When couples are expecting their first child, they spend an enormous amount of time shopping, reading, and learning. They often read books and take classes in order to learn more about pregnancy, labour, delivery, and parenting. Research suggests that it may be equally important for parents to spend time strengthening their relationship before the baby comes. Honing communication skills, enhancing closeness and intimacy, and addressing any repetitive, negative cycles of interaction before dealing the challenges of a newborn can prevent bigger relationship problems from developing later.

What do we know about the impact of children on marital satisfaction?

Most changes in life, good or bad, can be stressful and having a baby is no exception. Newborns can bring delight and joy, but they can also bring sleepless nights, hours of housework, financial pressures, and changes in both partners’ routines, schedules, and roles. Partners often have less time to themselves and less time together as a couple once they have children. No surprise, then, that two thirds of new parents report an increase in relationship conflict and more feelings of disappointment and hurt after having a baby.

Not only does having children decrease couples’ relationship satisfaction, it can also affect couples’ ability to parent effectively. Couples who are having a hard time getting along with one another often have difficulty cooperating and supporting one another as parents. Feelings of hurt, anger, disappointment, or feeling unappreciated or misunderstood can get in the way of working together as parents.

What can you do to protect and strengthen your relationship as you face the challenges of parenthood?

Get some help before the baby arrives.

Thankfully, couples can combat the negative impact of children on relationship satisfaction by seeking help before the problems start. By engaging in couples counselling (a.k.a. marriage counselling) prior to becoming parents, partners can make sure that any small cracks in their relationship—areas of conflict, disagreement, resentment, or friction—are addressed and “sealed” before the baby comes along. With a new, stronger relationship, couples are much better equipped to take on the challenges of parenting as a cohesive unit.

Get some help as soon as you notice problems developing.

If you didn’t get help before the baby’s arrival or if you didn’t’ think you needed help at that time, the best time to get help is as soon as you notice problems. The sooner you get help, the smaller the problems are likely to be and the more easily and quickly they are likely to be resolved.  What kind of problems should you be worried about?  Couples who experience repeating patterns of conflict  (i.e., fighting about the same things over and over again in the same ways with no resolution), nagging criticism, or emotional disconnection may benefit from emotionally focused therapy (EFT).

How can EFT for couples help expectant parents and parents of young children?

Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) is a form of couples therapy that can be particularly helpful for expectant couples and for couples with young children. Why? Because emotional disconnection and an increasing sense of distance or detachment between partners is one of the primary complaints made by new parents. EFT for couples is specifically designed to increase the emotional connection between partners by breaking negative cycles of interaction. EFT strengthens a couple’s emotional bond so that when challenges arise, they are able to face them as a team.

Why get help now?

The stress of having a baby can make small cracks in a relationship become big fissures. When couples address relationship difficulties early they prevent emotional disconnection, relationship dissatisfaction, and even relationship dissolution. This benefits both the couple and their future child!

Dr. Erika Penner is a registered psychologist in Vancouver, BC. To schedule a consultation for couples counselling or marriage therapy, click the “contact” button above. Alternatively, feel free to contact her office directly at dr.erikapenner@gmail.com or 778-680-6865.

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