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WHAT ABOUT US?. Strengthening Your Marriage After Children Arrive. SARAH PATTERSON M.S.W, R.S.W. Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist Individual & Couple Counselling www.sarahpattersoncounselling.com (905) 630-4727. AGENDA.

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what about us


Strengthening Your Marriage After Children Arrive

sarah patterson m s w r s w

Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist

Individual & Couple Counselling


(905) 630-4727

  • Changes and challenges to partnerships after couples become parents.
  • Strategies to cool down conflict.
  • Suggestions to strengthen your relationship
“Now, of course, I realized something else no one tells you; that a child is a grenade. When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was. Not better, necessarily; not worse, necessarily; but different."

-Nora Efron, in the novel Heartburn (1983, p. 158)

The greatest gift a couple can give their (child) is a happy and strong relationship with each other. The stronger the connection between parents, the healthier the child can grow, both emotionally and intellectually.

- John Gottman

positive changes to partnerships
Positive Changes to Partnerships
  • Parenthood provides a challenge that can lead to growth as individuals, couples and as parents.
  • Revitalized relationship – for those that work to maintain or improve the quality of their marriage.
  • Pushes men and women to develop new insights, more effective ways of solving their problems and greater feelings of maturity.

(Belsky & Kelly ,1994)

decline in relationship satisfaction
Decline in Relationship Satisfaction

Despite the joy surrounding the birth of a child, numerous studies have documented a robust decline in marital satisfaction across the transition to parenthood.

(Cowan & Cowan, 1999.)

why are couples feeling less satisfied with their relationship
Why Are Couples Feeling Less Satisfied with Their Relationship?
  • Marital conflict increases often by a factor of nine (Belsky & Kelly, 1994).
  • Conversation and sexual activity decline dramatically.
  • Gender role stereotypes increase after the baby arrives.
sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation
  • Long periods of sleep deprivation and stress can result in mild depression.
  • Sleep deprivation makes our daily hassles seem more tense.
  • When we are exhausted, we loose our sense of humour.

We think we hear something mean and we snap!

you are not alone
You Are Not Alone!
  • Many new parents are unprepared for their individual conflicts and the conflicts in their marriage.
  • Couples often find it difficult or impossible to talk about these conflicts productively once they have surfaced.
  • When feelings arise, such as disappointment and fear, many couples don’t know how to tell anyone, especially each other.
where did the challenges begin
Where did the challenges begin?
  • The origins of individual and marital problems generally begin well before the baby arrives.
  • Women’s personal transformation.
  • Transition from “me-ness” to “we-ness”.
  • The transition to parenthood acts as an amplifier to existing difficulties in managing lives and family relationships.
who are the couples that are in trouble
Who are the couples that are in trouble?
  • They are critical, defensive and disrespectful with each other.
  • They are blind to their partner’s point of view.
  • They can’t compromise.
  • They often say things they later regret.
who are the couples that weather the storm of new parenthood the most successfully
Who are the couples that weather the storm of new parenthood the most successfully?
  • Couples who feel that they have productive ways of working out differences and difficulties report the least dissatisfaction and distress in the first few years of parenthood.
ingredients for healthy conflict management
Ingredients for Healthy Conflict Management
  • Soften how you start the discussion.
  • Accept influence by recognizing there are two valid viewpoints.
  • Calm down by physiological self-soothing.
  • Compromise
  • Process and understand the fight later, after you’ve calmed down.
  • Figure out the conversation you needed to have, instead of the fight.
1 soften how you bring up a problem
1. Soften How You Bring Up a Problem
  • The way a conflict conversation goes is determined by how it starts 96% of the time (Gottman).
  • Harsh start-up = blames the other person, usually with criticism or contempt. In response, the other person gets critical and defensive right back. No problem is solved.
softened start up
Softened Start-Up
  • Say what you feel about a situation
  • Describe the problem neutrally.
  • State what you need (not what you don’t need).
2 accept influence from our partner
2. Accept Influence From Our Partner
  • Our conflict discussions backfire when we insist that our perception is the only one that’s right.
  • Couple’s tend to see their job in a dispute as persuading their partner of their position, instead of understanding their partner’s position.
  • “Summarizing yourself syndrome”
accepting influence from our partner
Accepting Influence From Our Partner

Accepting influence from our partner involves:

  • Acknowledge that there are two sides to every fight (i.e. “I get it” “Good point”)
  • Restating our partner’s point of view to our partner’s satisfaction.
  • Validating our partner’s point of view.
3 calm down by self soothing
3. Calm Down By Self-Soothing
  • When conflict occurs, it can trigger a physiological reaction (fight or flight).
  • Taking breaks just long enough to get your heart rate down can help you solve conflicts more effectively and with less harm to your partner.
taking a break
Taking a Break
  • Tell your partner how long the break will last
  • Decide with your partner when you will come back to the conversation (make an actual time)
  • A break should be at least 30 minutes and at most, a day (otherwise it will feel like a passive-aggressive punishment)
taking a break1
Taking a Break
  • Our thinking during the break is important.
  • Ideas for breaks include walking around the block, listening to music, take a bath, watch TV, play with your kids, clean the house
    • Anything that is personally comforting to you.
4 compromise
4. Compromise
  • No body wins or looses in compromise.
  • We gain a little of what we want and loose a little of what we want too.
6 figure out the conversation you needed to have instead of the fight
6. Figure out the conversation you needed to have, instead of the fight
  • Take conflict as information that something could be improved in your relationship.
  • “What are you doing wrong” vs. “What’s going on in our lives that this is happening now”.
the importance of repair
The Importance of Repair
  • When we mess up we have to fix it!
  • A repair is a few words or a gesture that gets our communication back on track, where we are on the same page again.
  • It takes both people for a repair to work.
  • Partners in successful relationships accept each other’s repair attempts.
  • The crown-jewel of repair: “I’m sorry”.
find ways to maintain connection
Find ways to maintain connection

In dealing with your emotions, your sexual relationship, your expectations and the nitty-gritty of who does what within the family, couples are grappling with issues of staying in touch with each other while sometimes being pulled in different directions.

give yourself regular check ups
Give yourself regular check-ups
  • Take stock of how you are doing and think about where you might make some adjustments before problems get bigger.
  • Talk about how you feel you are doing in the major parts of your life together.
  • Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted and you feel free to explore your feelings.
address family legacies
Address family legacies

Be aware of, and come to terms with, painful childhood experiences so that you can now create new, healthier patterns in your family.

don t ignore sex and intimacy
Don’t ignore sex and intimacy
  • Talk about it
  • Find opportunities for nonsexual intimacy
fathers involved in the care of their children
Fathers involved in the care of their children

When men are involved in the care of their children, they feel better about themselves, their wives feel better about themselves and they both feel better about their relationship.

most important of all
Most important of all…

Be willing to rock the boat by stopping escalating arguments and come back to discussions that became hurtful or unproductive, in order to figure out what went wrong.


The Transition to Parenthood, Belsky, J., & Kelly, J. 1994.

When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples, Cowan, C., & Cowan, P. 1999.

And Baby Makes Three, Gottman, J.M., & Gottman, J.S. 2007.