Studies have shown that married couples frequently hit a rough patch soon after the birth of their first child. A growing number of mental-health professionals are urging moms- and dads-to-be to get some counseling before baby arrives so they'll be better equipped for the "marital minefields" of parenthood, The Wall Street Journal reports. What are these couples doing to protect their marriages from the changes that await them outside the delivery room? Here, a brief guide:
Do babies really cause so much marital trouble?
Yes. Up to two-thirds of couples report that the quality of their relationship sinks within three years of their child's birth, according to the Relationship Research Institute (RRI) in Seattle. For moms, marital satisfaction drops immediately, probably due largely to hormonal changes and the physical demands of childbirth and nursing, says Renay Bradley of the RRI, as quoted in the Journal. For dads, the effect kicks in over the next few months, as conflict increases over new family duties, and as time for adult conversations and sex vanishes.
What do counselors advise couples to work on?
The main thing is getting everything on the table in advance. Counselors at Chicago's Urban Balance have their clients list every household task, from paying bills to getting up when the baby cries in the middle of the night, and decide who'll be responsible for each one. That helps prevent bickering over whose turn it is to change the diaper. And the RRI's 12-hour Bringing Baby Home workshop teaches four steps to maintain intimacy and calmly settle inevitable conflicts. The key is softening the rhetoric, and saying things like "I would appreciate it if..." instead of making forceful demands.
And does it work?
Yes, but only if couples do more than map out a schedule for date nights and sex. The Bringing Baby Home program urges couples to spend at least 20 minutes a day talking with each other. Richard Goodrow and Corrie Fisher, thirty-somethings from Boston, accomplished that by putting their baby girl, now 2, in a stroller, and hashing things out on a regular long walk. "If it was skipped, it was surely missed. Tensions would rise," Fisher says, as quoted in the Journal. The important thing, says Mariette Ulrich at MercatorNet, is to let couples know that parenthood isn't "all soothing lullabies and the scent of baby powder," and to give them the necessary skills without scaring them out of procreating at all.
How have the parenting blogs responded?
With mixed reactions. MercatorNet's Ulrich says she's "glad that hospitals and mental health professionals are finally catching up" with churches, which have long been preparing people for marriage. Sierra Black at Babble says, "It suggests that the losses we suffer in our marriages after having kids aren't inevitable." But Carrie L. Lukas at Independent Women's Forum argues that a little common sense would work just as well: "Keeping some perspective about the temporary hassles of kids seems like a good start for those who want to avoid $500 counseling sessions."