Just because you have had a baby, doesn’t mean that the universe will give you a break and put a hold on all of the external stresses that happen as a part of everyday life! In fact, all of the same challenges are still there once you become parents, but once you have a baby, your conversations with one another can tend to become 100% baby focused – and all other issues take a back seat.
So, when stressful situations that happen outside the home are continually not acknowledged or discussed, they can cause a build-up of anxiety, anger and withdrawal amongst couples – even though the situations did not originally involve them AS a couple, the fallout of not talking about them certainly can BECOME a relationship issue!
Take Steven and Kate for example. Steven has a normal medium-pressure sales job and Kate works as a teacher. ‘Before Baby’ arrived, they would come home from a hard day at work, Kate would pour them each a glass of wine, and they would chat about their respective days while they both cooked dinner. They each took turns in talking about their day, what happened and how they felt about it. It was a valuable ritual that gave them both the opportunity to download the stressors of the day and share how they felt about what had happened to them.
Now let’s skip to ‘After Baby’. Steven comes home from his usually stressful day. Kate is in a bit of a fluster as many new mums are at the end of the day. There is laundry all over the lounge floor, the bed isn’t made and there are dishes in the sink. Kate is breast feeding, so having a wine is out of the question, and so she forgets to offer one to Steven. Dinner hasn’t received a second thought, and because Kate has dealt with a colicky baby all day, the second Steven walks in the door, she thrusts the baby into his arms and mumbles something about needing a break. Steven hasn’t had time to put down his car keys or briefcase, and he is still replaying the fight he just had with his boss as he was walking out the door, not to mention the bumper to bumper traffic all the way home.
They even forgot to kiss each other hello! Ouch!!!
When they do finally get to talk, it is usually about the most pressing topic at hand – the new baby.
And so, both Steven and Kate lock away their external stressors of the day without getting a chance to talk to each other about what has happened to them, and this situation builds and builds every day – day after day. Until something cracks. And that crack usually appears right down the middle of their relationship.
After researching thousands of couples, John Gottman discovered that in order to cope with external stressors and stay connected with each other as a couple, ESPECIALLY in the challenging transition to parenthood, it is not only important – but imperative – for couples to have a daily “stress reducing conversation”. This simple ritual helps to manage the dramas of the day, reduces the potential for depression and alienation and most importantly – provides an opportunity to support one another as a couple.
Learning how to incorporate this ritual into your relationship is a key focus in all of the Gottman Programs, but here is a quick rundown that you can start with TODAY to help change the direction of your relationship for the better. Remember to take turns in being the listener and the speaker. Each person talks for around 10 minutes. The only rule – you are NOT allowed to talk about your relationship!
1. Show genuine interest in what your partner is saying
Stop what you’re doing to listen and pay attention. Do not be distracted with other things. Put your phone away, turn off the T.V. and let the baby sit quietly in the rocker.
2. Let them know you are on their side
Take your partner’s side, even if you don’t agree. In this particular moment, your relationship is worth more than expressing your difference of opinion.
Example: “That sounds upsetting! I would be just as mad. I can understand why you feel that way.”
3. Offer your support
When it comes to your partner versus the world, you should always take the side of your spouse. Never side with “the enemy.”
Example: “I wish I could be there to protect you from your manager’s endless demands.”
4. Show similarities
Expressing how you can relate to their circumstance says that you’re both speaking the same language, you’re on the same page, and you’re fighting for the same team.
5. Show affection
Hold your partner’s hand, rub their shoulders, or offer a comforting hug as they talk about their day.
6. Help your partner to process
Ask them if they want your help in finding a solution to the problem. Don’t forget that your only job is to offer support, not to problem solve.
7. Listen first before suggesting solutions
Don’t give unsolicited advice. Instead, ask if they are interested in hearing your suggestions.
Example: “Can I help you solve this?” “Do you want my advice here?”
Practicing this daily relationship ritual will help keep you connected as a couple and not just functioning as new parents. Always remember that when you and your partner are strong – your family will be strong.
The best gift you can give your baby is a strong relationship between the 2 of you!
To find out more about how to better manage your relationship take a look at our Bringing Baby Home online program (link to the webpage for it) or if you prefer company consider joining us at one of our Art and Science of Love Workshops in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Melbourne (link to main ASL page).
For those who are training in Gottman marital therapy with us don’t forget you can get a substantial therapist discount to attend the couples workshop with your partner. Contact Kylie@relationshipinstitute.com.au for more information.
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