If you were to ask me a few years ago if I thought having a baby was one of the most challenging tasks you could undertake, I would have said, yes, definitely, of course. But I had no idea the toll it actually takes on couples, and I am not even a parent – I am a witnesser of parents.
I’m a couples therapist here in Charlotte, and I get a front row seat to the stress of becoming parents (or the pain of not being able to become parents).
Of course, we know becoming parents can be a magical time. The hard part of this magical time is that it almost becomes taboo to talk about the challenging stuff with your friends and family.
Especially, it seems, in the South.
When I was living in Wisconsin, it seemed more common to talk about the hard stuff with friends.
One February morning my Wisconsin neighbor called me and said, “How are you doing? Any urges to murder your husband?” I was pretty surprised to get this call out of the blue, and she said, “Oh, every couple fights more in the winter, you can really start to hate each other.”
I think getting 90 inches of snow each winter gets people really honest, really fast. And with that realness there was a lot of social support in talking about the hard stuff in your life.
Since moving to Charlotte a few years ago, I find there’s a bit more of a polished veneer, and more of a cultural norm to keep things private. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can lead people to feel like they are the only ones who struggle in their marriages and as new parents.
Even if people aren’t talking to their friends about this struggle as much here in Charlotte, it’s what we therapists get to hear about all the time.So can we shed some light on this, and normalize this experience? Because while becoming parents is awesome, it’s also statistically the hardest time in your marriage.
Extensive research tells us that 69% of couples experience a loss of relationship satisfaction in the first year of having a baby. 69%!!!
This makes so much sense. It’s a time of extreme resource stress – money, sleep, energy, time, it’s all maxed out to every capacity. Because of this, it’s also really hard to prioritize your relationship.
Date night used to be texting each other from work saying, “Italian tonight?” Now it’s like producing a play: arranging the sitter, getting everything for the baby ready, pumping at just the right intervals, hoping the sitter comes on time, paying money for free time, praying dinner is awesome because it freaking better be after all this, and in the meantime, blow dry your hair and spanxx yourself into a nice outfit.
And sex? That’s a whole other banana.
So what can Charlotte couples do, given that this is pretty common? Research has found that the best predictor for a couple’s ability to thrive in their first year of becoming parents is their level of friendship.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s really the most powerful thing.
Friendship means knowing the details about your partner’s daily life. It means feeling connected throughout the day. It means genuinely liking your partner.
Researchers found over and over was that it was the mundane stuff that really mattered. Sending a funny text. Putting on their favorite show when they had a tough day. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.
And of course, the more self-aware and loving parents are, the happier and healthier their kids are. (Side note, everyone thinks they are self-aware. You might want to check that reality out with a loved one).
So Charlotte parents, I want you to know if you’re hitting some struggles in your first years of being parents, you’re normal.