When two become three: How to prioritise time with your partner when you become a parent

Back before naptime, nappies, teething, (and the occasional) tears and tantrums ruled, we used to have date nights. Only, we didn’t even call them date night: it was just the two of us, spontaneously having fun.

When my partner and I started dating back in ’15, we didn’t give it a second thought. If one of us had a stressful day? We’d go out for dinner or a movie. A few late nights in the office? Let’s treat ourselves to a weekend in London, maybe catch a show or trawl through our favourite museums and geeky stores. Missing each other, as one of us had to travel for work? Fuck it — let’s make it a long weekend and just go explore a whole new city or country with little to no notice.

Spending quality time together didn’t require a complex plan. We didn’t need to rely on anybody but the good ol’ British rail, Eurotunnel, or LastMinute to see us through. Yet now? It feels like anything more than slumping together on the sofa for an hour before bed is an absolute luxury. Not all parents can feel like this all the time, can they? There has to be some point where the magic kicks back in, and you can enjoy quality couples time…right?

Those first few months: Survival mode

Our first three months as new parents felt like we were in complete survival mode. Thanks to the pandemic, we had no local support network, no bubble, and no one but ourselves to rely on when learning how the heck we were supposed to keep this tiny, fragile, perfect (but so bloody loud) being alive and well. While our trial by fire introduction to parenthood wasn’t the typical experience everyone has, it’s not so different from the reality most new parents face.

84 percent of new parents feel shocked by how their life has changed in those first few weeks after the birth of their baby. 71 percent are reluctant to reach out and ask for help and support, with a fifth struggling to feel confident in their own abilities as a new parent. Nearly a quarter of us worry about being labelled as a bad parent, while 40 percent are concerned others will think that they can’t cope.

71% of new parents are reluctant to reach out and ask for help

It’s not a matter of how much we’ve prepared or how much we love our children. Those first weeks and months are filled with self-doubt and guilt, with worry and frustration, with tears and second-guessing ourselves and our choices. Becoming a parent is wonderful and overwhelming. It’s only natural that, in our scramble to try and learn to become parents, we sometimes forget how to be a good partner.

Shared moments together

Until you feel more comfortable and stable with your routine, ‘making time’ to be together may not feel possible — it certainly didn’t for us. That’s why it’s important to savour the moments in between. To relax together, reminisce, to even just hold each other while waiting for the kettle to boil, or send a quick message while you’re pinned on the sofa while bubs is napping or eating.

With exhaustion levels through the roof and responsibilities a mile long, savouring every moment you have together might not feel like enough, but it can help you to get through until you’ve both got the bandwidth for something more.

Setting boundaries and increasing communication

Once your little one is starting to sleep through the night, exhaustion (mentally and physically) can still take its toll. How the heck do you start making the most of these precious few hours between bubs going to bed, then cooking, cleaning, and bedtime?

  1. Say no to screentime. The temptation to sit scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok is painfully real — as is putting on the latest must-watch episode on Netflix, and vegging out. While both of these can occasionally be acts of self-care, when we rely on them too much to help us decompress, we can risk missing out on quality, active relaxation time with our partner. Switching off — whether it’s for 15 minutes or a whole evening — ensures you are giving the other person your full attention (and getting the same attention in return). Talk to each other about your day. Have a conversation that doesn’t revolve solely around bubs. Plan what series you want to next binge watch together, or cook a meal together. Even a few minutes together without interruptions can give you a significant boost.
  2. Take a day off. This one’s harder to do if your little one isn’t at nursery yet or if you don’t have family nearby. If you do, book yourselves a midweek day off. Weekends aren’t the relaxing affair they used to be. Rather than trying to juggle relaxation, kids, and busy weekend crowds, take a weekday off together. Go and watch a movie that isn’t animated, eat at a restaurant or pub that doesn’t automatically hand out free crayons, try an escape room, take a spa day, or even get lost in a local woodlands walk without worrying about little legs keeping up. When bubs started nursery, my husband and I each took a few Wednesdays off to just be together again as a couple. I can’t even express how much of a difference it made for us both. We didn’t just feel like mummy and daddy anymore; we felt like us again.
  3. Develop a system: weekends and post-work rituals. One-off days together are great, but we need regular quality time together to really feel the impact. It can be whatever fits into your schedule: maybe you want to drop bubs off with your parents for an afternoon every other week. Maybe you decide to both get up an hour earlier each Sunday so you can do something together before you start your day as a family. Maybe it’s just agreeing to have coffee together before picking the kids up from school or nursery. Whatever it is, be consistent. Make this time your time. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

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UK-based wellbeing and MH Writer | procrastinator | Senior Writer for Happiful | she/her | freelancer | neurodivergent | Top 50 Neurodivergent Woman 2022

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Bonnie Evie Gifford (Read) 🥄

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UK-based wellbeing and MH Writer | procrastinator | Senior Writer for Happiful | she/her | freelancer | neurodivergent | Top 50 Neurodivergent Woman 2022

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