In-Laws Driving You Crazy? Mad at Your Partner? Tips to Help

They say that when you marry somebody, you also marry his or her family. And while you love and adore your honey-bunny, you might not have hand-picked your  mother-in-law.
Having a baby or small children can increase stress on the relationship with in-laws, especially during special occasions like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries when parents want to be with their adult children and grandchildren. The stress and expense of travel and gifts adds additional strain and much togetherness can send you over the edge. While you might be able to bite your lip and mostly contain your frustrations with your in-laws, it is common for these negative feelings to spill into your relationship with your partner, causing conflict and distress.
As both a married mother-of-two and a therapist who has counseled parents for nearly 20 years, I recommend the following tips:

Understand that most people are partial to their own families and customs, traditions and ways of doing things. This can apply to big things like religious practices or little things like how to load the dishwasher. Recognize that these differences are neither bad nor good, right nor wrong---they simply ARE. Try not to interpret these different preferences as rejection or criticism either by your partner or your in-laws. Accept that human nature is to like what is familiar and do not take any of this personally.
Prioritize your marriage over your relationships with your families-of-origin. You are each other's primary family now. Of course, healthy connection with both of your families-of-origin is important, and the key to success is compromise. There must be "give and take" to achieve a happy balance between time alone as a couple and time with each of your extended families.


Bringing Sexy Back into Motherhood

“Don’t you like my big boobs?”, said my client to her husband with a playful smile as they sat on my couch in couples therapy. “When I look at your breasts now, I think of the baby breastfeeding. That is not a turn-on,” he responded flatly to his beautiful wife.
Her face looked stung with rejection and then silent tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. She longed for the intimacy they shared prior to their six month-old baby’s birth. 
Freud might say her husband was suffering from a “Madonna-whore complex,” a psychological condition where men desire the erotic vixen but cannot desire the respected partner. Dare I say, I think this is a very real phenomenon, and one that does not bode well for women’s sexuality or relationships.  

I blame the Madonna-whore complex on our culture. Young women and mothers are often polarized, with younger women being sexualized and mothers seen as wholesome, pure and nurturing. Even in Jungian psychology, the three female archetypes are Maiden, Mother and Crone. This means women are first young and beautiful, then become moms, and then get old. This bothers me.

Can we mothers please have the opportunity to be seen as sexy and desirable after we have given birth? Can women please be afforded the same right as men to remain sexual beings beyond the transition to parenthood?  

I dealt with this challenge myself. It started during the third trimester of my pregnancy with our first daughter. I was surprised to find that as my belly grew, my sexual appetite increased almost as much as my appetite for food (okay, not anywhere as much, but nevertheless I was surprised to be feeling frisky). I remember my husband started to feel self-conscious of the baby’s presence. He even worried that he would “bump her head” when we were having intercourse. (I assured him that he really needn’t worry...) Anyway, at this point, the baby had literally come between our sex life.

After giving birth, like many couples, our sex life was impacted by factors such as healing from delivery, hormone changes, breastfeeding, and by my not feeling as confident in my post-pregnancy body. Also, I found it challenging to integrate my new identity as mother into my concept of self, without losing other parts of myself.

Can somebody be a good mother and also have lust? Could somebody behave erotically with their partner knowing a baby in the next room? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I don’t recall ever seeing a sexually-empowered mother characterized in a Disney princess movie, do you?


Is the Sleep Deprivation of Infancy Straining Your Relationship? Tips to Help

“Excuse me, but I feel like I hate you.” This is what a client reported saying to her husband after waking him from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. She had been up breastfeeding their newborn every two hours and dealing with their sick toddler while her husband tried to get a decent night’s sleep before an important day at the office. Unfortunately, this relationship scenario is not unique during the first three months infancy---a phase my friend refers to as, “The 100 Days of Hell.”  
Of course, the arrival of a baby is life’s greatest blessing and worth every dark circle and all the squabbles in the world.  However, many underestimate the serious strain that sleep deprivation can put on a relationship.  

As somebody who could easily pull an all-nighter as needed while in school, I thought caring for a baby while on maternity leave would be a piece of cake (LOL). I was blind-sided by the severe physical exhaustion and mental fatigue I experienced in the months after our first bundle of joy joined our family.

I recall times which I would hear the lullaby music coming from our baby’s crib toy, only to realize it was turned off and I was apparently having an auditory hallucination... I normalize this psychotic experience by remembering that my best friend said she repeatedly experienced the exact same phenomenon during her son’s infancy. This same friend also said there were times she could swear she was saying things out loud, but her husband and family would become frustrated because in actuality the words were only uttered in her mind---she was just looking at them blankly in silence, literally too tired to speak.

Another friend reported waking from a mid-night's slumber when her husband wildly entered the bedroom in his boxers with their naked baby in his arms as he flipped on all the lights yelling, “WHERE are her PJ’s?!”  (This is particularly funny because her husband is a sophisticated, mild-tempered man with never a hair out of place.) She calmly got up, opened the drawer and selected some pajamas for their daughter, who thanked her by throwing up on her several times. Nevertheless, my friend applauded her husband for following what she calls, “The First Rule of Parenting”---if you are losing your mind, it is time to wake up the other parent!  


First Comes Love: Making Your Relationship Work When Baby Makes 3

I remember the day our then 12-year relationship changed. I was 5-months pregnant with Celeste, the first of our two amazing daughters (now ages 11 & 8). I was nauseous, emotional and fatigued. I saw in my husband’s eyes that there was no way he could understand how I felt...and that he feared I had become a dramatic, hypochondriacal lunatic. He just wanted to get out with his friends and I was feeling uncharacteristically needy. We argued and he left. I threw up and went to bed.

In the months that followed, as my belly grew so did my husband’s "breadwinner anxiety." Despite the fact that we both had good jobs and owned a condo in a hip neighborhood of Chicago, he clearly felt tremendous financial pressure as an expectant father (I think this is Darwinian.). He enrolled in graduate school, in addition to his full-time job as a software developer. I was simultaneously proud and concerned. How were we going to manage all these new responsibilities? 

It was true. I was more ready than he to start a family. But when is that not the case with men and women?  

At age 30, with serious genetic predispositions that increased with age for miscarriage and to have a child with a mitochondrial disorder, I was more ready for a baby than my very cool, laid-back husband. He was very much enjoying our lives as a young urban couple in the city. Prior to kids, our typical weekends had involved going to concerts with friends, out to breakfast in the mornings, running along the lake, casually pursuing book stores, him watching a game while I shopped, napping and going out to dinner and a movie.

I loved my husband so much I wanted to absorb the difference. I would make the transition to family seamless for him. I would manage to earn the same amount of money in the three days per week I was willing to be separated from our baby. I would absorb the majority of the responsibilities for the baby and the household.

I thought this was how to be loving. I was mistaken.