For the past five years, we have seen an increase in the number of couples with young children who come to consultation around the overwhelming challenges in their relationship. Slowly but surely, the couple’s relationship has taken a backseat to parenting and all the tasks that accompany the role. Many couples come in wondering where their “twosome” has gone and longing for the old relationship, but now with two or three young children, they are uncertain of how to find a way to get it back.
A major shift in the relationship during the first postpartum year is a common occurrence for couples. Changes in roles and relationships, questions about identity and changes in one’s inner life have a profound impact on the relationship. It all happens so fast that it may be hard to understand or process, but it can cause major rifts. Many couples feel like their relationship quietly yet quickly changes from flexible and fluid to managing, dividing the labor and competing for who gets credit for what. This competitiveness can last well into the preschool years and beyond. Who is doing more childcare? Who is getting more time for him/herself? Feelings of vulnerability and of being out of control with a new baby may put additional strains on the relationship.
The strains couples feel may continue. Couples with young children often experience a change in their communication; many couples experience less frequency and thus less satisfaction with their communication. Becoming parents together requires different beliefs and skill sets from becoming a couple.
For many couples, weekend time is a set-up for disappointment. Expectations of fun family time are often disrupted by colds, work deadlines and in-law visits. With young children, sports, music lessons, birthday parties and naps often interfere with the best of plans for a hike, picnic or trip to the zoo. Every couple goes through a transformation after children. Negotiation and communication shifts, there is less time for the two adults together, the emotional nurturing and soothing gets directed to the children, mini crises increase and priorities change, as does the inner life of each individual. It is common to be blindsided by the enormity of the changes.
But together couples can explore ways to talk directly about what drew them to one another to reclaim the pleasure of their couplehood. They can work to acknowledge each partner’s expectations and wishes, along with their disappointments. With increased awareness of each other’s experience and the commonality of the challenges of raising young children, they can become less resentful and angry. Couples can take more risks to interrupt some of the patterns so their actions can create change. This work to create change is ongoing, but is rewarding for both the couple and their family.
For more information, visit jfcsboston.org or call 781-647-JFCS (5327).
This article is printed courtesy of JF&CS.
Peggy H. Kaufman, MEd, LICSW, is the director of the Center for Early Relationship Support at Jewish Family & Children’s Service.