By Julia Kantor, LMFT
Even the strongest relationships are strained during the transition to parenthood. Lack of sleep, never-ending housework and financial stress are just a few of the factors involved. Not surprisingly, almost 70 percent of new parents experience conflict and hurt feelings. During the pandemic, many people are working from home without childcare support which can significantly magnify previous differences and challenges.
Some common factors impacting couples post-baby:
-sleep deprivation (causes depression!)
-hormonal changes related to nursing
-decrease in libido
-increased financial burdens (especially during the pandemic!)
-challenges with division of labor/new responsibilities to juggle
-differences in parenting and discipline styles and philosophies
-partners feeling left out
-women often feeling emotionally spent and "touched out”
The Gottmans have been researching thousands of couples for over 40 years! They developed practical tools to help couples stay connected. Here are some:
1. Daily 20-minute “de-stressing” conversation: Each partner takes turns sharing about their day for 10 minutes while the other person just listens, acknowledges and reflects (does not try to solve or give advice).
2. Daily Words of Appreciation: Non-sexual affection and expressing daily words of appreciation made a big difference in increasing warmth and connection. Load up the relationship with good will. Strive for a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. This is a simple but sustained effort to look for and notice (out loud) the many positive qualities about your partner and your relationship. Prioritize gratitude and make a habit of saying thank you.
3. Practice “Softened Start-Up,” also called “Complaining Without Blaming: That refers to how we bring up an issue with our partner. The Gottmans discovered that the way a conflict goes is determined by how it starts 96% of the time!
- Say what you feel with an “I” statement.
- Describe the problem neutrally, no blame
- Say what you need concretely
- Avoid destructive communication: No Criticism, global attacks on personality, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling
- Know When and how to take a break: Recognize that you need to take a break and come back to the conversation later. Do it in such a way that isn't reactive. Perhaps have a signal that you will use, e.g. the time-out signal of football referees. A break should last at least 30 minutes but not more than a day. Remember what happens in the brain when we’re flooded. The heart rate goes up to 100 beats per minute and we “flip our lid” and don’t have access to our pre-frontal cortex. That means we lose our capacity for logic, reason, empathy and perspective. We go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Spend the break cooling down by breathing, meditating and focusing on self-soothing statements.
- Repair: Nobody’s perfect. We will mess up, no matter how good our intentions. We will find ourselves blaming and criticizing our partners at times. The key is repair. Examples of repair statements: “Can we have that talk again?” “I realized what my part of the problem is.” When we own our part, our partner is able to let their guard down and own their part. Make a plan about what each person can do differently next time to improve the next discussion.
Julia Kantor is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 21 years of experience working with individuals and couples. She specializes in coaching couples in the research-based tools developed by the Gottman Institute. She is now offering these one-on-one Virtual Relationship Consultations at The Pump Station. She also leads Parents and Me classes here as well and she is a Bringing Baby Home educator.