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First Marriage Therapy, Then Baby?
Why it could be a good idea.
Welcome to The First Years of Marriage Newsletter! We talk about the conversations, challenges, and changes that begin once the honeymoon ends. Advice from experts, mistakes from me (Jen Glantz), and things you’re going to want to know as you continue to ask yourself this question - “I’m married, ow what?”
Dear Sweet Friend,
I started writing about how freaking scared I am to become a mom. You can eyeball more of that here.
But one topic that I dove into was how having a baby changes marriage.
I’m not an expert in that. I’m not even there yet.
So I interviewed a marriage therapist and am sharing her best tips with you below.
Ps. Want something fun?
First Marriage Therapy, Then Baby?
After getting married in 2021, my husband and I made a pact that we'd do whatever we could to nurture our relationship and prepare for challenges.
We've met with financial advisors to figure out which conversations to have and decisions to make so we wouldn't argue over money later on. We also do quarterly marriage inventories where we assess which problems we need to take care of and how well we're working together as partners.
This year, after finding out that I'm pregnant with our first child, we started talking about what we could do to prepare for all the changes and challenges of being first-time parents. We decided to chat with Erika Labuzan-Lopez, a marriage and family therapist, to find out what to work on and plan for to keep our relationship intact when the baby arrives.
Here were my five biggest takeaways.
Understand that conflict will increase
Even though right now my husband and I rarely find ourselves arguing or getting into heated disagreements, Labuzan-Lopez said conflict usually increases for couples after they have a baby. That's mainly because most of your resources are directed toward keeping your baby alive and so fewer coping skills are available to manage interpersonal conflict.
"If you are aware of this ahead of time, you can increase your communication and make a plan together as a couple for managing conflict differently than you've needed to in the past," Labuzan-Lopez said.
She advised us to remind each other that we're both going through a challenging time and to turn to self-soothing techniques, like deep breathing or taking a walk, before trying to engage in whatever the conflict is about.
Make the implicit explicit
Labuzan-Lopez said a common mistake new parents make is not verbalizing or externalizing their expectations and making too many assumptions about what the other person is doing or how they're feeling.
"Becoming parents is complicated. Do not wait until resentments have developed to start talking about expectations, boundaries, and changes in identity," she said. "Make everything you're thinking and feeling clear to your partner."
I mentioned that when I'm stressed or frustrated, my tone of voice can rise and I can become aggressive with my words. Labuzan-Lopez advised that it's extra important during these times for me to pause and notice that I'm going back into an adaptive child state, reverting to old patterns from other relationships or scenarios.
Share your dreams and fears about how your life will change
When I was talking to Labuzan-Lopez, I noticed that while I'd been pregnant so far, I hadn't asked my husband how he was feeling about being a father or even how he expects our lives to change.
Labuzan-Lopez said it's important that both people talk about these things before the baby arrives.
"No one can fully understand what it will be like to have a baby and change your whole life. I've sat with hundreds of clients and have my own children, and we all agree there aren't adequate words to explain it," she said.
"However, it's important to be open and vulnerable as a couple in exploring both dreams and fears, because there's room for both. This can help you feel connected and brainstorm potential plans if something unexpected arises."
Labuzan-Lopez also suggested doing quarterly inventories or just continuing to create space to have these open and honest conversations without judgment, since it's hard to know how you'll feel when you become parents and your dreams or fears might change rapidly during the first year.
Remind your partner what you appreciate about them
Since having a child can be a whirlwind of an experience, Labuzan-Lopez recommended we share kind words and compliments.
"In the timeframe right after having a baby, you'll both be exhausted and drained and somewhat feel like machines," she said. "A nicety that is meaningful and recognizes your value can go a long way in increasing positivity, and you'll more than likely reciprocate the sentiment, thereby increasing overall positive interactions."
She also suggested tapping into the other person's love language, whether it's words of affirmation or touch, so you can make sure you're showing them affection in the way they like.
Keep in mind that a lot of this is temporary
Right now it's hard to picture what becoming a parent will be like, but it does seem difficult, if not impossible.
Labuzan-Lopez said that while the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of infancy are temporary, our relationship is long term.
"It's too easy to fall out of synchronicity with your partner when dealing with a crying baby," she said. "All of a sudden you disagree about how to approach something, and now you're operating against each other instead of being on the same team. But these issues are temporary, and your baby will outgrow sleepless nights."
She reminded us that our relationship is an investment that needs to be nurtured — and that putting it on the back burner and going to war over these issues can do long-lasting
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Love you (for as long as we both shall live),