By: Cristina Trette
After the birth of the first baby, 67 percent of couples see their relationship satisfaction plummet, according to research by John Gottman, PhD. The arrival of the first newborn throws most parents into a total life change overnight. Many couples, used to life of flexibility and autonomy, have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of a newborn, despite the fact that they love their new child.
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 pregnancy can be 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. They can find themselves overwhelmed with the unending tasks of newborn care which includes nursing or bottles round the clock, middle of the night diaper changes, and long periods of holding baby while they cry that can last hours. It is common for couples to experience new conflict around sleep, parenting styles, 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 an increase in: relationship satisfaction, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of one another. It appears that developing a mindfulness practice before baby arrives, and maintaining after, can help prevent relationship distress.
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.
New parents may not be able to do a mindfulness meditation, class, or activity. They are swamped with caring for their child, the home, and careers. Yet those whom practice mindfulness generally see that they are able to weave the concepts into their daily living, without having to do a mindfulness meditation, class, or activity. Yet they can adopt some of the mindfulness principles, such as of non judgment, compassion, awareness, tuning into sense, and focusing on their breath.
Do you practice mindfulness with your partner or spouse? Are you a parent practicing mindfulness? Please tell me about the practice and how it has impacted your relationship in the comment box below!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couple Therapist and Perinatal Mental Health Therapist. I help couples create secure and vibrant relationships. I also guide parents to connect with their children, and themselves. I write, teach, and speak on relationships, parenthood, and integrative mental health.