultural couple is unique, but that does not mean they are automatically different. Contrasting life experiences and backgrounds may cause different layers of difference, but by recognising and then talking about the lives you have led and how you grew up your relationship will be enriched. This will help your partner to understand the ways in which you think and why you make the decisions you do, thus building a mutual understanding.
Try to take into account that some parents won’t have grown up with two parents and therefore may not know how to combine the roles of parent and partner, as they have never seen it in action before. Furthermore, the parenting roles they experienced will invariably be different to yours and their mentality towards dealing with certain situations will be greatly affected by the way their parents raised them.
It is also important to enter each discussion with an open mind and discuss the positive aspects as well as the negative. Your partner’s parents may have dealt with a situation in a different manner than yours, such as in the case of curfews or tantrums, so by talking to each other you should be able to combine both theories into one unique solution that is perfectly suited to your family.