By April Eldemire, LMFT of Couples Thrive
We’re very excited to have April guest blog for us. April is a trusted colleague of The Psychology Group and has expertise counseling new-parents. She also offers the very popular ‘Bringing Baby Home’ workshops. More information at the end of this post.
For new and expectant parents, bringing home a new baby will create a lot of change in your house—and these changes go beyond baby-proofing and bath time.
Once a couple goes from “expecting” to “new parents,” they experience major shifts in their relationship and identities. These baby-related changes can be exciting and catalyze major growth, but they can also cause a lot of stress.
According to psychologist and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, at least 2 out of 3 couples report serious conflict within the first three years of their baby’s life. Gottman cites issues like psychological changes (going from “me” to “we”), increased stress, decreased physical and emotional intimacy, feeling overworked yet underappreciated, and differing parent-child relationship dynamics as common reasons. Additionally, 50 to 80% of new moms and 30% of new fathers exhibit signs and symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), a potentially serious mental health condition that requires professional treatment.
It’s normal to experience stressful changes during new parenthood. Understanding why these changes occur can help you deal with them more effectively.
3 Key Ways a New Baby Changes Your Relationship—And How You Can Negotiate These Changes Successfully
1. You both have new roles to develop and gain confidence in.
You’re new parents, which means you’re no longer operating on your own schedule—baby sets the pace! As you adjust to new baby’s daily patterns, you’re also learning about each other’s unique parenting styles and honing your skills. Naturally, this can lead to conflict and disagreement over things like:
- Co-sleeping versus crib sleeping, exclusively breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding or cry it out versus soothing your new baby to sleep
- Sharing child-rearing duties (e.g., who’s turn it is to wake up and feed the new baby)
- Sharing other household duties (one parent may need to do more or less than before)
Of course, parents don’t have to have the exact same approach to child-rearing. But it’s helpful if they share similar values and have parenting styles that are a complementary match. Here are some helpful tips for relaxing into your new roles as parents:
- Keep competition out of your partnership! Raising a child successfully does not involve a “me vs. you” or “my way or the highway” approach. See yourselves as a team working toward a common goal—a healthy and well-functioning family with shared values.
- Be open to and curious about your partner’s developing parental skills. Stay curious, ask questions, and respect your partner’s different approach.
- Set up a routine that works for your family as best you can. For example, one takes the morning shift while the other handles bath time, trading off night duty, or one cooks while the other does the dishes. Routines provide a sense of boundary and dependability in a time of major upheaval.
2. You’re going to be sleep-deprived—which amps up stress for anyone.
Sleep deprivation is nearly unavoidable with a new baby. And waking up in the middle of the night to care for a crying infant can leave you irritable, moody, or even depressed. This alone is enough to challenge new couples.
The reality is, moms and dads require emotional support during this major life change. Couples should do the best they can to manage the effects of sleep deprivation, PPD, and other health issues related to new parenthood. Helpful strategies include:
- Taking time for yourself, even if it’s a 15 minute trip to the grocery store by yourself
- Daily exercise
- Spending 15 minutes to connect 2-3 times per week
- Accepting help from friends and loved ones
- Going to counseling
3. You’ll need to learn how to manage conflict more effectively—maintaining a deep friendship is key.
Navigating the emotional, mental, and physical changes imposed by a new baby can make both partners feel on edge—a prime recipe for more conflict.
First, realize that conflict does not necessarily mean a relationship is turning sour. Conflict is a NORMAL part of new parenthood. Instead of trying to repress it or ignore it, practice strategies to hep you deal with conflict effectively, such as active listening.
In this period of a relationship, it’s essential to be aware of and avoid the so-called “Four Horsemen” of relationship failure, as identified by Dr. Gottman. These include criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. One of the best ways to remain vigilant and avoid these “horsemen” behaviors is to build a culture of appreciation, take responsibility and taking a break when things get heated. Do what teammates do: encourage each other and help each other out.
Growing your family involves change. It’s normal for these changes to be challenging. It’s also normal to seek help with negotiating it.
Are you new parents or preparing to be? If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area, contact April of Couples Thrive at 954-654-9609 to learn about our Bringing Baby Home workshops and new-parent counseling services.
Copyright © 2019 April Eldemire, LMFT all rights reserved.