When my partner and I decided we were “ready” to become parents, the world was a very different place than it is now. COVID shut-downs started during my 20th week of pregnancy and quickly altered our hopes and dreams for parenting. Now we know the challenges parenting presents for our relationship, especially in a pandemic world. Parenting is stressful and there’s very little time for things you love. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to maintain your loving partner relationship and grow together as a family.
One of the most common things I hear about someone’s partner is that “they should just know what I need.” We know that our partners are not mind readers, but to a certain degree, we expect that our partner should be able to anticipate our needs. When we make these assumptions, it leads to resentment because our partners are not able to read our minds, anticipate 100% of our needs, or follow through on every request. That resentment also leads to a common refrain of “Can I even trust my partner?”
At the root of this, we are all asking our partner, “Are you there for me?” When we become parents, this question is more difficult to answer because the challenge of raising a child brings so many more unmet needs (sleep, free time, etc). Your partner may know that you’re exhausted, but they cannot know how to help you feel less exhausted unless you ask. The same applies to you meeting your partner’s needs. If your partner doesn’t ask, trying to guess at their needs will end in you feeling unappreciated or ignored.
You’re a Team
It’s helpful to start conversations about unmet needs with a “same team” mentality. As a team, you work together to find solutions to your needs, rather than causing your partner to feel attacked for “failing” you. Your partner will not always be able to meet your needs, but it’s important for them to hear you and help you find a solution to your problems. For example, I’m not able to talk to my partner about my work, but it makes me feel supported when he encourages me to talk to a coworker about a particularly bad day. If I say “You never listen to me or act like you care about my work,” he is far more likely to feel attacked and withdraw from our relationship.
Managing Parenting Value Conflicts
You and your partner were raised in different family systems and therefore have different ideas of what parenting should look like. When your child melts down and you don’t know what to do, your gut reaction will be what you were taught to do as a child. Often, this reaction is the exact opposite of what your partner would have done and can instantly create conflict. This is when “same team” is more important than ever.
Work with your partner to identify what happened, how you were feeling in that moment, and determine how you will approach your child in the future. Using language like “I understand you were frustrated, what was that meltdown like for you?” is more constructive than “Don’t yell at our child!” Asking questions and using “I” language moves the conversation toward a constructive solution, rather than attacking with assumed motives or “You” statements like “You always yell when you’re frustrated!”.
Prioritizing Your Partner
As a parent, your time is constrained by all the things you’re responsible for in a day. At the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is put in more effort. It does take effort to let your partner know you care about them. However, you don’t have to make sweeping grand gestures or make date night something new every week. Instead, care can look like a moment of connection when they finish work, taking 5 minutes at night to talk about your days, or working on a hobby together. Date nights look different post-COVID, but it can be tremendously helpful to find someone to watch your children and take time to connect outside of your home on occasion.
Of course, all of these things can be challenging! We aren’t taught how to be amazing partners or have difficult conversations in school. Your and your partner will disappoint each other at times. The important thing is finding ways to repair it with your partner and communicate that you care about them. The work you put in to understand your partner now will foster intimacy and growth no matter what challenges you face.
Elise Champanhet is a Mental Health Therapist seeing individuals seeking physical, emotional, and mental wellness at Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling in the Greater Chicago Area.