Changes to our relationship are often the most un-anticipated change of becoming new parents. If you are pregnant right now, you might be thinking that your relationship won’t fall into these common traps and this article is not for you. Still, I encourage you to continue reading.
Parents and professional therapists know that the first year after having a baby is hard. And, we are beginning to understand how it can be really hard on our relationships. The modern and egalitarian partnerships that we created prior to becoming parents don’t always stick after the baby is born. What was once a well-developed system for getting dinner, chores, and life worked out — all goes out the window with a new baby and both partners can feel under-valued, over-worked, and resentful of each other.
There is hope — by spending some time considering how you might actually respond to stresses of new parenthood, you can anticipate and troubleshoot in advance.
Questions for you and your partner before your baby is born:
If you already have kids, it’s not too late!
Quick note before you begin: We all respond to stress differently, and it’s important to learn about how you and your partner manage stressful situations so that you can each help to meet your and your partner’s needs. All of these questions are designed to identify common reactions and patterns — not to establish blame or right or wrong. For each question list emotional reactions and behaviors that you feel.
- How do you respond to stressful situations? Do you tend to be irritable or do you tend to be a problem solver? Do you tend to blame others? Do prefer to handle it alone?
- How do you handle change and disruptions to your normal routine?
- How do you feel when you don’t know what to do and are unsure and worried?
- Think back to a time when you weren’t getting sleep, how do you normally handle sleep deprivation?
- How do you handle being in pain? Are you needy, cranky, irritable, or do you want to be left alone?
- Some of us are homebodies and can stay home very easily, others struggle with not being out and about. How do you handle being cooped up in the house?
Now that you’ve identified how you normally respond to stressful situations, then there’s time to consider how you would like your partner to respond to you and how you might want to respond to them.
The next step is to talk about your answers to these questions with your partner:
- Share how you respond when you’re tired and overwhelmed, and then talk about what is most helpful to you and what is not.
- Consider the last time you were sick, hurt, upset, worried, overwhelmed — what did you need from your partner?
- Try to be as specific as possible and focus on what you already know works well for you.
This exercise is not about figuring out who is going to do what — it’s about creating the time to share your most common or typical emotional reactions to daily stresses and outlining what is helpful for you in the moment.
You — or your partner — may want physical reassurance like a hug when things get tough. Or, you might like to talk things out and appreciate help in making a plan. Other parents may feel most supported when partners step in, take control and get things checked off the list.
The important part of this exercise is not to try to anticipate how you will feel after having your baby — because that’s impossible. But instead, focus on what you already know, what works best to tackle everyday stresses and challenges. Together you can help each other with the changes that having a baby brings.
About the Author
Mia Edidin is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. Mia facilitates Adjusting to Parenting, a parent drop in group in Greenlake, where we laugh and cry about all the amazing and terrifying things about parenthood together. She has a private practice in Wallingford, and is the Program Manager at Postpartum Support International of WA. Mia’s daughter is 15 and thinks Mia is best mom ever!