Three’s a Crowd
The divorce rate in the US has been on the decline for over 30 years but there is one subset who is especially at risk- young couples. This continues to be the highest divorce rate. According to research by respected psychotherapist and marriage researcher John Gottman most couples divorce within the first seven years and he found that this is because they became parents. Nearly 70% of men and women reported a significant decline in marriage satisfaction after the arrival of their first baby.
Whether you are a new parent who is already experiencing this or you are simply trying to avoid it, there are four stumbling points according to Gottman. You will have a better chance of overcoming them if you have an honest conversation before you become a parent or shortly after.
1.This baby will change your family and your identity.
We hear or use the phrase “starting a family” on a very regular basis in our culture. The reality is you were already a family. Your family is just bigger now. This idea minimizes the importance of the marriage and puts an inordinate amount of pressure on this new
little person to be perfect. The baby didn’t make you a family but it did make you a parent. This is a huge change. It changes your values. It changes how each person views money, careers, and faith and this very often catches us off guard. The egalitarian couple who were on the same page with every decision become a couple who can’t agree on how to do anything. Score-keeping becomes a daily pastime.
How to work through it: Talk about your values when you were a family of two helped you thrive and enjoy each other. What would you like to hold on to? What are you ok with letting go of? Talk about your definition of “mother” and “father”. How do your own parents affect how you want to parent. What did you like? What were your parents roles? What do your want to do differently?
Plan for time alone with your spouse after the baby arrives. This is very difficult at first especially for mothers. Remember how you thought your partner was the most interesting person in the world? Hold onto that. You will need to refer to it often. Refer to it and then treat them like they are the most interesting person in the world. Look them in the eye, ask questions, and smile at each other!
2. The baby will cause tension.
The little buggers are very demanding. You will lose sleep, you will spend more money than you used to, and you will worry, yes, way more than you used to. You will analyze to the point of exhaustion everything that has to do with your baby’s safety including
their car seat, pacifiers, bottle or breast, and all of the other choices you will be presented with. You will feel guilty- ALL THE TIME. You will feel it when you leave your baby to attend events and you will feel it when you miss the events to stay home with your baby.
None of this will help your relationships but it is a normal transition that all new parents face. If you keep you resentments or disappointment to yourself because you don’t want to stir up trouble, it will come out. The unstated expectations and criticism will chip away at the foundation of your marriage.
How to work through it: Remember that the newborn phase is just a phase temporary and normal. Keep in mind that there will be a new normal right around the corner. Talk to your partner about the changes with the intention of connection and stress reduction. Remind yourself that your partner is struggling with the changes too but probably in very different ways. The things that you are finding most difficult may not even be registering to your partner. Tell them about it at a time when you can talk calmly.
3.You will not be able to take care of yourself or your relationship like you used to.
The first year is intense. This is especially true for women. Their bodies have gone through an enormous change and stress. If they are breast-feeding there is a sense that their body is no longer their own. Both parents will suffer from sleep deprivation that can lead to depression and anxiety. Sleep deprivation has a profound effect on the brain and makes it very hard to pursue emotional or physical intimacy with your partner. This is a negative cycle that is hard to break without intervention.
How to work through it: Sleep is not a luxury. Discuss how you will take measures to protect sleep for one another no matter who is staying home and who is returning to work. Plan your sleep schedules and utilize the spare bedroom or couch so you can both get some uninterrupted sleep. If things get rough, ask for help! Human beings like to be needed. Reach out and not only will you feel better, you will make someone else feel great too. Discuss how to maintain intimacy even if it doesn’t involve sex. How can you maintain emotional, spiritual, and conversational intimacy while you are adapting to your new life? This will make the transition back to a sexual intimacy faster and easier for both of you.
4. Fathers will sometimes withdraw.
Women are incredibly effective at supporting one another before and after the baby is born. They attend classes and reach out to other women for advice and companionship. Even as today’s men become more involved as parents, they don’t typically have the same support structures. They are used to their wives being the ones who support them. He used to be able to complain about how tired he was but that same complaint after a baby is born to his wife will be met by a less than desirable response. As a first time dad, you may feel blindsided by all of the changes with no where to turn. Often what follows is withdrawing from the family and the relationships. This withdrawing can come in the form of more time spent at work to help with the financial strain, joining a sport, helping a friend build a garage, or watching more TV. This will inevitable cause resentment from your partner and sets off the vicious cycle of even more withdrawing. When the baby picks up on the stress, it can make it even harder for you to bond.
How to work through it: Dads don’t babysit, they parent. They may parent differently than moms do but they parent. Discuss as a couple how you will prioritize dad’s specific role as a parent. Moms are wired to nurture and protect and dads tend to be more physical and instill the sense of play that kids need to thrive. Talk through these differences. Say them out loud. Moms have to hear and accept that dads aren’t doing it wrong, they are doing it different. If you don’t anticipate this reality, differences can become problems.