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July 15, 2016

Awaiting the arrival of a baby is meant to be a happy time for couples – but what happens when things don’t feel so rosy? Victoria Wells looks at how to address some common relationship issues during pregnancy

There is a lot of advice given as to how to keep the spark in your relationship after baby arrives, but pregnancy can also push pressure buttons on a relationship and they can often be even harder to acknowledge given it’s supposed to be such a happy time for parents-to-be. 

Expectant mums are dealing with a rollercoaster of hormones as well as a changing body, while their partners can struggle to know how best to support them. One or both of the parents may also be worried about how they’ll cope financially, what it will mean for them as a couple, or simply what kind of parents they will be. 

“Having a baby usually brings up the cracks or gaps in a relationship; it exposes them,” says Auckland psychotherapist, Susan Goldstiver. “And they [the couple] might have had ways of coping with those before the baby, but now they have to become more of a team and depend on each other; acknowledge and support each other.”

Money on my mind

One of the biggest impacts on expectant couples today is financial, once the mother is on maternity leave. Drawing up a revised household budget together is a good idea, but Susan Goldstiver also points out that there can be an emotional toll too. “Especially if she’s a modern mother who feels independent and feels that her contribution is financial. Her own struggle is that ‘independent versus dependent’ state.” It’s important to discuss the new scenario and recognise the part each of you will be playing. “The couples, in my mind, who get into trouble are the ones who aren’t able to acknowledge each other’s contribution as different but equal,” explains Susan. “One partner is contributing by working and the other is contributing equally by looking after the child. And both of those need to be acknowledged and recognised.” 

Top tips

  •  Acknowledge any problems early on – ignoring them will only cause bigger issues later 
  •  Talk to your partner as much as you can – remember, you’re a team 
  •  Get professional help if you need it.

Lost that loving feeling? 

While some women experience a higher than usual sex drive during pregnancy, others, for whatever reason (morning sickness, insecurity about their changing body, tender breasts) will not. Men can also experience their own change in attitudes to sex and may not be as interested in intercourse, thanks to the ‘third person in the room’, seeing their partner in a different way, or simply grappling with the enormity of impending parenthood. While sex is safe during pregnancy (unless your midwife or specialist doctor has asked you not to), there are other ways of feeling close to your partner. It’s important to discuss how you’re feeling in order to avoid any feelings of rejection or hurt building on either side if sex is off the menu for the moment.

Susan says it’s about creating an understanding. “That doesn’t mean you can’t still touch and hug, but what happens is the couple goes into that ‘fear’ place, which is: ‘I don’t want to lead you on and then have to say no, so we just won’t hug or touch because I’m scared that you’ll take that to mean something.’ To be able to have a conversation: ‘Can we have some non-sexual touching
and hugging, knowing that this won’t lead to intercourse?’ – it can create safety around it. Neither of them need fear letting the other one down.”

Meet the parents

Determined to do things differently from your parents? Or do you have friends whose parenting style you admire? Thinking about the kind of parent you want to be is a good thing – the trouble is, until your baby arrives you don’t know what you don’t know. “Ideally, you would have parents discussing their parenting philosophy [beforehand],” says Susan, “but I don’t know if they’ve even got the language to know what it is. How many couples have you heard say, ‘This baby isn’t going to change anything about who we are or what we do’... and it’s like, ‘Yeah, right!’ But that’s their truth at that moment.”

It can help to talk with your partner beforehand about the sorts of parents you hope to be, but just know that you can only do your best and that is all that anyone else is doing too. 

Talk it out

If or when problems arise, the best path is always open communication between you and your partner, so far as you are able. “They [those conversations] take a certain amount of EQ [emotional intelligence] and skill and not every couple has that,” Susan says. She says it’s therefore important to recognise when you might need outside help. 

“Seize the moment… because it’s much harder when you have the baby and you’re sleep deprived or dependent on sitters or each other. [It’s a case of saying] ‘We’re struggling a bit and we want to preserve this relationship, it’s important, so let’s just go and have a couple of sessions.’ Because for some couples it is just a couple of sessions, it’s just about learning to communicate differently.”


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