How to Protect Your Relationship From the Stress of Parenthood

Distance. Resentment. Disappointment.

That's what parenthood can add to your relationship if you're not really, really careful.

Especially in America, where two parents are expected to manage all the childcare, housework, income, leisure activities (i.e., EVERY THING) themselves. And without sufficient family leave, sick time, vacation time, (i.e., NO TIME).

So here you are with exponentially more work to do, intense emotional demands of parenting, way less time, and a super-charged parent-shame culture ("Do it all perfectly and love every minute, or else you totally suck and your kids are ruined, I tell you, ruined.")

You know what feels really good in this overwhelming situation?

Finding someone to blame.

When we have someone to blame, our feelings of uncertainty and helplessness are soothed, because the answer becomes simple and clear. That person is causing my suffering.

We don't do this blaming consciously, we aren't trying to sabotage the one relationship we most depend upon, we just want our suffering to ease up, and blame is a tempting solution.

When I work with parent couples, we begin by shifting their THEORY OF SUFFERING.

Typically, the starting theory is, "I'm suffering because s/he isn't helping enough and/or paying enough attention to me."

In the context of so much suffering and struggle, we make our partner the enemy, we become adversaries. We compete for who's causing whom more pain. We compete for who is getting the raw end of the deal.

I propose a new theory :

You're Each suffering because there's a relentless s#*t ton of work to do and you're both super freaking tired.

Here you are, two people expected to do every single thing to run a family. Up until a few decades ago, the responsibility was spread out among extended family, neighbors, communities.

You are allies in this thing. You are co-owners of this family and this life.

You do not need to be adversaries. You do not need to be sources of irritation, isolation, and resentment.

You can Act as if you are Each Other's Main source of comfort, support, and friendship in this crazy situation.

Once couples shift their Theory of Suffering (and both partners need to shift it, not just one!), everything starts to look, feel, and work differently.

Change your theory, then change your behavior.

Turn Toward your partner when you feel stressed, irritated, overwhelmed, tired, lonely.

Turn Toward your partner when he or she feels the same.

Agree not to Turn Away.

Agree not to Turn Against.

Turn Toward Each Other for Comfort, Support, and Friendship so you can love each other Well through the s#*t ton of work.

You can do it and you can start right now. Change your theory, then turn toward, and turn toward, and turn toward. Turn toward by sharing this article with your partner and start a new conversation, one based on love and optimism.

With love and optimism for you and your beautiful family,

Dr. J