Jean Fitzpatrick believes an ounce of prevention can keep your family intact.
Baby’s on the way and you’ve had it up to here with advice. “Enjoy yourself now — it’s all over when the baby comes!” “Get ready to give up sleep for eighteen years.” “Think having a baby is tough? Just wait till she asks for the car keys!”
Ugh. So why would you want more advice?
Getting constructive help before the birth can help you navigate a life stage that — while undeniably one of life’s greatest joys – is practically a catastrophe for a marriage.
In my Manhattan couples therapy practice I see so many well-meaning, loving couples try their best to cope with the demands of baby, work and home.They’re exhausted. They wonder how they lost track of each other. They’re heartbroken by the wall of resentment that looms between them. “I don’t know you anymore,” one woman in my office told her husband recently.
According to the Gottman Institute, 30 percent of fathers and 50 to 80 percent of moms have postpartum depression symptoms and about two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child. Not surprising, since there’s more conflict and less time for adult conversation and sex, not to mention sleep. Nearly 70 percent of new parents experience conflict, disappointment and hurt feelings, according to the institute’s research. (Another study says 90 percent report less marital satisfaction after the birth of a first child.)
That’s why I started doing pre-baby counseling sessions for couples a few years ago and am eager to talk about it to anybody who will listen. I’ve found that expectant couples recognize the need to negotiate productively. They learn how to cook up short-order spontaneity. When things get really stressful, they know they have a breadcrumb trail back to each other.
Pre-baby counseling — a relatively new and growing field — is a chance to learn how to keep your partner relationship afloat. It’s coaching for today’s partnership marriage — the kind your parents probably didn’t have and can’t offer much useful advice about. Some people call it “babyproofing” your marriage, but I like to think of it as strengthening the foundation that helps you and your partner thrive — great for you and for baby, too.
In pre-baby counseling you learn the skills of intimate communication. You get tools to
manage conflict effectively,
shoulder all the work as a team,
define and redefine your roles,
manage your time, and
develop a vocabulary (verbal and nonverbal) to help you tune into each other — the building blocks of a fulfilling relationship.
Couples who took a pre-baby counseling program studied by the Gottman Institute reported high stable relationship quality after their baby was born, while those who didn’t showed a decline. Likewise, in those who did the training, conflict was less hostile.
There’s great news for your bond with baby, too. When parents’ relationship is harmonious, children thrive. Both parents — but dads especially — who took one popular pre-baby counseling program showed greater sensitivity to the baby’s signals, and their one-year-olds had fewer language delays and more positive reactions to their fathers’ soothing.
Dads reported they were more involved in parenting and felt more satisfied and appreciated for their contributions as parents. And researchers found that these fathers and babies connected better.
Keeping your marriage alive and well takes more effort and negotiation than ever after baby comes. Why flounder or fall into quiet desperation when you can get the tools you need?
To find pre-baby counseling in a major city near you, just use your favorite search engine.
Photo: Eric Fleming/Flickr
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