You Never Knew You Could Be So Vulnerable
The adjustment that happens when couples transform into parents can be joyous, exciting, and stressful all at once. Neither parent has any clue as to how much work this is going to be no matter how much they try to prepare. Loving this newest little member of your family brings about many emotional and psychological changes. Life goals, values, and priorities shift for new parents. Couples have a new focus of what it means to be a team. And through all of the crazy making, it’s important to remember that with this adjustment comes normal responses to stressors. Responses from each new parent such as:
- Increased stress
- Increased couple conflict
- Feeling more irritable (more frequently)
- More fighting, miscommunication, and hurt feelings
This barrage of new emotional experiences, both positive and negative, can overwhelm any relationship and drive new parents apart from one another. Expectant and new parents learn so much in preparing for this time, and once they bring their baby home, they need to know what to expect. It’s crucial for new parents to learn about what changes will take place, and how to best lay the foundation for a strong relationship which will grow a strong and healthy family for this little one, as well as any siblings that might come along.
John Gottman and his team of researchers have been studying more than 3000 couples since the 1970’s, some of whom have been followed for 12 years or longer. The team was able to collect data on couples who were becoming parents, and if you’re about to become a new parent, or have just recenty given birth, you are going to want to read on.
What Does the Research Say About the Transition to Parenthood?
Over 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year. While this is an exciting time, research shows that within three years after a couple brings baby home, approximately two-thirds of these new families will experience a significant drop in relationship quality and will have a dramatic increase in conflict and hostility. Many mothers experience baby blues and other postpartum mood disorders. This can lead to a severely compromised co-parenting team and a decreased quality in the couple’s relationship.
Half of all relationships break up in the first seven years. Why? When Gottman and his team studied young couples from the newlywed period through the transition to parenthood they discovered that most of these breakups were because couples became parents. The Gottman group’s research showed four common trends among couples when they become parents:
- There is a Profound Philosophical Shift – Identities change, roles may become more traditional, views on work, finances, and faith change.
- Relationships Change – Conflict increases in the first year after baby arrives, sex and intimacy decline dramatically, communication between partners decreases or becomes more stressful.
- Some Fathers Withdraw – This adjustment can lead to withdrawal from mom, from family responsibilities, and from baby; Some dads feel like they need to spend more time working, leading to feeling resentful and some moms to feel like they are parenting alone.
- There are Physical and Psychological Changes – Sleep deprivation and exhaustion can make both parents depressed; Parents report increase in stress; Sexual desire may decline dramatically and stay low throughout the first year; Changes in roles, values, and identity can cause a psychological adjustment which for some leads to emotional withdrawal – for others, an increased neediness.
The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Baby Is a Strong Relationship Between You and Your Partner
Like most couples who are expecting a baby, you want to be good parents and provide the best for your children. However, when such a strong focus is placed on your baby, it can be easy to forget about the importance of the relationship between you and your partner. The Bringing Baby Home Workshops, were created by the Gottman Institute to help these very couples who are about to become, or who have just recently become new parents. These new parents who master the skills and apply the knowledge taught in these workshops are more likely to have a good, satisfying relationship that lasts, which is the foundation for their children’s positive emotional and social development as they grow.
These workshops are offered throughout the U.S. and other countries as well. If you happen to live in the D.C. Metro Region, and are interested in upcoming workshops check out the D.C. Area workshop listings here. For a complete list of upcoming workshops throughout the U.S. and beyond, visit the workshop listings here.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.