Your Relationship and having children. We chat to Michaela Thomas, Clinical Psychologist, couples therapist and founder of The Thomas Connection about the psychological realities of being a parent and a partner.
‘Consider how your mind, heart and soul change in parenthood. Having a baby will literally change your brain’
Let’s start by looking at the transitions of relationships through pregnancy and birth; acknowledging that all the things that have come before in our relationships are carried with us as we make these changes. We asked Michaela if there were things that it may be useful to consider as a couple before you even have your baby…
‘Having a child will not fix a relationship’ FACT
Let’s challenge a common perception that having a baby can be a way to ‘improve’ or ‘fix’ relationships. Michaela highlights that for some, having a baby can feel like ‘the thing they are supposed to do next’. However, statistics show that the first year after the birth of the first baby is the trickiest period for a couple to navigate. The reality of having a baby can often fail to live up to the picture we may create for ourselves. This alone can add strain to a relationship. In reality, there are aspects of having children which are really challenging. It’s a good idea to really consider how you can best prepare yourselves for that reality.
A simple way to could be speaking with friends and family who have children to really understand and get a better picture of their experiences. Talk about what might change practically and emotionally for you, how may your lifestyle change?
It’s worth considering your transitions as individuals too. Consider and chat about how you might react differently to the experience. E.g. if you’re an introvert you might react differently to the sense of confinement that newborns can bring compared to an extrovert. Be open and honest about these things.
Michaela discusses how these transitions in relationships and in ourselves can be made more challenging if a pregnancy has been unplanned, when you are not in an intimate relationship with the other parent or when emotional readiness between yourself and the other partner isn’t matched. It’s not one shoe fits all.
How will you cope with ‘The Goblin’?
A useful thing to consider is how you can cope in times when you are both being the worst versions of yourself or ‘Goblin mode’ (as Michaela calls it, we all know our inner goblin right?!)
Sleep deprivation, anxiety and isolation can bring out the worst in ourselves and it’s useful to think about how you’ll manage when you find yourself and each other in this state. What coping strategies do you have? How will you negotiate with each other? What support do you have outside of the relationship?
‘Be curious, not furious’
As the transition to parenthood is such a monumental shift, it’s reasonable to expect that the values we hold can (and often do) shift. Having a chat beforehand about what’s important to you, how you want to raise your children, what good parenting looks like and what your core values are can be a great way to prepare your relationship.
Easier said than done, right?
Michaela believes that it’s better to be ‘curious rather than furious’ about these things – the transitions can be smoother if couples are willing and able to communicate effectively as they prepare for parenthood rather than being surprised by them once the baby arrives.
‘Climb in to my tower’
A useful analogy Michaela uses is that of two towers. In early parenthood it’s common for us to feel as if they inhabit different ‘spaces’ and have very different roles, their own tower. When this is the case, there can be a tendency to only see the view from inside our own tower; without being able to see the view from the other side. This singular view can breed resentment in relationships when we think that our partner’s role (or the ‘view’ they have from their tower) seems somehow better than ours.
Michaela encourages couples to foster a willingness and readiness to ‘climb inside each other’s towers’ from time to time so we can experience the other person’s view for ourselves. This act of turning towards each other, with compassion and empathy can really support couples and improve relations; helping to create a real sense of connection with each other.
However, compassion in relationships also includes having compassion for oneself. Being able to let go of the idea of perfection and embracing connection with yourself is vital.
What qualities can new bring to support relationship transitions?
Finally, we asked what important qualities can we bring within a relationship when we think about the transition to parenthood.
- Connection – a willingness and ability to turn towards (and not away) from each other in times of challenge. Fostering deep connection builds strong relationships.
- Compassion – consideration and empathy for oneself and for each other. Being curious about each other’s experiences and individual journey.
These two things will really help build relationships that can weather the storms. Relationship satisfaction is often challenged by early parenthood but it can rise again.
Last but not least, Michaela advises partners to read up on issues like birth trauma and postnatal illness. Often the first person available to help someone experiencing these challenges are partners. Knowing when and how to seek support makes a real difference.
- It’s never too early to think about how you can prepare yourselves for the transition to parenthood. Having a baby changes your body, your mind, spirit and even your brain!
- Communication is key – take time and really talk openly with your partner to help prepare as individuals and as a couple.
- Values can, and do change through our lives. Don’t assume your partner shares the same values around parenting that you do. Take time to consider what’s important to you and revaluate often.
- Consider how to cope with ‘the goblin’. Discuss ways you can support each other when the going gets tough.
- Be curious, not furious. Approach each other with compassion and empathy. Relationships which successfully navigate challenges will be strengthened.
- Consider how you can see the world from inside your partners ‘tower’ and be ready to do this. Build connection and compassion for each other.
- Be compassionate with yourself too. Let go of the idea of perfection and build connection with your inner self as you make this monumental transition.
Thank you Michaela!
Michaela works to support individuals and couples through the transition in to parenthood. She describes a key part of her work as supporting people to ‘let go of perfection and encouraging them to lead more meaningful lives. To find more balance in how they live, how they love and how they work’.
Want to read more about the real stuff that goes alongside birth? Check out our postnatal blogs