Couple Therapy After Baby
Having the first child brings about the most change in our adult life. John Gottman, Ph.D., has written about the enormous number of tasks that new parents handle when they have a child. No one really prepares us for this and I often wondered how other mothers and parents handled working when they have children. I remember feeling that it was impossible to keep up with the demands. Dr. Sue Johnson has also written about how couples have fewer family supports nearby these days which also puts more pressure on couples with children.
After the first child, new mothers can experience hormonal changes and sometimes postpartum depression. New parents have to divide their time between childcare, household chores, and sometimes last on the list, time with your partner. Bonding between mother and baby is important and breast feeding causes the mother to release oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. Newer research also shows that fathers will experience chemically induced bonding with the baby especially when given some time alone to care for the baby or child.
Nevertheless, the joys of caring for a baby and child can also involve challenges in feeling enough support from partners. A new father can feel sidelined or unimportant compared with the mother’s intense relationship with the baby. When these feelings are not discussed or are dismissed, the father or nonprimary caregiver may put their efforts into working harder as a way of having an important role in the family and also as a way of dealing with feeling left out of the love fest. The new mother or primary caregiver may also feel alone in the marriage or partnership because she has been given more responsibility and feeling a lack of support when she needs it the most.
I have a lot of compassion for parents and the challenges they face as I have experienced them as well. I find that Emotionally Focused Therapy for new parents is the best approach in restoring or developing a more nurturing and supportive bond between couples which decreases stress for new parents. Feeling alone and dealing with the responsibility of a new baby increases our release of stress hormones. Emotionally Focused Therapy, EFT, helps new parents find more comfort in their primary relationship and this in turn helps partners be better parents. Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on attachment theory and the understanding that emotional bonding between loved ones helps us weather stress and take risks in life. As long as we know we have a comforting and safe partner to connect with then the job of being a new parent becomes easier.
If you would like to understand attachment theory, the basis of Emotionally Focused Therapy just look at this video. From birth and into adulthood we have the need to reach for someone who is emotionally engaged and responsive. See what happens when mom is responsive and then what happens when she is not. You will understand why perceived disengagement is very stressful and why people learn to shut down emotions when they reach and their parent or partner does not respond.