When Elliott was born 20 months ago, it was a momentous celebration. Our home was wall to wall with flowers, cards and gifts. Mark and I were on cloud nine, floating in the all the love that was surrounding us.
It was a surreal time and we experienced joy that was on another dimension.
Amongst all the ecstasy there was also big conflict between Mark and I. Although we knew we were experiencing something magical together, it was still a testing time for us as a couple.
It started the moment we came home from the hospital. In what came as a surprise to me, Mark and I had different ways that we wanted to care for Elliott. The smallest things such as the temperature of his bath water, how to wrap him and how to hold him caused us to bicker often.
Then there were the mother-in-law issues. The problem was that I often wanted my mother to be at our place to help me – and Mark didn’t. Then there was the co-sleeping situation which lead to intimacy issues. Oh and I can’t forget my short fuse (brought on by lack of sleep).
Mix all this in with a bit of post-natal depression and well… it was hard.
Our relationship was a fairly new one, but long term couples aren’t necessarily baby proof either. After 15 years of marriage, Intuitive Marketing Coach’s Nicole Rowan Holt admits to doing a lot of “angry dancing” with her husband, after the birth of her first child at age 36.
“Any cracks that might have been under the radar, become completely exposed.”
After such a long time together, the changing dynamics of their relationship had a significant impact on Nicole’s husband.
“My husband was used to being number one. When our son came along, he of course became the priority. I felt my husband still expected me to take care of him in the same way, and this filled me with rage.”
At the same time Nicole’s husband had to weather the personal changes Nicole underwent as she redefined herself.
“Whereas before I wasn’t able to say no, having a child gave me my voice and permission to do just that. Near enough was no longer good enough. Friendships changed. I found myself staring into my wardrobe one day saying “Who the fuck am I?”, Nicole remembered.
Both my relationship and Nicole’s have survived. Mark and I got through our issues, but it did take about 16 months after Elliott was born to get back into our groove. Nicole said she and her husband sought professional help via psychotherapy, and also believes that “cleaning out their chakras and moving past life blocks”, was instrumental in moving past their issues.
Calming the angry dance
Calming Nicole and I are by no means alone in our experience. In their book When Partners Become Parents, researchers Philip and Caroline Cowan reveal that 92 per cent of couples report increased conflict after baby as they struggle to adapt to the sudden and seismic change in circumstances.
So what’s the solution?
Lead expert on the ABC TV show Making Couple’s Happy, and prominent relationship counsellor and sex therapist, Desiree Spierings, believes there is a better way.
Formula to Relationship Success = Friendship + Needs Being Met (of both partners)
“During this transition period it’s important to treat each other as friends and not enemies, and to try to pay attention to each other’s needs.
But thinking about your partner’s needs with a newborn in the house often isn’t that easy with a newborn. When the choice comes down to attending to crying baby versus attending to a frustrated partner, well it’s a simple one. Less attention gets spent on your partner.
Circumstances may lead you to taking your frustration out on your partner and before you know it, you are in a blame-defending dynamic. The result is that instead of parenting with each other, you end up parenting against each other.”
Saving the relationship
Desiree’s top tips
Turn towards each other not against each other when times are stressful.
This topic is continued in my upcoming book “Baby to Boardroom” where Desiree discusses positive intimacy during pregnancy and for new parents. If you’d like to stay in the loop on my book’s progress please kindly sign up to my monthly email.
Feature image courtesy of Courtney Van Alice Photography
How has having children affected your relationship?