Soon, we’re experiencing the tremendous weight of responsibility, inevitably accompanied by physical and mental fatigue.
Christina and Daniel called to schedule an appointment for marriage counseling. However, they canceled the appointment over and over again on short notice. One day the child was sick, the next day the babysitter didn’t arrive, and after that they were dead tired after several nights of trying to lull the child without success - "Maybe we should bring him with us”, they said, “he’ll play around and won’t bother you at all ..."
And why wouldn’t they take him with them, I wondered,. Since the child has already taken control over your whole life, why shouldn’t he come to the room where his parents try to save their marriage?
When the meeting finally took place, I saw a young couple that was exhausted, bitter and angry. Their child was a cute boy about a year old. They described the child’s first year of life and their first year as parents as the hardest year of their lives. Although both of them wanted to become parents and prepared for it, the reality turned to be much harder and more complex than they expected, and very different from anything they've ever imagined.
In fact, they sought relationship counseling as a last resort - both felt that they got a child, but lost their relationship. Both wanted to regain what they’ve lost: the feeling of being together, the intimacy, the partnership that has more to it than the distribution of daily chores and the never ending housework.
I didn’t have to wait long before they started to accuse each other: "You don’t appreciate how hard it is to be a mom 24 hours a day. "Even when I ask for some help you manage to slip away, staying at the office until late, and when you finally come home you’re busy with your e-mail, the Internet or the sports channel”. "I feel that you don’t really care about me, and the fact that you get up once or twice at night doesn’t make you the father of the year", she complained.
"You totally forgot about me as well. Now that you’re a mother you don’t care about me anymore", Daniel retorted. “The kid is great and all, but I feel I lost my wife on the way. She constantly criticizes the way I’m handling the kid, she’s constantly stressed, and oh, I forgot what it is to have sex a long time ago. When she agrees to have sex, it looks as if she’s doing me a favor”.
I was well familiar with the arguments. Many young couples experience confusion and stress in their marital relationship during the first year after their first child is born. Some couples experience the problem with their second child.
The drastic change that occurred in their lives a while ago requires quick adaptation process and finding a new, different balance in the marital relationship. The helpless little thing that joins the family consumes all the energy, resources, strength and attention that you’re ready to give, and adds a great deal of stress and anxiety to life.
Marital intimacy, that used to be in the heart of the relationship, is being pushed to lower priority, to be preceded by a long list of “must do” – everything for the baby.
The fatigue, the never ending care of the baby, the emotional burden, the efforts to fill several other roles at home and work, the social and family commitments - all of those are a serious burden, and the resulting stress often erupts in the very place where we feel most safe - in our relationship. But it’s there that we might pay the price for the enormous change in our lives, even if we wanted the child and longed for it.
After a while, some couples adapt to the new reality. They feel more confident as parents and will be able to go back to their usual lives (more or less) and find time for themselves, for outdoor activities and will enjoy their marital relationship. On the other hand, many couples find it difficult to restore the romance, the sexual and emotional intimacy, the passion and the spontaneity in their relationship. Those couples will find that their relationship might not survive without "burning material".
The most important part in the process of couples therapy is developing awareness for each other’s personal and marital needs. Daniel and Christina recalled the time before they became parents and were “only” a loving pair. Back when they felt attracted to each other and took care to express it, they surprised each other, used to hang out and party together. Daniel mentioned that since their baby was born, Christina stopped caring about her looks and constantly wears the same old clothes. Christina complained in the old times, her husband used to make her laugh, showered her with compliments and courted her, while now he became extremely demanding, constantly criticizes her and takes refuge in his computer to work and satisfy his sexual needs.
Both of them had to find the lost intimacy and strengthen the mutual awareness and understanding of each other’s needs. Daniel understood that Christina doesn’t avoid sex to punish him or push him away. He learned to give his wife the attention she needs and make her feel desired and valued without her immediately interpreting this as a demand for sex and feeling hurt. Christina learned to accept the fact that her body has changed and re-connected to her new physical self. She learned to see herself not only as a full-tile job mother, but also as a person and a sexual partner. She started to recognize her needs and make room for them, such as going out with friends, taking yoga classes to “recharge batteries” or just relaxing with a book – without feeling guilty because she “neglects her duties as a mother”.
Both learned to speak openly about their individual needs and allowed themselves to trust and receive each other’s offer for help without interpreting it as a form of criticism.
After a while, Daniel and Christina managed to find a reasonable balance between the everyday tasks and responsibilities and their personal and marital needs.
The transition to parenthood is one of the most significant moments in life. It is a challenging and total change that affects every aspect of our lives: personal, marital, social, professional, etc. It demands reorganizing our priorities, roles and identity: Until now, we were sons, daughters and partners – now – we’re parents as well.
There’s no turning back from parenthood, no vacations and no time-outs. The child demands all of our physical and mental resources. The period of change requires adaptation and adjustment to the new reality, and many young couples find it hard to cope with the enormous responsibility, the never-ending shores and the sleepless nights.
However, parenthood may also be an opportunity for personal growth. The need to care for the little helpless creature helps us to grow up into a more patient, calm and mature person. Many find that parenting a child strengthened their love for each other, enriched their relationship and made them what they should be – a real family.