Words like ‘change’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘crazy’, have been thrown around daily in our lives over the past 7 months. COVID, shut-down, quarantine, isolation have become conditions we have had to learn to live with. They have all become associated with negative feelings, fear, hopelessness, and most of us feel like we are in a constant state of survival. This is a very hard way to live and yet we are managing it. The conditions that have led to this state of affairs have changed irrevocably how we will live in the future - greater awareness on hygiene, social distancing, management of viral illness both at a macro and micro level. On top of that, we are also aware that trying to go back to our old ways leads to community relapse and results in a re-emergence of infections, loss and distress.
These same conditions can be found when we take a look at relationships that begin to struggle.
In the first session of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home Program, couples are asked the somewhat mandatory 'transition to parenthood' questions.
1. What words would you use to describe how you see the transition to parenthood?
2. What physical changes do you feel you will experience?
3. What psychological changes do you feel you will experience?
For many couples, this is the first time they will get to think about how they might answer these questions. New parents have a generalised notion about some of the changes that may occur, but they almost always involve the baby or personal changes. Very rarely do couples think about the impact of the transition to parenthood on THEM and their partnership.
Through the 45 years of continuous Gottman research, we have learned a lot about conflict and conflict management. It turns out that conflict management is not just about what and how we communicate with our partners using gentle start-ups, making repairs and accepting influence but also about what our body and brain are doing during conflict. John Gottman noticed in his research that when couples conflict escalated it was not only their words, tone, and volume that escalated it was also their heart rates and the amount of stress hormones being secreted. We call this Flooding or Diffuse Physiological Arousal. The research findings were compelling.
Marathon therapy is an intensive form of couples therapy. It can come in many forms depending on the individual therapist’s preferences and approaches. Generally speaking though marathon couples therapy is not that different from standard weekly or fortnightly couples therapy, it just all gets done in a couple of days and creates a more emotionally intense process for the couple. So how do we do it?
At Relationship Institute Australasia we have been offering marathon therapy for the last 6 years and have found a process that seems to work well for both us and for our couples. Like standard couples therapy there are still 3 phases that we take each couple through.
The ‘Baby Blues’ is the common term used to describe a new parent’s feeling of depression that can usually develop between the birth of a baby and 3 months of age. It can affect 8 in every 10 new mums and studies have shown that 1 dad in 10 can also suffer from postnatal depression.
Whilst it is generally a temporary condition, the good news is that the Baby Blues is nothing to be afraid of and is completely treatable with awareness and focus.
Being prepared for what to expect will make all the difference in getting through this time and supporting your partner to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Here is your simple list to follow with some tried and true advice for any new parent.
So here we are at the Easter / ANZAC public holidays, and like many people I speak to, it is ‘How did we get here so quickly’?
With over three months passing since Christmas and the first term of school is done, I look back over this period and remonstrate the amount of work, tasks, logistics, driving, sport events, school functions, time on planes, taxis and hotel rooms I have spent and wonder … how did we fit it all in?
Indeed, life is busy, so how do we continue at this pace and stay connected in our relationships. John Gottman quotes a study of professional couples where both are working full time, and it is found that during their week there is less than 30 minutes of conversation between the 2 of them and the majority of this conversation is on logistics e.g. who is dropping the kids off to their extracurricular activities, what to buy for dinner and so on.
This cannot be OK. I appreciate we are all busy. Nevertheless we need to make, indeed create, opportunities in our relationship to connect, to generate fondness and friendship, to update each other on how we are traveling through time and space individually and together.
So how we can we do this?
The following are three suggestions on how this can be achieved. They don’t necessarily cost money, but they do include time and the both of you.
Imagine Sally and Ron, they have been together for several years, they are walking through their local park when Sally says, “Wow, look at that beautiful flower!” Ron is now confronted with a sliding door moment. If he takes door 1 he will turn towards Sally by saying something like, “Yes, it’s very beautiful. You really love flowers don’t you.” Or he could make a more neutral response by saying simply acknowledging her with a “Mmmm.” This is called turning towards a bid for connection.
If he takes door 2 he will completely ignore Sally’s comment and just keep walking. This is called turning away from a bid for connection. Or if he takes door 3 he might say something like, “For goodness sake, how often do we have to admire a pretty flower. They’re flowers, they’re pretty, I got it!” This is called a turning against a bid for connection.
Many couples ask, what changes in your life after you have a baby?
The better question to ask is … what DOESN’T change!
These transformations, modifications and reformations can be too many to list here today – but we will focus on 4 facts that are backed by research – that do affect many couples once they bring a new baby home.
1. Did you know that 67% of all couples become unhappy during the first 3 years of their baby’s life? Only 33% remain content!
The transition to parenthood can be a complex maze that many couples simply do not know that they need to prepare for. The new parenting books often fail to acknowledge the challenges that a couple will face when they bring a new baby home that often can affect the very core of their relationship.
The last few decades of human research have clearly demonstrated to us how inescapably relational and interconnected people are, however, most therapists still primarily work with individuals, most of whom present with serious, persistent problems in their intimate relationships.
Part of the reason is that many clients themselves avoid couples therapy. Sometimes they resist because they aren’t sure if they want to stay in the relationship, they are ambivalent and perhaps hope to get some clarity from seeing a therapist individually.
Sometimes they fear the unpleasant things their partner might say about them or they are scared about how volatile things might get if they raise issues they are unhappy about with their partner present. Sometimes the thought of really talking about what’s not working in their relationship feels too hard and there is not enough safety or trust in their relationship for them to allow themselves to become vulnerable about their hurts in front of their partner.
The holiday season can be a wonderful opportunity to take time out from the stressors of daily life, the pressures of work, the never-ending list of tasks and duties and to connect with your partner, children, family and friends. The holiday season is much anticipated and highly valued by many. It is the end of one year and beginning of another. A time for reflection on the past, a time for planning for the future and importantly a time to be present with the important people in your world. The holiday season can often be rich with rituals that bring people together, sharing experiences, traditions and connections.
It is also true that the holiday season can be a very difficult time where relationships can become strained and disconnected, where expectations and ideals are not discussed or shared, where miscommunication and tension can arise.
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