Wow, time flies! It's already week three of my five-week blog series! If your family has expanded to include at least one little one, you can probably relate to this post. Raising children and parenting with your partner is a significant change for your relationship and potentially an area where conflict emerges.
Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman's research about couples who have children has shown that two thirds of parents become unhappy in their relationship with each other after having children*. This statistic is staggering! Perhaps unhappiness occurs because many couples believe not much will change after they have a baby and are mostly unprepared when change happens. Maybe they are just exhausted and much of their focus and energy has shifted to their new responsibilities so they spend less time on each other. Whatever the reason, parenting is tough and not without its challenges. Not only are you and your partner raising a child together (which is stressful in itself), but you are also putting strain on your relationship in doing so. Below are a few tips to alleviate some of the couples' stress that comes with parenting:
Talk with your partner about your expectations for raising your children and make sure to listen to his/her thoughts as well. You will need to be flexible and accept influence from the other person so that you can begin fostering a healthier relationship between you both. The more you can see your partner's point of view and agree to compromise, the happier you both will be.
Divide and conquer! If you and your partner can share household and childcare responsibilities more equally, perhaps you can also share an appreciation for all the work that goes into taking care of children. Recognizing this helps grow empathy for each other as well as cultivates feelings of gratitude. Make sure to acknowledge these feelings and say "thank you" on a regular basis so your partner's efforts do not go unnoticed.
Take time for yourself and time together away from the kids. Go on date nights. Start taking up a hobby. Get together with friends. Whatever you do, do not lose your identity as an individual and as part of a couple. Prioritizing this is integral in maintaining your health and well-being. Letting it go more often than not leads to dissatisfaction, increased sickness, and stress.
There is nothing more important in your growing family than the relationship you and your partner have. Do not forget that there is a "trickle down" effect when it comes to family functioning - if there are problems in the top tier (your relationship), children will act upon what they observe and feel and let you know it! This could begin a cycle of dysfunction in your family that is difficult to repair if left unattended.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing conflict surrounding parenting and how it affects your relationship. You may find it helpful to find support through parenting groups or meetups, churches, family therapists, or other trusted sources. The trick is to notice and address the red flags and warning signs before they escalate into full-blown conflict.
Next week's topic: "working 9 to 5"
* Source information from And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives (2007)