If you’ve ever had one of those “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days” where everything seems to go wrong, then you know that stress from traffic jams and long checkout lines at the grocery store can leave you feeling infuriated. Especially for new parents, external stressors from outside the relationship can easily stoke the fires of conflict when a new baby is added to the mix.
As partners balance the new roles and responsibilities of parenthood, it’s inevitable that a newborn’s needs can disrupt their ability to manage stress, making any form of relief seem far off. Sixty-seven percent of couples experience a precipitous decline in relationship satisfaction in the first three years of the baby’s life.
Dr. Gottman’s research on Bringing Baby Home found that in order to cope with these added pressures, couples who engage in a daily stress-reducing conversation are better able to handle external stressors and stay emotionally connected.
The purpose of a daily stress-reducing conversation is to buffer the relationship from heavy life demands that occur outside of the relationship. When you can talk openly about your individual concerns, fears, and frustrations without worrying about the possibility of having them spill over into your relationship, you’ve established a healthy way of connecting and communicating with each other.
Here is a helpful daily listening technique from the Bringing Baby Home new parents workshop. Take turns being the listener and speaker. This activity can be as short as five minutes a day or as long as 30 minutes a day. The only rule is that you are not allowed to talk about your relationship.
1. Show genuine interest in your partner
Stop what you’re doing to listen and pay attention, maintain eye contact, and give approving nods and facial expressions. Do not be distracted by other things. Put your phone away. Stay present and engaged.
2. Communicate understanding
Use empathy, provide support, and show compassion. Understanding must precede advice. Take your partner’s side, even if you don’t agree. In this particular moment, your relationship is worth more than expressing your difference of opinion.
Example: “That sounds upsetting! I would be just as mad. I can understand why you feel that way.”
3. Offer support
When it comes to you and your partner versus the world, you should always take the side of your spouse. Never side with “the enemy.”
Example: “I wish I could be there to protect you from your manager’s endless demands.”
4. Create solidarity
Reminiscing about the simpler days before becoming parents, laughing through moments of exhaustion, or fretting over a sick baby, you create solidarity by sharing in the highs and lows of parenthood together.
Example: “This is our problem.” “We’ve got this.” “I’m here for you.” “We’ll get through it together.”
5. Show similarities
Expressing how you can relate to their circumstance says that you’re both speaking the same language, you’re on the same page, and you’re fighting for the same team.
6. Show affection
Hold your partner’s hand, rub their shoulders, or offer a comforting hug as they talk about their day.
7. Help your partner to process
Ask them if they want your help in finding a solution to the problem. Don’t forget that your only job is to offer support, not to problem solve.
8. Listen first before suggesting solutions
Don’t give unsolicited advice. Instead, ask if they are interested in hearing your suggestions.
Example: “Can I help you solve this?” “Do you want my advice here?”
Differences Between Men and Women in Parenting
In heterosexual relationships, it’s important to understand how men and women discuss issues differently. Outside stressors often provoke new parents to move quickly towards decision-making and resolution. This means that couples are often left feeling disconnected, unheard, and misunderstood.
Men typically identify the problem and try to come up with a solution. As listeners, men should understand that providing a listening ear without trying to fix the problem helps their partner de-stress and feel more connected to them. They should try to understand the root cause of the problem and only offer solutions if asked.
Women tend to perceive the problem as part of the relationship. They see the issue as problematic and often respond with complaints or criticisms. Women should learn how to separate themselves from the issue, focus on listening, and try to understand what is being said, rather than what is perceived.
Not only do new parents face the daily grind of life, but messy diaper changes, crying babies, and sleepless nights can leave new parents feeling the strain more than ever during the transition to parenthood.
The stress-reducing conversation gives couples the opportunity to separate the struggles of the day from their relationship and help one another.
So the next time you have one of those “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days” where your baby is fussy and you’ve spilled coffee down your suit and you think about moving to Australia, share the frustrations of the day with your partner. If nothing else, you’ll have the opportunity to feel heard and understood.
Within no time, you’ll be erasing the events from your memory completely and be ready for the next challenge life (or your baby) throws at you.