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Romance after the baby

By Ghanamma

The loss of spark in a relationship can often be the most difficult thing to bear. Living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, using the same bathroom with someone who is ignoring you or busy doing his own thing, without regard for you, can be devastating to your well being.

And if there's a baby or toddler present, this kind of household becomes a triangular trap. All information and love is centred on, or channelled through, the child.

The couple spend most of their time together talking about the child, or fussing and playing with the child. This seems acceptable because we are supposed to adore our children, yet we walk around in our own homes feeling lonely, unappreciated or irrelevant.

We often don't notice this in the beginning because we are too preoccupied with our children to see it, but distance between parents is an unhealthy and damaging state — not only for the adults but also for the children.

What's love got to do with it?
Everything. The foundation for any family is the love between the primal relationship, that of the couple.

It sets up the atmosphere of the home. It's one of the most powerful and healing forces we have available to us as human beings.

When a baby comes along, exclusive "twosome" love must expand to embrace a whole new dynamic.

Everything in our world shifts as responsibilities and lifestyle changes are dumped on us: "us" becomes "we" and "me" no longer seems to feature.

There is less time, less energy and less focus on the partnership and its needs, which means the primal relationship must adapt and change. Romance, intimacy, fun together and shared moments seem to simply vanish. Obligation and duty seem to replace love and spontaneity.

Deep down our hearts yearn for our special exclusive connection. The loss we feel is often not identified and we find ourselves reacting in strange ways.

Resentments, jealousies, complaints, impulsive behaviour and conflict may increase. Some new mothers find themselves bingeing on food, others find themselves desperate to get back to work or to go out with the girls.

New fathers find themselves spending more time focused on sport or work than is necessary.

Talk to each other
In order to nurture your relationship with your partner, you need to get back to basics. The ground rules for a love relationship pivot around being heard, being listened to and being regarded.

We are together because we choose each other as the witness of our lives, of our stories and to share in and keep sacred the deep longings of our hearts.

So if you want the spark back, focus on what really matters. Forget the unmade bed, the dishes in the sink or the fact that there's no milk in the fridge.

Turn to your partner and find out how he is. Chat about yourself, your feelings and your ideas. Start off with information-talk first, and then try to facilitate private time together every day when baby is otherwise occupied or sleeping.

"It's mommy and daddy time," is what your child should hear every day. Just 10 minutes every day to really look at each other, to talk, to listen and above all to regard each other, are crucial to the relationship.

Don't criticise
This is not the time for criticising, for making demands, for blaming or getting stuck in power struggles. It is the time to give, to open up, to turn towards our partners, to support and to simply just be there.

Every complaint, every time you snap or point a finger at your partner, you are killing off a bit of love. Keep the space between the two of you wrapped in goodwill.

If there is a need for attention than give it. Hold back on the reflex to see and comment on the negatives and the wrongs. Our partners are not responsible for our happiness and they are also not the cause of our suffering.

Let go of the demand that your partner should do or be as you say. Choose to discover your capacity to love your partner and then choose to find ways to fulfill yourself as well.

This does not mean you give up your needs and desires. You should clearly discuss them yet not see your partner as the sole source of satisfaction.

Don't look to your partner for answers
When the demands on our time and energy increase we naturally become stressed, which often results in feeling more needy. Don't immediately look to your partner for the answers.

Check out ways to nurture yourself first. Pamper yourself with long sensual baths, do your nails or go for a facial or a massage. Spend time chatting about yourself with close girlfriends or family.

Join a mothers group or a clinic where you can get support. Start a daily "feelings" journal. And above all, exercise in whatever way you can.

Don't exclude your partner, but don't indulge his neediness either

New fathers often feel excluded by your attention to your newborn. As new mums, dad can begin to seem like the second needy baby. Don't fall for this. The hunger for total nurturing, feeling abandoned and wanting immediate attention is infantile.

Such a man needs therapy, not a wife. Men need to find ways to care for themselves first and then turn towards their partner for adult sharing, commitment and love.

Make it a priority to find a sitter and go out alone

Even better, get a sitter, get her settled and head off to your own bedroom together. And yes, sexual intimacy does change during this time. Our desire and our bodies are different.

The best way to sort this out is to talk and to take tender action. Spend more time playing and having fun together. Be more affectionate. Touch each other in a non-sexual way. Massage each other. Do exercise together.

Spend time in nature. Be sensual by experiencing the sensations of sun, water, sand and all the elements. This is just a phase, so be patient and slowly, slowly your old passions will re-ignite.

Romance comes alive when our imagination does
Reconnect to your dreams and fantasies, especially about your partner. Become sentimental and reread love notes and pull out your old pictures and talk about the fun you have had.

Indulge in keeping a "relationship" scrapbook and add little quotes and momento's. Romance requires giving. So reach out to your partner with new suggestions and ideas for exploration.

Try anything just once. Write notes to each other, buy silly gifts, and make up new cute nicknames for each other. Snuggle a lot and bring surprises.

Romance is about mystery, allure, and fascination. It requires a tender touch and a wide-open heart full of the desire to give and discover. It's the simple things that are the most romantic, like a look, a touch, remembering a special date, whispering or smiling at your partner. Your special spark may be just one long lingering hug away.

Once we have embraced these main ingredients than we can add the dressing to our recipe for romance. As partners we need to have fun, with each other and with our new family. Find ways to turn routine into an adventure. Here are some ideas that work:

• Instead of a sit down supper, have a picnic outside in your own garden.

• Play your favourite music at night, light candles, dance and sing along.

• When its time to bath baby, all jump in.
• When its time for baby to sleep take out the rug and sleeping bag into the garden or onto the deck and all lie down together hugging and staring at the stars.

• Have a braai and open some champagne just because it's Tuesday.

• Find excuses for a celebration and dress up for it. Go for a family swim in the morning before work.

• Change the normal routine when coming home by immediately pulling out the pram and going for a walk.

• Sometimes let go of routines and structures put in place for baby.