How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy After Baby

Let’s be realistic. Having a baby can be a wonderful thing for a relationship but it does not leave any relationship unchanged. Babies are a huge life transition for anyone, which comes with a lot of challenges (and joys). 

In order to keep your relationship healthy post-baby:

1.) Change your expectations — Don’t try to go back to the way your relationship was before you had a child. It is not going to be the same because now you have another to care for, another to share your time with, and another to support. Your relationship will change and in many cases grow even deeper than it was before. 

2.) Communicate — As with any relationship, communication is key. But even more so during times of big transitions, you need to be honest and open. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your struggles, etc. You can’t help each other through these times if you don’t know what each other is dealing with. 

3.) Schedule alone time — Yes, you have this new life to care for but don’t forget about your need to bond with your spouse. Even more so now date nights (even if they are at home on your couch while your child sleeps in the next room) are of crucial importance. You need time together.

4.) Give each other a break — Support each other during this transition time. There will be ups and downs and you both will need breaks. For mom, that might mean a good nights sleep, some girl time, or a massage. For dad, that might mean time for hobbies that they love and no longer have as many hours to give to them. 

5.) Have Patience — This time is going to be hard for you both, in different ways. There will be days when you feel angry or frustrated with each other. There will be days when you are so exhausted you can’t even think straight. Cut each other some slack. It won’t be like this forever. Recognize this is a rough patch and you will figure it out. 

Having a baby is a beautiful thing but few couples realize the complete life-altering impact of creating a family until they are in it. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to struggle a bit with this transition. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not lose sight of what really matters. You love each other and this new addition to your family, and your child needs parents who care for each other and support each other. Talk it out and remember you are on the same team. 

love practice

Love Is A Practice

Love is part of being human but it is not something that just comes naturally, at least that is what one analyst believes. Loving another takes work. It requires effort, discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. Love is not a feeling, rather it is a practice.

Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm outlined this perspective in his 1956 book, The Art of Loving. Fromm thinks of love not as something that is mysterious or magical but rather something that can be analyzed and explained. His theory revolves around the idea that a person cannot fully experience real love until they have developed their total personality. Part of this involves self-love. It means learning how to care for yourself before you can fully care for another. It means taking responsibility for your choices, your decisions, your actions. It means respecting yourself, knowing and being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and your strengths. Truly knowing and understanding yourself means being realistic. A person must learn to love their neighbor with “true humility, courage, faith, and discipline,” he writes. 

Work To Be Loved

He believes that a person cannot fall in love but rather they have to work to be in love. It is not something that happens to a person, but instead is something that is worked at achieving. Fromm argues there are four basic elements to true love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. 

His perspective, while agreed to by some and criticized by others, contains a foundation that is undeniably true across all relationships—you can’t maintain a relationship without putting in the effort. That is the bottom line. It is not smooth sailing all the time. You can’t throw in the towel every time things get difficult. You really have to work at it. It does take discipline, it does take a level-headed mindset and the ability to consider both sides of the spectrum. 

Regardless of beliefs or theories, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that love is beautiful and as Fromm would say “is one of life’s greatest achievements.” 

Ask Mabel: Is It Selfish That I Don’t Want Kids?

Dear Mabel, 

Everyone expects that as a woman you will have kids. I hate that expectation. I don’t want kids. My mom, my boyfriend, my father, my grandparents, etc. all talk about me having a baby someday. But, I can’t even imagine being a mother. I don’t want to have kids. Is it selfish that I don’t want kids?

Sincerely, Charlotte from Nevada

Mabel: Hi Charlotte. It is not selfish for you to not want kids. The selfish thing would be for you to have kids just to please those around you and then not giving your kids the attention and care they need/deserve because you never wanted kids. You know yourself best and if you don’t want kids, then you don’t have to have them. It is fine to not want kids. The world is fine without you having kids. The world won’t end if you don’t have kids. Your family can wish whatever they want to wish. It is ok for them to wish. They can want you to have kids, but it does not mean you have too. You do not need to fulfill their needs. Do what feels right to you. 

On a side note, it is also important that whoever you end up with is on the same page. Make it clear from the beginning of your relationships that you don’t want kids. This will help you to avoid the heartache later if your significant other has different feelings. 

Just because you are a woman, does not mean that you need to have children. Follow your heart. Do what feels best for you. 

Holding it in: When Gender Roles Collide With Marriage

Marriage is not easy. It is a work in progress. It is constantly evolving, changing, expanding. As a marriage counselor, I often see trends in the couples I am seeing—common issues. When these things arise they make me think that these points of contention are not a single relationship issue and more of a common overarching marital issue. 

Gender Roles and Privilege

Over my years I have seen the tone of marriage counseling get harder and deeper as conversations about gender roles and privilege emerge. I hear from wives that they have spent their whole marriage doing nothing but caring for their husband and children and they want time for themselves. They want the autonomy to make their own choices. They want to do things for themselves, make decisions without consulting the other party.

From the men I hear frustration and hurt. They thought they were making decisions with their wives as a unit. They thought these were things they were doing together. The men had assumed a high degree of cohesion. Now that their wives are feeling the need for autonomy, the men are wishing for more consideration of their feelings and needs. 

The wives in these cases are resentful. They feel like they have been attending to their husband’s needs and feelings this whole time and now it is time to care for themselves. 

Overrun With Guilt

The reality of these issues is that women are raised to think they need to be caring for their spouse and their children and putting their needs ahead of their own. This is what history has shown us. These are the examples we were taught. So all this time we are doing these things and keeping our mouths shut. We want to do things for ourselves but instead, we are overrun with guilt. We have this deep-seated obligation to please our spouse whether it hurts us or not. It is something I am not even sure most women think about or realize until they hit a breaking point. 

It is when they hit the point of feeling overwhelmed, not themselves, lost, confused, depressed, whatever it is..it is then that women start to see the way things have been all along. 

Marriages would operate much better if we saw these potential problems from the beginning. If we could communicate to our spouses that we don’t want to stay home with the kids, we don’t want to clean the house by ourselves, we don’t want to cook dinner every night. If we asked our spouses for help. If we were open, honest about our feelings things could be better. 

The key, as it is with most relationships, is communication. It is about having an open, honest dialogue with your spouse. Your happiness matters. Your needs matter. Speak up for what you want. Express concern to your spouse.

Self-love and selfish are two VERY different things

So many times I hear people refer to things they are doing to care for themselves as selfish. It is almost like putting yourself first in any aspect of your life is a bad thing. There are these feelings of guilt that wash over us as we take the time to care for ourselves. We are thinking about all the things we should be doing, we could be doing for the others in our lives. 

Self-love is essential

This is not true. Self-love and being selfish are two very VERY different things. Self-love is essential to your happiness, your ability to thrive, and your confidence. Self-love is taking the time to fit in exercise, healthy meals, massages, an hour away from your kids to take a walk, time to read a book. Self-love is crucial to maintaining you. Maybe the key is to stop thinking about taking care of yourself as selfish and instead think of it like you do an oil change on your car. What happens if you don’t keep up with oil changes on your car? What happens if you let your car run out of oil? It blows up. The engine dies. The car is rendered useless. Self-care is soooo important. You cannot take care of the other people in your life fully until you care for YOU. 

Being selfish is operating with a lack of consideration for others. It is deciding that the needs of others just don’t matter to you. It is operating with complete disregard for the health, safety, happiness of others. It is so very different from self-care.

Taking time for you is NOT selfish

Just because you take the time to care for yourself does not mean you are not considering others. In fact, it may be the very opposite. If you can’t fully take care of others until you take care of yourself then you are doing just that — considering others. It is not selfish to have your spouse take the kids to their baseball game so you can squeeze in a run. It is not selfish to order in dinner because you are too exhausted to cook. It is not selfish to miss the monthly PTA meeting so you can go to bed early. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty. Stop feeling guilty. Find the time to take care of you so that you can be the best version of you. 

How do you practice self-care?

Lets Put An End To Period Shaming

Think periods. The cramps, the bloating, the aches, the moodiness, the downright shitty feeling. Does anyone actually feel good when they are on their period? Now think about what you do when you are on your period — do you talk about it? Noooo that’s taboo. Who talks about it? Well, 51 percent of the population goes through, or has gone through, a period — so why aren’t we comfortable talking about it? 

Do you hide your pad or your tampon and scurry to the bathroom? Do you pretend that everything is ok when all you really want to do is curl up on the couch? 

Part of being a woman

This is period shaming and it is something that many of us are accustomed to. We were raised as young girls to hide that we were having “that time of the month.” We buy tampons in discrete packaging. We purchase scented pads to ward off any passerby. Really girls? Yes, this is part of our life. It is part of being a woman. It is something we were born with. It is how we procreate. It is a beautiful—yet oh so miserable—part of human nature. Yet it feels like something we need to keep a secret. No one talks about it. 

The other day I read an article in Ad Week and it really struck a chord with me as a woman. The article focused on a company that is changing the way women’s menstrual products are advertised. They are throwing out the famous blue liquid for a true blood depiction, without being too shock and awe, of course. Rather than showing women who are supposedly on their periods rollerblading, swimming, hiking, bike riding, and laughing with their friends and families, they are being real. For so long ads for women’s menstrual products have shamed women into thinking they need to hide this basic part of being female. Everything has been focused on “avoiding leaks,” “feminine scents,” “discrete packaging,” etc. It really is ridiculous when you think about it. 

Positive Changes

This company is doing it right. They are treating periods like the common cold. Let’s be real. No one is ashamed to grab a tissue when they have to sneeze. So, why is it so shameful to grab a pad when that time of the month strikes? 

For more information, the full article is here: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-one-of-todays-boldest-marketers-is-shattering-stigmas-inflicted-on-women-worldwide/

 

Ask Mabel: I feel bad about the thoughts I have regarding my children because of my postpartum psychosis

Dear Mabel,

I have decided that I need to see a therapist about my postpartum psychosis. I have been having bad thoughts about my babies. I would never hurt them but it makes me feel like a horrible mom for having these thoughts. I know therapy is a step in the right direction but is there also a medication that could help? I don’t know what to do but I know something needs to change. 

Sincerely, Erica from Missouri

The Courage To Speak Out

Mabel: Hi Erica, I commend you for your courage to speak out. I know that many moms who suffer from postpartum psychosis feel so horrible about their thoughts that they are embarrassed to address them. But, starting the conversation with a licensed therapist can help you heal and move forward in a positive direction. 

Postpartum psychosis is caused by the hormone fluctuations that occur during and after the birth of a child. These hormone changes can be major and they mess with the chemical makeup of our brains. In addition to negative thoughts, these changes can cause depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations, mania, and delusions. They usually start to occur in the first two weeks after childbirth. These things you are experiencing have a lot more to do with biology than your morale as a person. 

You are NOT a bad mom. The fact that you feel like a horrible mom means that you are exactly the opposite. You are a good person and a good mom for wanting to get help and make changes so that you don’t have these thoughts. 

I am proud of you for seeking help. There are medications that you are welcome to discuss with a health professional. Therapy will also benefit you and help you to heal.  

Why You Should Never Compare Your Relationship To Others

Comparing your relationships to the others in your life comes naturally to many of us. Without even realizing it you might start thinking about how kind your friend’s husband is to her and how you wish your husband would be more like hers. You might have grown up in what you felt was a perfect family home, with parents who had a “perfect” marriage or at least one you have strived to have of your own. This practice, however harmless it might feel, is a dangerous one. It can be toxic to your own relationships. 

First of all, it is important to note that no matter what you are seeing on the outside of someone’s relationship might be very different from their private life. You don’t know all the nitty-gritty details, even if you think you do. Second, by focusing on what your relationship is lacking (by your perception) you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Missing The Positives

When we are always wishing things were better, wishing they were different in some way, we are ruminating on the negative and missing the positives. Maybe you see your friend and her husband going on weekend hikes and you think that is something you wish you could do with your husband. But, your husband has bad allergies or a bad knee and hikes just aren’t in the cards. Maybe you are forgetting that you and your husband spend your weekends having other special moments, maybe you binge watch TV shows, cook together, or try to have a special outing of some kind.

Maybe you wish your husband brought you coffee in bed every morning because that is what you see when you stay the night at a relative’s home. But, then you are forgetting the other things your husband does for you— folds your clothes, puts the dishes away, wipes the snow off your car windows, starts your car before he goes to work, whatever it is we all have different ways of expressing love. 

Blind You

Comparisons can blind you from the things that were once important to you. It leads to resentment and sadness. Suddenly they don’t seem as important because you are so focused on what you are missing. Your relationship is special in its own way. You are a different couple than others in your life and that is healthy. Comparing just leads to unhappiness, arguments, and increased frustrations. It clouds your vision. It disables your ability to see what is truly beautiful in your personal life. 

Reign it in. Stop comparing. Instead, catch your brain before it starts ruminating and ask yourself to think about five good things in your relationship. If you can’t, well then, maybe you should reevaluate. Or, consider seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to sort through your feelings and come to terms with what you want out of your life and your relationships. 

Ask Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me and says I have mental health issues

Dear Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me. He often gets frustrated and says that I have mental health issues (I actually have been diagnosed with ADD). He is constantly telling me he thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder or other issues and wants me to go see someone. I don’t know what to believe. He is the only one who ever seems to have complaints about me. I am not hearing these things from anyone else. Which makes me think is it really me or is it him? What do I do?

Sincerely, Margaret from New York

Mabel: Hi Margaret, I am sorry to hear you are struggling with your husband’s comments. Based on your email, I don’t have a clear picture of how your husband treats you, how you treat him, or the dynamics of your relationship. Unless your husband is a licensed mental health professional, he shouldn’t be diagnosing anybody. Nonetheless, it sounds like he is trying to communicate something important to him. I think both of you may benefit from couples counseling to gain an understanding of the ins and outs of your relationship, the frustration points for each of you, and what can be done to enhance your relationship.

There are quite a few similarities between ADD and BPD, would you be open to exploring those? I am not saying your husband is correct but often times it is those who are closest to us that notice our blind spots. If you have a mental health professional help you to explore, rule out, and/or potentially treat any problems then you would know for sure. 

Maybe he is right and you are just unhappy about what you are hearing from him. Maybe you are right and he is being inconsiderate to you. Or, maybe both of you are right and wrong at the same time and could benefit from some couples counseling. 

What I propose and what would be a positive solution to solving this issue would be to explore the scientific evidence. Look at the reality of things and gain more understanding of yourself and the dynamics of your relationship.

Ask Mabel: My partner hurt me when he insisted I needed my ADD meds to be in a relationship

Dear Mabel: My partner recently said something that really hurt me. He said, “you will never be able to have a relationship if you don’t take your ADD medication.” To me, it sounded like he was saying people are only able to love an edited/altered version of myself. It sounded like he was telling me I was un-loveable as is. What am I supposed to do with this comment? How do I move forward?

Sincerely, Mary from Virginia

Mabel: Hi Mary, I am sorry you are struggling with this comment. It sounds like your partner is trying to communicate something important, but I agree he could say it in a different way. You see, love and having a relationship are two different things. Love is a feeling. It is something that comes from deep within a person. Relating, on the other hand, is a behavior. You can love someone and not have a relationship with them, for whatever reason that is. Someone can love you for all of you. They can care deeply for you but they may be unable to maintain a relationship with you because of your ADD/ADHD symptoms. Symptoms, as I am sure you know, of ADD/ADHD can be severe enough to drive behaviors that might sabotage a relationship. For example, you may not be able to complete basic tasks or find it difficult to focus on things that need to get done thus frustrating and angering your partner to the point where they decide they need to move on. Rather than thinking of your partner’s comments as a blow to who you are as a person, think of them as an honest request from him to keep up on your meds so you can function to the best of your ability. 

Medication may help some folks focus better, but that’s only one aspect of the treatment. Changing habits and coping strategies can help tremendously. You may find it beneficial to seek help from a licensed counselor who can help you to develop some coping strategies, new habits, and work through emotions to make sure you are doing the best you can for yourself.