Transitioning to parenthood is one of the greatest challenges that most couples face. We read every book available about the growing baby, research the best cribs or nursery accessories, but don't take the time to talk and prepare for how becoming parents will affect the relationship. Before we know it, there's tensions and we're arguing about the most mundane things that feel like the most important existential matters of life. Sound familiar?
Here are three signs that parenting stress is affecting your relationship/marriage:
1. Funneling your life: When we are constantly having to stay on our toes when it comes to parenting, while also working, attending to other family members, and trying to maintain some semblance of our old lives, partners can begin to funnel their lives by only focusing on the parts where they feel the most competent, appreciated, and thus most fulfilled. The recognition we get at work feels good, so we start spending more time at work. Bonding with our baby feels wonderful, so we stop seeking in physical connection with our spouse.
When we focus our attention on just one aspect of life where we feel a sense of competency and recognition, it is frequently at the cost of connection with our partner.
2. Becoming competitive: The stress of parenting can make us competitive and keeping score of who did what. Who changed the most diapers, who got less sleep, and who is juggling the most responsibilities. When we start keeping score, it's a way of saying "I'm drowning here and need help, but I don't know how to ask for it."
Keeping score essentially sends the message that we are not on the same team: it's a you vs. me game where everyone loses.
3. Blaming your partner: Brené Brown has this great video on blame. Blaming gives us a semblance of control. If we blame that means something could have been averted had the person done something differently. "If only you'd let me sleep, I wouldn't have been so tired all day and burnt the lasagna!". Based on the research, blaming is discharging of discomfort and pain, which come out as anger.
Blaming is corrosive for relationships. Instead, if we could be more accountable of ourselves and the people who matter to us: we can ask for what we need (self-accountability) and set clear boundaries/expectations for the other to meet them (holding the other accountable).
Being able to ask for what you need (thus keeping everyone accountable) is a topic I had covered in an earlier entry.
Parenting (and stress in general) can be taxing on both partners who have not had the chance to emotionally prepare for the individual and relationship struggles that are actually quite a normal part of this phase. Instead, we cope with the stress by relying on protective mechanisms like funneling our attention to other things/people, keeping score in order not to feel so helpless, and blaming our partner for everything that goes wrong.
Next time I'll provide some new ways of positively coping with parenting stress in order to keep you on the same team and continuing to attend to your marriage.