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How to Tell If Parental Burnout is Burning Out Your Relationship

Welcome to Better Sex With Dr. Lexx, a monthly column where sex therapist, educator and consultant Dr. Lexx Brown-James shares expertise, advice and wisdom about sex, relationships and more. Approaching education about sex as a life-long endeavor — “from womb to tomb” — Dr. Lexx (AKA The #CouplesClinician) is your guide to the shame-free, medically accurate, inclusive and comprehensive conversations for you, your partner and your whole family. 

It’s May! And that means Spring is blooming and Summer is on its way. This also means that school is starting to wind down and teachers will be getting a much needed and deserved break. With Summer right around the corner, parents find themselves spending more time with our kids. Outdoor activities, camp schedules, later nights, and get togethers mean that we as parents — who have been parenting throughout the pandemic, homeschool, work from home, and quarantine — will have even more time to, well, parent. And for most, with the joy, comes the really, really hard.

We’ve been hearing about COVID burnout, work burnout, and quarantine burnout and the effects of mental health, we haven’t heard a lot about parenting burnout — and, specifically how it affects our relationships. Parenting burnout is the relentless exhaustion a parent feels while caring for their child(ren) that often takes a toll on mental health. That exhaustion also takes a toll on our romantic relationships. Here’s how you can tell burnout is happening and some simple suggestions on what to do about it.

If you notice your sex lift has dwindled…

It’s time for a support check-in. With parents always parenting, along with adulting — physical intimacy and romanticism can be the first thing to put on the back burner. Despite the benefits of sexual intimacy being relaxation, connectedness, and feel-good hormones it can be hard to carve out time when all you want to do is watch a tv show and sleep. If you notice that your sex life has became a bit scant, try to find what you all can delegate as parents. This may mean finding a sitter, asking community for support, or using a paid time off day to just spend together for some uninterrupted couple’s time.

Your partner is snapping at you and the kids.

When patience is running short because of exhaustion, tempers can flair quickly. If you notice that your lover is short tempered with the kids, coworkers, family members or the lover it might be signs of burnout. Offering up that you notice the stress that is manifesting in anger by stating: “I’ve noticed there is not a lot of bandwidth lately for (insert stressor), how can I help alleviate some of this for you?”

If you’re not the person who can help, who can help both of you? Again this might be a time to call on the community, take turns for space, or establish a new routine.

There is no energy for the fun stuff.

Sometimes with burnout, even the fun stuff is hard to do. Planning the event, playing with the kids, and recovering from the fun thing all can add to the burnout a parent is feeling. It could help the burnout parent to alleviate guilt and rest by planning something fun for the family sans that parent. Make sure to express permission for them to stay  home and do nothing, or to go out on their own for a day so that they can replenish. Whatever it may be, giving them permission to do nothing but take care of themselves is a small way to curtail the exhaustion that comes with burnout.

You partner is isolating outside of your regular quarantine.

It’s not secret that sometimes people-ing is exhausting in itself. However, if you notice your lover being extra isolated, only exposed to the family and not mingling in your COVID bubble burnout could be afoot. Helping your lover reconnect with a person they value — even if it’s just to sit and do nothing at all — can give your lover just a bit more steam in their engine.

If you hear complaints that every day is monotonous and sacrificing.

I’ll be honest. Women are typically taught that self-sacrifice equals goodness which means to be a “good mom” women will often sacrifice time alone, their hobbies and desires for the sake of the children and family. Unfortunately, burnout just doesn’t go away with ‘self-care’. It takes diligence, practice, and implementing change in systems to prevent further exhaustion. Finding what day-to-day pieces need to shift are key to helping whittle away at the burnout and restore what the person was lost.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs with the least amount of reward from outside society. It is constantly demanding and when we are isolated to ‘just’ parenting we can easily lose who we are as individuals and more specifically as lovers. When parenting burnout takes place, loverships suffer as well. So, I want to give you permission to prioritize your lover and lovership as a parent. Being a full human, who enjoys romance and intimate connection, helps sustain healthy parenting and models positive intimate partnership for the child(ren) in your life. If you’re seeing yourself in some of the signs listed above, it might be time to ask for help, relinquish some responsibility, and prioritize self in new ways.  

Before you go, check out our favorite apps to help prioritize your mental health: 

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