Action steps for new parents to ease relationship crises.
Time to take a deeper look into the dynamics between a couple when a baby becomes a central figure in their lives. You might have come across information on this topic before, but if you're reading this article, chances are you're seeking assistance, support, or sensing the impending changes. This article aims to provide insights into what might be happening in your relationship, offering valuable support as you navigate through this transformative period.
I can vividly recall myself, and I've heard similar stories from friends, acquaintances, and clients – the significant impact the birth of a child has on individuals and their relationships. While this event is often eagerly anticipated with thorough preparation by the couple, it frequently leads to statements like: "It feels like our relationship is falling apart," "Maybe we're not meant for each other," "We were great at first, but everything went wrong," "I don't know my partner anymore," "We argue all the time," or "The other behaves like a child," among others. The confusion and misunderstandings are abundant, leaving both partners bewildered and grappling with the question of what's happening. To shed light on the challenges couples commonly face – something I wish I had known earlier to avoid unnecessary stress, anxiety, and confusion – I'll outline these difficulties step by step. It would be beneficial if both of you could read and discuss this information together, perhaps arriving at shared solutions or, at the very least, a plan for moving forward. Seek resolutions through thoughtful conversation.
I've observed that from the moment a child is born until they reach about three years old, one or both partners often entertain thoughts of ending the relationship or pursuing a divorce. The weight of these emotions—despair, disappointment, panic, overwhelming inner tension, powerlessness, helplessness, resentment, rage, jealousy, loneliness, confusion, feelings of rejection and abandonment, and the fear of losing one another—can be difficult to bear. These sentiments might be concealed beneath a veneer of anger and resentment, especially if you're not accustomed to discussing these emotions and feelings with each other. This phase feels lengthy, leaving you wondering, "What is happening to us? Will it ever end?" I'm intimately familiar with the challenges—arguments, accusations, misunderstandings, a partner's perceived lack of attention, insufficient sleep, stress over the new parent role, and overall confusion—because my husband and I navigated through this during our first major relationship crisis. Surprisingly, many couples decide to part ways soon after the birth of a child, even when they still love each other...
Crises are a normal part of life. They are necessary for growth. If there were no crises, none of us would want to mobilize and change something in life. We all experience them several times, also individually. For example, the crisis of the thirties is a time when a person reevaluates his priorities and chooses either to change his profession, to start a family, to focus on a healthy lifestyle, or to change his life in some other way. Before the change has taken place, this process is accompanied by frightening feelings and uncertainty. Because being in a situation where you no longer understand who you are; what do you want; where to go - it's hard! However, all this is necessary so that something new can be born. Life changes, so I as a person could evolve! The same is true of couple and family relationships. Every family consisting of at least two partners has to experience several crises during their life together. And all of them are necessary to create conditions for development. Every family is different, but we all experience crises mostly the same - only their depth and duration, as well as the ability to overcome them, differ. It all depends on the desire of both partners to solve the crisis, to take responsibility for their own contribution to the relationship, available resources, the ability to communicate and the awareness of both.
There is only one difference between happy and unhappy couples: happy couples actively resolve their problems, while unhappy ones either deny issues or hope for them to resolve themselves, which never happens!
When facing a crisis, there are two options: either get stuck or emerge from it smarter and more experienced. Each one of us has a choice. The family encounters its initial significant crisis with the arrival of a baby. All aspects of the system undergo change; restructuring occurs across various domains, introducing new duties, traditions, values, and responsibilities. This crisis tends to recur with each subsequent child, maybe in a less severe form than the first time. To effectively navigate through the crisis, you and your partner need to accomplish several tasks:
-Both you and your partner need to embrace the new roles of mother and father, which may not always come naturally. Adjusting to these roles often takes time and can be challenging. Your own experiences with your parents during infancy play a significant role. The more your parents recognized your needs, responded to crying, and consciously established an emotional connection, the easier it may be for you as a new parent to accept your role. I discussed this in the previous month's topic. It's worth noting that postpartum depression can affect both women and men, indicating challenges in accepting the parental role.
-Your responsibility is to establish attachment with the child (up to the age of 3) - we will delve into this topic next month. This involves the ability to perceive the child's needs and respond to their cries. These actions create a sense of security for the child and teach them to trust the world, as their world revolves around both of you (or one of the parents) - laying the foundation for their entire future life.
-Another crucial responsibility falls on the father. Not everyone comprehends this, and not everyone is prepared to fulfill such a role, but it holds significant importance: offering emotional and physical support to the partner until the child is about a year/one and a half years old and serving as the emotional anchor for the new mother's tensions and emotions throughout the day. This is essential to allow her to spend this intimate time with the baby as peacefully and successfully as possible, establishing a secure attachment. Certainly, all of this necessitates a man's emotional maturity, the capability to navigate not only his partner's emotions but also his own. Seeking support externally is also valuable – for instance, from friends who can lend a listening ear and offer assistance, or consulting with a support specialist regularly to discuss everything transpiring. Find the strength to be a vital support figure for a mother with a baby during the postpartum period.
-A crucial task is to revitalize the spousal relationship, taking into account the substantial changes. Many couples fail in this aspect, assuming that the relationship has remained unchanged and subsequently feeling disillusioned over time. As I previously mentioned – everything has altered! A wife is no longer solely a wife and a woman; suddenly, she has also become a mother (if it is the first child), grappling with new responsibilities, confronting numerous unfamiliar situations, and possibly experiencing postpartum depression or struggling to cope on her own. Simultaneously, the partner encounters various novel situations and emotions that can be overwhelming, as discussed earlier. If both of you navigate this situation in isolation without seeking support from each other and external sources, if you avoid discussing your experiences, sooner or later, you may find yourselves with a significant rift between you. Couples often come to me with an overflowing reservoir of emotions and grievances against each other, unaware that they are undergoing a relationship crisis and are genuinely lacking both solitude and emotional closeness. Intimacy is either compromised during this period or never truly existed.
When discussing a crisis and its challenges and tasks, it's crucial to recognize that the primary tool for successful navigation is COMMUNICATION! Yes – talking! Engaging in constructive, non-offensive conversations is the key. It helps in resolving not only crisis situations but any difficulties that may arise between the couple. The ability to communicate helps you understand each other better, acquaint yourselves with your new roles as parents, brings you closer, assists in resolving disagreements, reaching agreements, and literally saves couples from divorce. The crisis necessitates extensive and prolonged communication – expressing everything in your heart, in your mind, and everything experienced. Share, inquire, listen, respond, accept, and refrain from criticism. Engage in dialogue until both of you comprehend how to move forward. It often involves long nights, shedding many tears, experiencing pain, and mourning the old life that will never return. I understand that many parents might feel hesitant to vocalize this, but they yearn for the time when they were alone without numerous responsibilities. Although the birth of a child is cherished, the emotions affecting each parent can be daunting. However, it's all understandable! It's natural to desire the past life, experience unpleasant emotions, feel unprepared in the new role, make mistakes, and not know everything.
Dear parents, no one said that family life is easy. However, such satisfaction and a strong sense of belonging cannot be experienced anywhere else. Remember, a happy marital relationship is the basis of a happy family relationship - happy for you and your children.
Gestalt Therapist / Founder of the Psychology Center AUGT