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.
Then our Celeste was born. I swear, my husband was manic with love. He was over-the-moon with our beautiful baby girl (he still is, with both of them, by the way.) He emailed our friends and family that he felt women are truly amazing and superior beings for our ability to give birth. He was a devoted husband and father with tremendous love for his wife and baby. He also is an intelligent man who has done much work on himself through his own education, hard work, therapy, etc. He is a good guy—an evolved man. And yet, we still suffered…
I proceeded with my plan to be Super Woman. One year later, I loathed my husband. Blindsided by my exhausted rage, we needed to seek couples counseling to re-establish boundaries in our marriage that were mutual, fair and reciprocal. We were both at fault for allowing the imbalance to occur. It required much hard work on both of our parts to rebalance our relationship and reconnect.
A year or so later, our couples’ therapist (God bless her) was overjoyed when we announced our pregnancy with Claudia, our second (ADORABLE) bundle of joy. Marilyn knew Keith and I loved each other tremendously, and like many couples, were especially challenged during the transition to family.
Unfortunately, our story is not unique. I saw the same dynamics in the relationships of my friends and my clients when they started having babies.
A baby, although truly life’s greatest miracle and blessing, also brings enormous changes and challenges to a partnership. According to the Gottman Institute, nearly 70% of couples experience a serious decline in their relationship satisfaction during the two years after the birth of a child. Also, while 80% of American families are dual-income, mothers are still responsible for 80% of the housework and childcare (according to the United Nations Report on Men in Families in 2011.)
The result is that women are exhausted and depleted and men are shocked, irritated and confused as to why their partners have become miserable and critical. Relationships and families are suffering.
I have since learned that true love involves self-love—first. Otherwise, it is codependency (martyring oneself for the sake of the other—a set-up for burnout and resentment.) Just like in an emergency on an airplane, you must secure your own “oxygen mask” before assisting others. We must practice self-care and set healthy expectations and boundaries in our relationships, otherwise we and they will suffer.
I am here to help. After hearing the same-old story everywhere I turned, I started a Pre- & Post-Baby Counseling Program at my practice and have counseled dozens of couples a year through babyhood. I have been quoted as an expert on how the transition to family affects a relationship in cover stories in The Wallstreet Journal and New Zealand’s Sunday Magazine, and in American Baby Magazine, Parents.com, and a nationally syndicated news segment.
I am here to talk openly and honestly about the transition to family—not because I’m ungrateful for our children or they aren’t worth the whole universe, but because I AM VERY grateful. I feel the need to help relationships strengthen to support kids. I have identified the common relationship challenges most people experience when having kids. It only takes a few, easy tweaks to make a partnership mutual and reciprocal and to make the transition to family joyous for all.
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