“We really haven’t talked about us since she was born.” Dad said this as he looked at Mom. The 1 month old baby girl had just settled for a nap in his lap. Tears were wellingup in both of their eyes. They smiled at each other. I smiled watching them. It was quiet
for a moment as they soaked each other in.
As we prepare for baby—all the classes, all the baby gear, the cute outfits, the
nursery,—we don’t often prepare our relationship with our partner.
Then the baby comes and the home is filled with exhaustion, joy, love, work, chores, and the hamster wheel of a newborn’s schedule. Here this couple, who have been with each other non-stop for the past month, and even months before that due to the pandemic, had never sat with each other for the sole reason to talk about their marriage and their adjustment to parenthood. Counseling isn’t just for the hard moments. It’s also about the life moments. It’s for the adjusting, repositioning, figuring things out, for truly hearing and understanding, not just coasting along. It’s also there for the difficulties, perhaps to teach a new way to hear and understand each other, learn a new way to talk, even to argue, or just to allow a quiet space to process what’s happening. It’s also for the space to give appreciation, gratitude, and love. Too often relationships go on autopilot during the stressful times, and we saw that even more during the pandemic when it felt like we were all treading water. It’s during these times that it’s even more important to carve out space for connecting, to truly hear the other person, and share what’s been going on for you, the good along with the difficult. Of course you can and should practice this without the formal space of therapy. Maybe it’s over morning coffee, or during afternoon nap, or while cleaning the kitchen up (together!!) after bedtime. To talk, to listen, to hear. I tell couples all the time that the goal of communication is rarely to agree with each other; instead it is to understand each other. I recently challenged a couple to discuss a disagreement they have for the sole purpose of being able to explain the other person’s feelings and viewpoint. No problem-solving, no convincing, just hearing and understanding. Could you do that with your partner about something contentious in your relationship?
The best thing for a child is to have love from his or her family; to witness healthy communication, respect, boundary-setting, affection, and helpfulness.
Working on your relationship with your partner is worth all the time, energy, and resources you can give because it is the foundation for the family. I recommend starting this conversation by talking about shared goals for your relationship and family.
It’s likely to look about the same. Then you can move to how you are doing. What’s going well? What needs more attention? And, always, show gratitude: This is what you’ve done recently that I appreciated. That’s what this couple did. They talked about how wonderful it was to see the other rise to the challenge of parenthood. They were both impressed by each other and how strong they were. What a wonderful place to start when welcoming a new
member of the family.
I offer a couple's counseling through Be Her Village that includes three 1-hour long sessions. I use a secure video Telehealth service from my Electronic Health Record, and all paperwork is through a secure client portal.Ideally I meet with the couple once before the baby arrives in order to discuss birth preparations, ways the partner can support the birthing parent during labor, and plans to feed the baby and how the partner can support this especially if the mother plans to breastfeed. We also cover what to expect from baby blues and when to reach out for additional support, and how to care for yourself during the first few weeks postpartum. After the baby comes, the next session is scheduled for about 1 month postpartum. Here we process the birth experience and their adjustment to roles of parenthood. I also check in for signs of possible postpartum depression or anxiety, and provide any resources. I teach the couple communication techniques to practice each week to improve understanding and foster an open and supportive relationship. The last session is to follow-up on their communication and provide feedback, check in on the resources and supports they are using, and discuss rekindling intimacy in their relationship and creating space and time for their relationship in their new schedules and roles. We would also review the return to work, either for just the partner or also for the mother, and how to communicate about balancing workloads if and when this happens.
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