Does it feel like parenthood has stolen your marriage? Do you worry that you feel closer to your kids than your husband? Do you snap at your partner for no reason? Or fight over everything? Are you so exhausted from the daily grind that you Just. Can’t. Anymore.
You’re not alone.
It’s well known that marriage is full of ups and downs, but the intensity of the downs after a new baby arrives often comes as a surprise to new parents. And the first few years of parenthood have shown to be some of the most challenging of those years. Everyone is exhausted, stressed, and pulled way too thin.
During this time, it is common – and completely natural - for couples to fight more frequently. Starting a family or adding a new baby comes with new identities, new family roles, and shifting relationship responsibilities. Each of these needs to be processed and adapted to - ideally together. Add in the sleep deprivation, and it can all feel overwhelming, desperate and so frustrating....almost as though you and your marriage are falling apart at the seams.
However, when approached in a healthy way, the ensuing conflict and disagreements can actually work in your favor. Of course, all couples fight. But happy couples have a way of embracing those disagreements instead of pushing them aside. They often use fights as an opportunity to work together, to find a solution and to move forward - while also maintaining respect for each other. They are a team. An approach and pattern that leads to a major strengthening in their marriage over time.
This type of approach to disagreements is not out of your reach either - no matter how much it may feel that way. It’s actually quite simple and a few easy steps can alter your marriage and the ability to resolve conflict peacefully with your partner - forever. Use this ultimate game plan to tackle the disagreements - and to maximize your marriage’s potential:
Set a time and place for discussion
With a baby or small children around, it can be hard to find time to talk things over, but whisper yelling over a sleeping baby after a long day isn’t going to benefit any of you. When a conflict arises, hit pause and schedule a time and place when you can both be fully present. When the time arrives, and if you’re not completely on edge, pour a glass of wine or hot tea and take a moment to reconnect before beginning the conversation.
Define the problem
What is going on? Be as specific and concrete as possible. Take a moment for both of you to share your opinion. For instance, let’s say you are exhausted and feel like you’re taking the brunt of the overnight work with your new baby. Express this frustration by using concrete examples. Did you ask for help one night and it wasn’t given? Or, do you feel as though you can’t ask for help? Explore your thoughts in detail. Then, give your partner your full attention and listen as he/she talks through his side of the story.
Discuss how each of you contribute to issue
Work together to determine how each of you may be contributing to the issue. Let’s take the example from above and assume that you’re frustrated with doing the night wakings on your own. Your role could be that you haven’t made your needs clear or aren’t asking for help. Or, it could be that you’ve been reluctant to let others care for the baby or to introduce a bottle, so you're left having to be the one who feeds the baby. Brainstorm each of your roles and how you have contributed to the (current) issue together. Throughout this step, try your best to not get defensive. It’s way too easy to do, but it will get you nowhere! Remember that each partner has a role in every conflict. It’s important to reflect honestly about what yours is in order to find a solution that works best for you and your family.
Identify 5 possible solutions
Brainstorm together and identify several possible solutions for you to discuss further. Again, following the example above, if you are nursing then you could start to introduce your baby to a bottle so your partner could take over one of the feedings. Or, you could take turns with your partner so that you each get a full night of sleep a few times a week. It’s important to be open and non-judgmental during this phase. Identify as many solutions as possible so that you can discuss each one together.
Discuss each solution idea
Now that you’ve developed multiple possible solutions, review each one together. Go down the list and take turns expressing your opinion about each solution. It’s important to try to be objective so discuss how each one may or may not be effective in helping alleviate the identified problem.
Choose your solution together
Once you’ve taken the time to thoroughly discuss each possibility, it may be obvious which one will work best for you as a family. If not, start by eliminating ones that you both agree will not work and then continue to discuss the remaining options until you’ve compromised and agreed on one solution to try. If you are stuck, remember that it doesn’t have to be the only solution - and that there will be time to re-evaluate later.
Set time and date for re-evaluation
Everything in marriage and parenthood (and life!) is fluid. Acknowledging this upfront makes it easier to continue the conversation and prevent additional issues from arising down the line. Just like with children, what works today may not work tomorrow. So make sure that you set a time and place in the future to meet again and re-evaluate if the solution you have chosen is still working for your family. Many couples will agree to bi-weekly or monthly “family meetings” in order to keep the lines of communication open.
Using these simple steps will help set your marriage up to tackle anything - big or small - that comes your way. Make sure you print out your own PDF version of the guide (linked below) so you can share easily with your partner and always have it ready when you need it. If you're looking for more personalized help or find you need an impartial (and non-judgmental) party to help you define solutions, be sure to check out myservices page or schedule a complimentary 20 minute consultation today.
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Jennifer Howard, CLC, CHBE
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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