Following on from Erin Kelly’s feature about the strain on personal relationships that having kids can bring, Max Barua gives her own view on the couple dynamic
I used to love old Fifties films when I was younger. The housewife would flutter about with a feather duster in her pastel peep-toe heels, and when her breadwinning husband came home she’d abandon everything, steer him into his favourite chair and rub his shoulders while he sipped on a scotch (pause for laughter.)
However, when I grew up I’m almost convinced I started to see cracks in the picture. The wife was actually a chronic pill popper, and couldn’t function without them. She’d beat her kids into submission (which is why they were so well-behaved, of course), and the husband was an alcoholic who used to beat her (but surely they weren’t going to show that on TV).
What I did notice, though, and have noticed being in a four-year relationship, is that communication is the reason you get together in the first place. Aside from the physical attraction, of course, you’re actually interested in hearing what the other person has to say. When I first met my partner, we’d spend hours at a time talking gibberish about nothing. Four years later, we can still talk that way although now, having learnt basically everything about each other, sometimes a comfortable silence takes a talk’s place.
This may not be how everybody feels – sometimes when you’re too tired from work, looking after the kids and everything else, having a hearty natter with your other half about their day seems like the last thing you want to do. Mentally, you just do not have the space to deal with your other half’s problems, and selfishly you’d like to sit and talk about your day, have them analyse your thoughts, your problems.
Perhaps not for everyone, but for a good few of us, maintaining intimacy in a relationship can be a struggle after having children. The focus is no longer the ‘two of us’, but the three or four or five of us. You have kids to run after, food to buy, jobs to go to – and so many other small tasks that all somehow revolve around your offspring. And amidst all that are you and your partner, wondering when you’ll get time alone to talk. Romantic comedies, sit-coms, glossy magazines and adverts have sold the dream of the perfect relationship so much so that the ideal has led to expectation.
The cliché of the ruinous baby is now so prevalent that it’s lampooned in children’s cartoons, such as Shrek The Third. In one scene from the film, Fiona is having a baby shower with all the princesses and Snow White gives her one of the dwarves for a present. He then runs through what he does – pretty much everything – and Fiona asks Snow White, ‘So what are me and Shrek supposed to do?’ and Snow White replies, ‘Well, now you guys have time to work on your marriage.’
Even counsellors from Relate, the couple and family counselling service, who see up to 150,000 people a year, said that lack of communication is the number-one cause of all relationship breakdowns. Relate’s report from 2010 also says that about a third of partners say that not being listened to can incite feelings of anger or rejection, and that men are three times more likely to have a virtual affair (a means of online communication either through a computer or mobile), rather than openly talk about problems with their partners.
In a lot of relationships, problems usually arise when people decide to be selfish. And it’s not always for selfish reasons. It can be as simple as, ‘Fine, if you don’t want to try, neither will I.’ Relationships are a bit like children. Shouting and yelling won’t do any good – and neither will ignoring the issue. As with children, you need to lead by example. If you want them to listen when you talk, you need to do it first. Learning from my own experiences (and leaving behind the stubborn attitude), by showing that I was willing to do something first encouraged my partner to follow suit. The change that ensued in both of us was incredible.
If your fault happens to be not paying attention to what’s happening in your relationship, because your children and your work take up so much of your time and energy, then don’t beat yourself up for it – you are not the only one. By doing something as small as making them a cup of tea when you have one, taking four seconds out in the morning to give them a hug or even something as small as leaving a little note in their jacket pocket – it all adds up to the attention that they or you might have been missing.