How To Keep The Spark Alive In Your Relationship As A New Mom

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How To Keep The Spark Alive In Your Relationship As A New Mom
Sex

It doesn't have to be complicated.

How to keep your relationship alive after a baby might not be high up on your to-do list when you're a first-time mom — if it’s on there at all.

That’s OK.

You're tired, exhausted, and probably annoyed. There’s no shame in not wanting to work on your relationship now, if that's what you need to survive. And I really mean that.

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If you, however, feel like you want to do something — anything, really — to keep your relationship afloat amidst all the diapers and incessant feedings — this one’s for you.

Being a mom is hard work — especially with a newborn.

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 nine months of growing a tiny human. Even if you had an easy pregnancy, it probably still had its tough moments.

Then there’s the labor. Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a Caesarean section: It was hard work, and quite possibly traumatic.

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 diapers.

You’re getting to know your baby and trying to differentiate between their noises. 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 can't be all things to all people.

The world tells you that you can have it all, yet you feel like you have nothing fully because there are so many roles for you to fill. 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. And sexual. It's too much.

It’s OK for your love life not to look the way it did before, for there to be no sex, or desire for it. Having sex regularly isn’t essential for your relationship to survive throughout this period of time.

If you want to know how you can connect with your partner again, it's possible, and can be done in small ways.

What do you need to keep a relationship alive?

Now’s not the time to implement lots of new strategies and tips. Now is the time to choose one simple 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. 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.

Our bodies have three systems that govern and affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Depending on the system you’re in, things like feeling close to your partner or experiencing intimacy can be more or less difficult.

In order to understand self-care and how to keep a relationship alive after becoming a new mom, you often need to switch systems. Here are the three systems.

1. The Threat System

Activated by stress, this system is important for your survival. It's constantly on the lookout for threats — psychological and physical. Your brain is living by the motto “better safe than sorry,” and therefore being in this system makes both intimacy and self-care difficult as you 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.

2. The Drive System

This is the system where you 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 in which you achieve things.

3. The Caregiving System

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In this system, you seek comfort in others and relax. You experience safety, soothing, and calm. It's here you cultivate compassion, safety, and love and are accepting of what is.

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When you’re a first-time mom, you’re likely to constantly be in the threat system. You’re stressed and tired. 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.

The threat system isn’t conducive to your sexuality. You can’t experience pleasure or relaxation in the threat system.

Your sex drive is like any other emotion.

It’s triggered by internal and external stimuli, meaning you need to see, taste, smell, feel, or hear something that gets your libido going. This is true for people of all genders, though more women than men experience it this way.

Furthermore, the drive system is all about achievements and “doing.” For some, sex is all about compassion, caring, and relaxing, which is what the caregiving system is all about — not the drive system.

If you want to know what to do to keep a relationship alive, it means you need to work out where intimacy and sex lies — which system. It might be a mix of the drive system and the caregiving system, or one or the other.

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 it's all about caring, calm, showing, and expressing your love, maybe sex is all about the caregiving system.
  • If you feel like your sexuality is a mix of both, 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?"

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 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:

  • Write a note about how much you love your partner and stick it in their pocket.
  • Text your partner about a favorite memory.
  • Give your partner a heartfelt hug.
  • Go for a walk together.
  • Give your partner a quick foot rub.

Doing these things doesn’t necessarily help you get directly in contact with your sexuality. It gets you out of the threat system and into the drive system so you can take steps to activate your sexuality.

The caregiving 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 out of your role as a mother and coming into your own identity.

When you’re yourself — and not only a mum — you can more easily come in contact with the sensual and sexual part of yourself. This cultivates intimacy and makes it easier for you to connect with your partner.

In order to get into this system, there are a few things you can do:

  • Redirect your thoughts.

When you criticize yourself or your partner, you’re stimulating your threat system. By trying to cultivate compassion, you’re stimulating your caregiving system. Try thinking about what you like about yourself or your partner and be generous.

It may be difficult in the beginning, but by noticing when you’re being harsh and redirecting your thoughts, you’ll be helping yourself into the caregiving system.

  • Focus on your breathing.

Your breath "anchors" you to the here and now. Instead of worrying about the future or being harsh toward yourself, focus on the way your breath flows in and out of your body. Breathing exercises can be found for free online.

  • Do a quick body scan.

Start from your toes and work your way up, focusing on the sensations you can feel (or lack thereof). Perhaps you notice tingling, warmth, or sore muscles.

Becoming a mother can be challenging. What to do to keep a relationship alive as a first-time mum, doesn’t have to be.

By removing yourself from the threat system and into the drive or caregiving system, you can awaken your relationship, keep it on course, and connect intimately.

RELATED: 15 Ways To Make Your Marriage Stronger As New Parents

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Babe, The Tab, Glamour, Sexography, and The Minds Journal. Visit her website for more tips on how to keep a relationship alive.

This article was originally published at Therapy by Leigh. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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