My wife gave birth to our son three months ago. She hasn't been able to see her family at all, neither have I, so our relatives haven't had the chance to see our baby. We've spent all of lockdown together and she's been great, getting on with being pregnant despite not seeing her family or friends. But I worry that, with it just being us, our relationship will be affected, especially as we have a newborn. Have you any advice for strengthening a relationship for new parents? - AB
Many congratulations from everyone at Relate NI to you both on the arrival of your son.
Having a new baby is a life changing adventure and in the middle of lockdown it brings its own particular experience. In more familiar times, a new baby can bring about a kind of lockdown situation - new families cocoon together in their 'babymoon'. Spending all your time together, unsure what day it is, time becomes elastic with days lasting forever and yet somehow time passes and your wee man is already three-months-old.
The difference is that before your wife and you would have had choices about who to visit and when and where. There would have been offers of support to give you all a break for a couple of hours. The celebration of a new baby joining the wider family of relatives, friends and community could be acknowledged in many different ways. That may been taken away - for now.
Loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact for new parents, especially the mother.
In these times you and your wife are the only support for one another as you both adapt to changing roles of being a couple to being parents. You are so right to be thinking of how to support the relationship that you have with your wife because while you have now become parents you are still a couple. A different kind of a couple.
You may already share these qualities in your relationship together but now is an important time to prioritise these experiences:
The magic ingredient in any relationship sounds straightforward but can become lost in the busyness of life: listening.
Really listening to your partner to understand what they are saying and not waiting for a pause in the conversation to add your bit. Listening with curiosity. They don't have to be big, serious conversations - the little details of life are the stories that keep us together.
Many parents, both mums and dads, experience a fear of loss of identity when they become parents.
They worry that they've lost the person they used to be. Make sure that you communicate with one another that you remember the person you fell in love with. You've been added to by your experiences, not diminished.
People experience feeling loved in different ways, some enjoy being pampered with little gifts, others appreciate the bathroom cleaned up unexpectedly - an act of service, perhaps a tender foot massage, physical touch, or by telling your partner how much you love and respect them for who they are (not only what they do, but the very essence of their being).
As well as impacting your relationship together, research has shown that one in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of having a baby.
Theparentrooms.co.uk also offer a range of wellbeing programs, peer support and counselling services.
My sleep is genuinely suffering during the pandemic - and my husband's snoring doesn't help! Because I'm so lacking in sleep, I am grumpy first thing and, working from home, it hasn't helped our relationship. Should we sleep apart? How can I talk to him about it? -LH
Thank you for your letter and I'm sure that many readers share your experience. Life has been so completely interrupted during the pandemic and that certainly includes sleep patterns. I wonder if your husband's snoring was noticeable before the pandemic? Or has the change of routine and impact on your sleeping caused you to notice your husband's snoring more?
There's no doubt snoring can put a relationship under pressure. It interrupts both partners' sleep. Combined with working from home neither of you are getting a real break from one another either. The lack of sleep and real rest can lead to resentment within the relationship.
Snoring impacts both people in the relationship - the snorer and the non-snorer. Snoring can signal a health issue like chronic headaches, risk of a heart attack, being at an unhealthy weight. Your husband could have a check-up with his GP to make sure there are no underlying health issues that need attending to.
As you know, snoring is out of your partner's control and he's likely tired or embarrassed so having a conversation together about the issue needs care and compassion. If you can both focus on possible solutions rather than criticism then it supports an easier, gentler conversation.
Some ideas that you can both participate in include:
1. Maintaining a healthy diet together. Weight gain (a common side effect of the pandemic) can squeeze the diameter of the throat leading to 'thunder noise'. If you can both eat well and take exercise regularly (that can include a good daily walk) then you'll both feel the benefit.
2. Snorers often sleep on their back so the soft palate and the tongue collapse to the throat, blocking the airways, which then causes snoring. So, if your husband can start to sleep on his side this will help prevent that.
3. Good habits like staying hydrated throughout the day prevents sticking secretions in the nose that cause snoring. Drinking alcohol or smoking before bed causes muscle relaxation that leads to snoring so are best avoided.
Hopefully taking care of yourselves together and individually will support improved health and wellbeing, meaning that the snoring will ease. You can continue to share a bed together with the intimacy and closeness that brings.