“Many people think the secret to reconnecting with their partner is a candlelit dinner or a by-the-sea vacation. The real secret is to turn toward each other in little ways every day.” — Dr. John Gottman
I once heard a marriage counselor being interviewed and he talked about walking in the door after work, seeing his family and thinking, “You’re the reason I come home.”
I LOVE that perspective and totally admit it’s a bit idealized.
I mean, c’mon — in the midst of the most difficult days of having a newborn (and sometimes beyond that!) home can be the last place that feels welcoming.
On a particularly hairy evening during my first maternity leave, my husband actually told me sometimes he wished he could just stay at work. Ouch! That did not go over well.
After I was over being angry, I saw his point of view. Where was the connection? Where was the joy?
A sweet lingering kiss.
A long hug.
An uninterrupted conversation. Heck, a “hello, glad you’re home” would do.
It’s these small things that you do on the regular that bring you back to each other. That reminds you why you like each other. That says to your partner “you matter to me.” That you take for granted before kids.
For new parents, even the simplest moments of reconnection can seem daunting.
Which is why I’ve pulled together some of my favorite ways to connect that don’t take a ton of effort but make you look forward to coming home.
1. Prepare them
A check-in text helps your partner know what they are coming home to — good or bad — so they can prepare themselves instead of feeling blindsided. They may even get a moment of self-care in during their commute — deep breathing, good music, small snack — to help them shift from work mode to family time.
Emojis or gifs are a great way to do this, they get the point across with a touch of humor and lightness.
2. Hug it out
Get eye to eye, heart to heart, belly to belly and hug long enough for your breathing to sync up and for you to melt into each other. Feel the tension release from your body as you lean into your partner.
While hugging, you’re actually reducing your stress hormones (cortisol) and increasing your love hormone (oxytocin).
What about the baby? Put him in a safe place, a mat on the floor, a bouncy chair, the crib. Give that good hug and tune out the world for a moment. You’re coming back to your team, to your special someone.
After your deep hug, you can always do a big group hug with the family!
3. Walk and talk
Put baby in a stroller and go for an evening walk after dinner. It’s a new parent date night! And the perfect time for a daily stress-reducing conversation or you could hold hands and just enjoy the quiet together.
4. Set boundaries and expectations
My husband usually comes home around 6 and that’s right at the peak point in dinner prep when all the pots are boiling and everyone’s hangry. It was right at that moment that he’d come in for a hug. I’d try to avoid it by ignoring him or mean mommy would flare up. Either way, I’d feel so guilty.
When I realized the dynamic that was going on, I changed it by being clear: that moment is not a good time to connect with me. I’m too frazzled.
He got it. So now when he comes home he doesn’t take it personally that I’m busy and instead plays with the kids or starts setting the table. When things are settled in the kitchen, I can be the one to turn to him and say, “I’m ready for my hug now.” (See tip #2.) That way we both get what we need.
5. Start a conversation
Get the free Gottman Card Decks app and give the Love Maps or Open-Ended Questions a try when you’re having dinner and your sleep-deprived brain can’t think of anything to talk about or when you’re on a date and want to talk about something other than baby.
6. Kiss like you mean it
Six seconds, twice a day, is all it takes! Do it in the morning when you say your good-byes and in the evening when you return to each other.
Dr. Gottman calls a six-second kiss “a kiss with promise.” It’s long enough to feel romantic but not too long to make the kids late for soccer practice.
7. Put on some mood music
Play your favorite feel-good music and dance around the house while you go about your evening. A little shimmy with your sweetie makes loading the dishwasher go a lot faster.
If you need to tone it down for baby’s bedtime routine, some slow jams can help quiet things down and maybe set the mood for later. *wink wink*
8. Unplug together
Feeling disconnected? Reach for your husband or wife instead of reaching for your phone. If you have a difficult time unplugging, agree to phone-free times or spaces, like certain evenings or not during dinner or not in bed.
9. Try a virtual connection
Let your partner know you’re thinking of them with a text. If you’re at home with the baby and they’re at work, send a video or picture of a new or funny or everyday thing baby is doing to help them feel part of the action.
10. Play together
Spend some time (it doesn’t have to be long) playing with baby together. On busy weeknights, you can make it part of the evening routine — play during bath time, sit together with baby and read a bedtime book, or sing lullabies together. It can be really special to share that time with your partner and the kids LOVE having both of you there!
Gottman’s research has shown that happy couples play cooperatively with baby instead of competing for baby’s attention. Here’s a video of actual research footage from the Gottman Institute.
The ways you connect with each other may look a little different after having a baby. But these small gestures and meaningful moments can make a big difference to your relationship and how you feel about each other.
Even in the messiness of day-to-day life as new parents, your partner and your family will be the reason you are happy to be home.
Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear ways you’ve figured out to regularly connect with your partner as busy parents. Please share them in the comments. We all could use a little inspiration in this area!
Want to amp up your connection even more? Sign up for a Bringing Baby Home workshop. This weekend workshop is like a mini-retreat where you will explore ways to create a relationship and family life you love. Join me!