By: Cristina Trette
After having a baby, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet, according to research by John Gottman, PhD. The arrival of the first baby can throw parents into a total life change overnight. Many new parents, used to life with flexibility and autonomy, have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of a newborn, despite the fact that they love their new child. They can find themselves overwhelmed with the daily tasks of newborn care which includes nursing or bottle feeding round the clock, middle of the night diaper changes, and long periods of holding baby while they cry that can last hours.
There was a time when new parents were showered with support from grandparents and family after the baby arrived. But today, many modern parents are caring for newborns at home in isolation. Unfortunately, the isolation is contributing to a host of problems, including marital distress. Learning how to care for a newborn, without any support, can feel a marathon that just won’t end.
Although the birth of a baby is exciting and joyful, a new baby can create significant stress. Many couples who would describe themselves as having a loving relationship before the birth of the first child, discover relationship stress after baby arrives. It is common for couples to experience new conflict around sleep, child care, finances, careers, division of household duties, sex, in-laws and extended family, and how each partner spends free time.
This news is discouraging. Yet, it leads to a very important question. Is there anything that couples can do to ensure that their relationship will remain strong and connected even after the birth of their first child? Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement (MBRE) may be one answer.
In a study done at The University of North Carolina (Carsen et all, 2004), it was found that couples who committed to an 8 session MBRE program found significantly positive benefits. Some of the results included increased: relationship satisfaction, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of one another. It appears that mindfulness practices being actively applied once the baby arrives, or even before, can prevent a marital satisfaction from plummeting once the baby comes.
New parents may not have time to participate in a lot of extra activities outside the home when they have a newborn. Developing a mindfulness practice before the birth of the first child could possibly serve as a protective function and prevent parenting couples from experiencing the common martial dissatisfaction plummet.
Many mindfulness practices are simple to add to a daily routine. If the couple can set aside even 15 - 30 minutes a day for mindfulness practice together, perhaps while baby sleeps, they will reap the benefits of having a more connected relationship while becoming more responsive parents.
Below is a short list of mindfulness practices to help you and your partner get started:
In this practice, the walkers remain silent while bringing awareness to all senses. The walker focuses on the movement of walking and how the feet and body feel when being lifted up and on the ground. Attention is also focused on the sound of the wind, the leaves rustling, the birds chirping, the way the sun feels on ones face, or how the wind feels against ones body. After couples walk silently, they can have a discussion about what the practice felt like for them.
The raisin is an enjoyable practice for the couple to do together. Each person holds a raisin in silence for several minutes. The purpose is to focus all aspects of the raisin - the ridges, the stickiness, size, color, etc. Next, the individuals eat the raisin with a focus on chewing the raisin very slowly. Once the raisin is eaten, the couple can take turns asking each other questions. Questions asked can include are how does it look, feel, taste. Yet the exercise requires attention, focus, and awareness. It also requires that each partner is fully present with the other. These are important aspects to bring into relationships and parenting.
When body scanning, the individual focuses on each body part and notices whatever body sensations, thoughts, or feelings arise without judgment. A fun way to do this is for the couple to take turns leading the other through the body scan. To start, one of you will want to lay down on the ground, get comfortable, and begin with focusing on the breath. The one who leads will begin with saying a body part out loud (toes, foot, calf... moving all the way up to the top of the head). When focusing on a body part, notice sensations, thoughts, memories. After the first partner has gone through the whole body, you will switch. Once both have completed the scan, take some time to share with each other what came up for you.
This is a wonderful practice to move into state of love, appreciation, and feelings of well being. The couple can do this short exercise any time such as at the start of dinner, while taking a walk, or when driving in the car. Each person takes a turn naming outloud what he or she is grateful for and continues for around 5 to 10 minutes.
In addition to the mindfulness exercise, mindfulness can become a way of being, rather than a set practice. This is great news for busy parents that may not have time to devote 15 minutes a day to a defined exercise. We are all able to weave mindfulness concepts into our relationships and how we operate. Such as, we can practice raising our awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We can notice when we are judging instead of allowing. We can take on a view of general acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others.
Do you practice mindfulness with your partner or spouse? If you do, please tell me about the practice and how it has impacted your relationship in the comment box below!