Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And Baby Makes Stress

By Joan Emerson
The Brooklyn Paper

A new baby plus a new marriage equals major stress for both partners — and yet there’s no guide available for first-time parents to help deal with this joyous and difficult time.

Until now.
From watching and hearing about these situations with family, friends, and clients — while remembering my own experience — I have seen that, along with the love, joy and wonder of watching a new life begin, stresses on the relationships between new mom and new dad are typical.

Yet, I also get the sense that it takes everyone by surprise.

It will be the goal of this column to discuss the conflicts that typically emerge during this time, and provide some of the tools needed to keep couples’ connection intact and help new parents:
• Create a safe, loving place to reveal themselves and learn about their partner.
• Build a solid, reliable, loving relationship.
• Maturely work through the throes of the inevitable periods of disappointment and anger.

The July 12 edition of New York Magazine cover story “I Love My Children. I Hate My Life,” described study upon study showing the stress of raising kids and the effect those children have on the relationships of the married individuals. Indeed, studies show that children reduce marital satisfaction and adversely affect relationships, with the hardest period being the baby-toddler stage. A walk to a nearby Barnes and Noble helped explain why that is the case.

In the “Relationships” section, there are shelves of books by theorists whose names we all know about how to work on creating successful marriages. But there is nothing dedicated to the difficulties of new parenthood.

In the “Raising Your Children” section, there are the “What to Expect…” books along with topics like “how to talk to your child,” and “advice to dad to let mom sleep and learn how to change diapers.” But there is nothing directed at safeguarding a marriage after a child is born.

We all know that along with the warmth and pleasure associated with the new baby, there’s a ‘hold on for dear life’ experience for at least the first six months: a period plagued with worry, lack of sleep, total unpredictably of the baby’s behaviors and needs, insecurities, postpartum emotionality, differences in parenting approach, changes in roles, surprises and sometimes disappointments with the other parent’s coping style.

It isn’t until the child reaches the 6- to 12-year-old stage that marriages begin to bounce back to mom and dad remembering that they are also husband and wife.

So what can we do about the marriage in the meanwhile?

One of the upsides that can evolve during this young-family phase of marriage is that partners will, for better and worse, really get to know new each other, as that time of euphoria during which we saw each other through the rosiest of colored glasses has passed. Instead, we can use this time to create a safe environment in which to reveal our hopes, fears, difficulties, secrets, disappointments, and wishes.

Sharing these most private vulnerabilities with each other and receiving empathy and reassurance are the building blocks of a strong bond between partners and lead into a stage of mature, safe and dependable love.

Next time we’ll discuss one of the most basic rules for successful communication: being effective in expressing one’s feelings, while giving your partner the feeling that they’ve really been heard and understood.

Joan Emerson is a New York psychologist who specializes in couples therapy. You can learn more about her by visiting her Web site at

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