How to fix your marriage, while raising kids, without therapy - a psychotherapist unpicks the top three relationship issues

What to do when your parenting responsibilities mean your relationship energy is running on fumes.

Couple with relationship worries
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ever pondered whether your relationship might be better without your kids, you’re not alone. Many couples struggle with the stresses kids can put on their partnership. But, is putting your partner before your kids the right thing to do to save your relationship?

Editor's note

If you do think therapy is for you that's okay too. Relate offers many different types of relationship counselling and Click Relationships is an online relationship support resource, which includes a free live chat with a trained counsellor. There are also some great relationship podcasts you can listen to, such as The Therapy Edit with Anna Mathur and Meet the Freemans.

Feeling disconnected after having a baby and letting the spark die in your sex life can make you and your partner wonder if divorce is on the horizon. Don’t worry, we’ve got tips to strengthen your bond while raising a family and help you both find a balance between your love life and your parenting responsibilities.

In this article, we talk to relationship experts to explore whether prioritising your partner over your children is advisable or healthy for families and whether it’s possible to balance both.

 How to fix a marriage while raising kids 

We all know how a fractious, unhappy relationship can affect our children. But can children affect our own relationship with our partner? Research tells us that having kids has a huge influence on our marital relationships, both positive and negative. For example, couples with children, particularly young kids, are according to studies less likely to divorce. On the other hand, having kids can seriously affect your sex life, with a third of new mums reporting reduced sexual satisfaction in the first year after becoming a parent. In fact, a recent study reveals that almost half of British parents (48 percent) say that feeling exhausted from parenting responsibilities has made maintaining their sex lives harder. Parenting is stressful, tiring and time-consuming, all of which can impact our romantic relationship. 

So, should you always put your partner first? The short answer is probably not. Your children’s physical, emotional and developmental needs have got to be the priority for both of you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t strike a healthy balance between your relationship’s needs and those of your kids. In fact, modelling a healthy partnership where you’re able to address and resolve conflicts is a great example for them growing up. 

The longer answer is more complicated. "Prioritising your relationship is crucial for your children to witness," says Brooke Box, relationship expert and author. "Demonstrating the importance of maintaining healthy and respectful relationships sets a powerful example for your kids. It shows them how to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and support one another. It lays the groundwork for how they will approach relationships in their own lives by teaching your children the value of emotional health, mutual respect, and the strength of cooperation."

So what can we do to keep communication open and our sex lives thriving in the wake of becoming responsible for a  whole new person? And how do we balance the needs of our partner (and ourselves) against those of a child? Here are 3 common relationship problems in families with kids, and what to do about them:

Brooke Box
Brooke Box

Brooke Box is a relationship expert and bestselling author, celebrated for her candid and direct approach to life and love. As a proud survivor of an amicable divorce, she drew from her personal journey and insights from others to write "Relationsh*t: A Practical Guide to Stepping Out of Fear, Navigating Big Relationship Change, and Living Your Best Life." 

  1. Conflicts over parenting styles 
  2. Lack of quality time together 
  3. Letting the sex slide because you're exhausted

Read on for how these problems can affect your well-being, and what you and your partner can do to resolve them.  

Top 3 relationship issues when you have kids, and how to fix them

 Conflicts over parenting styles 

How it feels: Do you and your partner clash over discipline, screentime and how to handle a tantrum? Maybe one of you thinks time-outs are great, while the other reckons it’s child torture? Differences in parenting styles can cause arguments in every relationship and leave both of you feeling angry, misunderstood and isolated. 

How you can resolve it: Try to find common ground while respecting each other’s differences in parenting. After all - you both want the best for your kids. Try to understand where the other is coming from. Carve out some time together to talk about specific issues instead of reacting in the heat of the moment and agree on what’s most important to both of you.

It's also vital to understand that you're different, says Box, and celebrate that fact. "Encouraging each other to pursue personal hobbies or interests can enrich your individual selves and, by extension, enhance your relationship."

Stephanie Lowe, Family editor at GoodtoKnow shares her experience.  "After our son was born, it felt like we were leading different lives. Mine was at the beck and call of a tiny human, and his had barely changed. I bubbled with resentment. We never seemed to be on the same page about anything. It took a while for us to find our groove again, but we did."

 Lack of quality time together 

How it feels: Quality time? Do you mean that hour between getting the kids off to sleep and falling asleep on the sofa? There’s more chance of Ryan Gosling popping over than your partner suggesting a ‘date night’ and that’s fine by you because you’ve still got that presentation to finish and the World Book Day outfit to organise and….

How you can resolve it: If you simply haven’t got the bandwidth to schedule regular ‘date nights’, beg, borrow and steal babysitters to have one night where you can both go out and try to reconnect.  If not,  try to find small pockets of time where you can be alone together, even if it’s just a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine after the kids go to bed. "Dedicate time to be together as a couple, not just as co-parents. It’s crucial to reconnect outside of your parenting roles," says Box.

"My wife and I make it a point to spend time together every night watching a movie, working on a project together, or even just talking," says Alex, husband to Jessica and dad to three boys. "We also make sure to go on a trip together at least once a year while granny watches the kids. This keeps our relationship strong and it helps us be better parents."

Couple spending time together

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Creating time for one another is vitally important for the health of your relationship," says Anna Mathur, psychotherapist and author of Raising A Happier Mother: How to Find Balance, Feel Good and See Your Children Flourish as a Result, and mum of three. "If you can’t have date nights and days out, tweak your existing routine instead. Have phone-free time, and choose to eat some meals at the table where you are more likely to chat than flopping in front of the sofa."

Image of woman smiling at camera
Anna Mathur

Anna Mathur is a psychotherapist, bestselling author, and a mum of three children. She's passionate about taking therapy out of the therapy room and loves sharing her own personal and professional experiences to support fellow mums through motherhood.

Letting the sex slide because you're exhausted

How it feels: Between breastfeeding, carrying, and otherwise caring for your baby, you’re constantly touched by tiny hands all day, plus you’re exhausted. So when your partner initiates more physical affection, it can make you feel overwhelmed and reluctant to have any intimacy, stirring up frustration on top of the fatigue. Your partner feels rejected and unsatisfied, and tensions rise.

How you can resolve it: Try not to think of intimacy as just physical - it can be psychological and verbal, too. Have short, regular check-ins to talk, hug, or enjoy a cup of tea together. Try holding hands on a walk, having a quick kiss in the kitchen, or just sending a loving WhatsApp. If possible, set aside some time for physical intimacy, but don’t make sex the end goal. "Make it a habit to share feelings, desires, and concerns," suggests Box. "Effective communication is key to understanding and supporting each other."

Holding hands during a sunset

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Take very small steps to reintroduce intimacy into your relationship – at a pace that’s comfortable for both of you,” say the experts at Relate. “This doesn’t necessarily mean reintroducing sexual acts. It could mean just touching or kissing more. You might like to try giving each other massages or holding hands. That way, you can re-learn to enjoy being sensual in a pressure-free environment.”

Discover more great advice for improving your relationship, from how to re-energise in the bedroom to 6 phrases for de-escalating conflicts when conversations get heated. Plus, these 5 expert tips will help you like being with your partner again (no matter how irritating you've found them recently).

Joanne Lewsley
Writer

Joanne Lewsley is a freelance copywriter and editor who creates parenting, health and lifestyle content for evidence-based websites, including BabyCentre, Live Science, Medical News Today and more.