In the first three years after the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of parents experience a significant drop in their relationship quality and a dramatic increase in conflict and hostility (The Gottman Institute). Feeling tension with your partner, particularly during this period of change is NORMAL. Commonly, it’s the first major transition as a couple and becoming a family will have changed both of you in ways you didn’t, or haven’t yet realised.
Maybe, conversations became more curt and tense. You probably experienced a decline in physical intimacy. You might have reacted in different ways to change, for example withdrawing, leaning into support from others, or working more. Most significantly, your personal values might have started to change – financial, family, career.
It’s during this period of intense sleep deprivation, navigating unknown territory, juggling the sheer pace of life, and redefining your personal self-identity that couples will regularly experience heightened conflict, disagreement, frustration and resentment.
However, conflict can actually help strengthen your understanding of each other and deepen your connection! This is because relationship satisfaction is influenced more by how conflict is managed than to how frequently it occurs. Disagreements are a core element of relationships, they provide an opportunity to air frustrations without bottling it up or allowing resentment to grow.
As parents, you suddenly need to make decisions more as WE, than ME. It’s important as a couple to stay connected, create space for each other to feel heard, and acknowledge the ways you’ve evolved. To reduce negative conflict and experience disagreements more constructively.
1. Timing is everything. How and where a problem is raised, determines how the discussion will proceed. Try to complain rather than blame. Describe what you’re experiencing without blaming your partner, and focus on “I”, not “you”.
2. Validation. Remember there are always two points of view and two realities to what has happened. Try to understand your partner’s position and feelings so you can find a way to express genuine validation or agreement with at least some of their point of view.
3. De-escalate. If your discussion is becoming negative, take a 20-minute break, or use a “repair attempt” to help get the conversation back on track. A repair attempt is a statement to slow down escalation. This might be something like “I feel defensive. Can you rephrase that?”; “Let’s try that one over again”; “I never thought of things that way”; “I agree with part of what you’re saying”; “I need your support right now”; “I know this isn’t your fault”.
4. Be prepared to compromise. Find some common ground in the issue to build a mutual plan or way forward.
If your child(ren) is exposed to a disagreement, it’s important they can see it’s been resolved and (where appropriate), explain what the argument was about. This helps children understand the consequences of conflict, learn how to navigate their own emotions and will inform their own relationships.
Once the air has settled, consider talking to your partner about how you could handle that topic differently if it comes up again, or one thing you could each do differently next time to limit escalation. Create time and space to connect and hear one another.
This article was written by Rachel Childs. Rachel is a couples coach who helps working parents navigate their transition through parenthood as a dual-career couple. She is certified with The Gottman Institute to deliver relationship programmes for new parents. You can find out more and book a free discovery call through her profile page.
October 3, 2023