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We are in the same boat: Key strategies for taking care of your relationship in the transition to parenthood
By: Nikki Lively, certified Emotionally Focused couples Therapist (EFT)
The fact that we are all connected is always true but has never seemed clearer and more obvious than right now as we deal with the first pandemic of our lifetimes! The message surrounding Covid-19 that “We are all in this together” is both a soothing reminder that we aren’t alone and a wake-up call that we need each other to get through difficult times. One of the most difficult things in life are major transitions. So needless to say, we need our people to get through the transition to parenthood! This is also a time when our relationships can be stressed, and new parent partners can become disconnected. How can new parents really take care of each other and their relationship in this transition?
Here are 5 strategies to practice and cultivate every day to help nurture your connection!
It may seem obvious, but it is so easy to forget in our day to day that we are not separate. It looks like we are – I’m over here, and you are over there – but our emotional and social wellbeing are inextricably linked – they cannot be separated! It’s important to remember that you are both becoming parents. It is also important to remember that however we treat our partner is really how we are treating ourselves. If we are warm and loving towards our partner, they are more likely to be warm and loving back. We also benefit because being warm and loving makes us feel good. Being angry, cross or snippy is a sign that we aren’t feeling good, and we usually feel guilty afterward so it’s a double-whammy, a lose-lose! And that leads me to be my next strategy…….
It’s really hard not to take it personally when someone snaps at us or is cranky or even shut down but when we are stressed, tired, hungry, overwhelmed, have a headache, are recovering from childbirth, etc we are more likely to have a short fuse! So as much as you practice strategy #1, both of you will have many, many moments when you won’t be at your best. It’s important to know and communicate about our tendencies so that we start to learn how to see this behavior in ourselves and our partner as a cry for help vs a trigger for hurt feelings and a fight! This is easier said than done, but a great life-long practice for couples.
We all come to parenthood with unspoken, unexamined ideas of how things should be done. Why? Because despite the fact that there are parenting classes and books, the real lived experience of parenting – what feels right, what makes people feel guilty, etc. come from what we learned through our own experiences in our families. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are trying to be like the people that raised us, while others of us are trying really hard NOT to be like those people. Anytime you encounter a strong opinion about how you “should” respond to your child or you notice your partner seems to have a strong opinion, this when it’s so important to get curious with each other! The most crucial questions to ask are –
“Can you help me understand why that feels important to you? How did it feel when this happened or didn’t happen when you were little?” Allow for these conversations to help each of you grow together through parenting!
Parenting can feel like a do or die situation. i.e. We’ve got to get this right!! This is a big part of why it can feel threatening to encounter strong and different opinions from each other in the course of parenting decisions and skip over the conversation in strategy #3. Cultivate the attitude that you are co-creators of your lives together and co-creating your family.
One of the hallmarks of any relationship is that it is an ongoing negotiation. Parenting has a way of exposing the ways we are different from each other that you may previously not have noticed. Meaning, the differences were always there, but the context for them to come to light hadn’t presented themselves! Knowing this and adjusting our expectations accordingly will help the parenting journey go much smoother. You will always be looking for ways together to incorporate your unique ideas and perspectives – and thank goodness because your baby needs both of you! Which leads me to the final strategy……
The foundation for early childhood development is your connection with each other. A secure connection with your partner supports you both in creating a secure connection with your baby. Part of maintaining closeness is making sure you give voice to what your partner means to you every single day. That’s right! Every. Single. Day.
Make sure you tell your partner that you are so glad to be doing and experiencing parenthood with them. Make sure to add the why behind this too. “I’m so glad it’s you I’m doing this with because ______ and because _______ and because ______” and add as many “becauses” as you can think of! Not only does this direct our attention to our partner’s positives and makes both of you feel warm and fuzzy, but research also shows that parents are more sensitive in their responses to their baby when they are complimenting each other. It’s a win-win for the whole family!
Give these practices, attitudes and conversations a try over the next month and see what impact they have. Remember you are in the same boat and even when the water gets choppy, if you are both rowing in the same direction, you will get through it together.
Nikki Lively is a certified Emotionally Focused couples Therapist (EFT) and focuses on supporting women, men, infants, couples and families in the transition to parenthood. In addition to her role as Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood service line at The Family Institute at Northwestern, she chairs the marketing committee of the advisory board of the Chicago Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy and is a board member of the Illinois Chapter of Postpartum Support International.