Kid-proofing your relationship
Why keeping a focus on being a couple matters, especially after becoming parents.
Juice Staff Published: 7/23/2019
For many couples, raising a family is a top priority, one that is usually agreed upon long before a baby arrives. Being on the same page regarding goals and dreams is important, too, especially when it comes to adding children to the mix. While parenting is a hugely rewarding and satisfying experience, relationships can shift over time to accommodate the needs of the kids. And as the focus shifts towards the children and away from each other, it can cast a shadow on the main relationship that started it all. What’s a busy couple to do?
Whether it’s a new baby or a busy pre-teen or teenager who absorbs your attention, raising children is hard work! Adding a new member to the family is an even bigger adjustment. Research shows that most couples undergo a decline in satisfaction with their relationship once a new baby joins the family. With the combination of the added responsibility, stress and sleep deprivation involved in caring for an infant, it’s no wonder that both partners not only need time to adapt to the new dynamic but sometimes experience feelings of animosity if there isn’t healthy communication.
“It can be easy to hold feelings of anger and resentment, for example, if one partner feels that the heavier part of the load is on them,” said Julia “Jill” Garrett, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health, whose areas of expertise include adjustment and phase-of-life issues, stress management, and maternal mental health. “Couples have to remind themselves that they are both undergoing major changes with the arrival of a new child or even having other children at home and that they need to work hard to communicate and relate to each other.”
When you’re co-parenting a child of any age, don’t start a conversation by placing blame with “you are” statements, as in, “You are not doing anything around here,” Dr. Garrett recommended. Instead, use “I” statements as a way to own your feelings while letting your partner know what kind of support you need.
“It’s more effective to say, ‘I am feeling overwhelmed. Would you feed the baby tonight or give our toddler a bath so I can get some extra sleep or some alone time?’” she said.
Share the responsibilities
Teamwork is imperative. Divide up the most important chores and if some don’t get done, it’s OK to let them slide.
“Increasing responsibilities and delegating kid-related tasks and household chores can be a point of contention for many parents,” said Dr. Garrett. “Consider a weekly check-in with your partner to discuss any possible shifts in routine and/or recent difficulties that have arisen. But make sure you schedule the check-ins during times when you’re well-rested and things are relatively stress-free.”
If you’ve just had a baby, it’s important to know that around 80 percent of new mothers experience some form of “baby blues” in the first two-to-three weeks after giving birth. The fact that around 20 percent of women experience ongoing Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), and that 10 percent of men also experience post-partum mood-related difficulties, adds to an already challenging adjustment. Do your best to offer each other support and compassion, and if emotional symptoms persist or begin to interfere with daily life and/or impact your relationship, don’t be afraid to reach out to a health care professional for more support.
Stay connected, avoid the divide
When a new baby comes home, one partner can feel left out, especially if mom is breastfeeding and bonding with the new baby. The other partner often feels pushed out with this new family dynamic, said Josephine Moss, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Adapting to such a lifestyle transition can be difficult, and one partner can sometimes feel excluded and forgotten, which can lead to looking outside the relationship for validation. Staying connected from the beginning and through the years as kids grow and more come along is the key to staying on track. “It’s really about being intentional and mindful about your life and your relationship,” Moss said. “In the blink of an eye, your 30s can just fly by when it’s all about the kids. You have to say, ‘Wait! Us!’”
Growing apart while kids are growing up is such a common thing, so you have to make the effort to develop a lifestyle that incorporates a healthy balance of time with the children and time with your partner, too, she said. Date nights, alone vacations and, more importantly, taking time each day to connect on an emotional, intimate level by talking about your needs, your struggles, and your fears, is extremely important. Dedicating your entire self to your kids and ignoring your needs and that of your partner’s will, in time, leave you with less in common, and a great divide that becomes too far to cross.
“You’re going to be with your partner longer than you are going to be raising little ones so it’s vital to spend time nurturing that relationship,” she said. “Our culture is so focused on putting the kids first, but the relationship sustains the family. If you don’t nurture it, everything else just falls apart.”
Baptist Health offers a variety of resources including classes, programs and support groups for parents, which you can find at BaptistJax.com. For information on other health and wellness resources, including professional counseling and psychological services, visit here.