Growing Together: Nurture Your Relationship During Pregnancy
As a marriage counselor, couples therapist and premarital counselor, (and a guy who's had a pregnant wife), I know that perhaps no event is more life-changing for a couple than having a child. Babies bring joy and meaning to our lives, but there is no doubt that having a child, and caring for that child, will drastically change a couple’s relationship.
However, did you know that those changes to your relationship do not begin after a child is born, but long before? Those drastic changes often begin in the first trimester of a mother’s gestational period, sometimes even shortly after conception. In my experience, relationships can even change immediately after pregnancy is discovered. Rather than seeing those changes as obstacles, viewing them as opportunities to learn together, grow as a couple, and strengthen your relationship as you prepare for a baby’s arrival is a great way to begin this new chapter in life.
Pregnancy: An Opportunity to Increase Compassion and Empathy in Your Relationship
To begin with, the first trimester is often an emotionally turbulent time in a mother’s life. Many pregnancies do not carry past twelve weeks, so the emotional burden on couples playing that waiting game can be excruciating for a relationship. This is a time for a partner to listen and understand a pregnant partner’s uncertainty. Know that an expectant mother in the first trimester already has hormones spiraling inside of her, which can inflame an already uncertain situation. A partner that listens and feels their pregnant partner’s fears can build much more connection than a partner who judges or wishes their expectant companion would “handle things better”, especially with difficult, high-risk pregnancies. It might help to remind yourself that pregnant mothers in the first trimester are handling their emotions the best they can!
Deepen The Trust and Emotional Support in Your Relationship During Pregnancy
A couple expecting a child can also count on physical obstacles in the first trimester that can tear at a relationship if not understood. Most of us know about morning sickness and food cravings, but gestational diabetes (which onsets during pregnancy) is also often diagnosed during this time. So, not only does a couple have to emotionally contend with the possibility of a baby not carrying past the first trimester, but an expectant mother may have to drastically change eating habits or even begin taking insulin too. Again, this can be heartbreakingly difficult for a mother to cope with on her own – she needs the support of her relationship to help carry her through.
My advice to partners of pregnant moms: Be pregnant too. Go on that diet with her, go to all of the ultrasounds that you can, and support her to show her that she can count on you. Especially in the difficult times, your efforts to build trust and connection does wonders for a relationship, both during and after pregnancy.
Negotiate Major Changes to Your Relationship, As a Strong Couple
Many couples believe that having a baby changes a couple’s social and love life, but that process of change often begins much earlier. A couple will often find that an expectant mother in the first trimester will likely not feel up to seeing friends or socializing much at all. Even a formerly extremely social couple may find themselves staying and not going out from the first days of pregnancy, not just after a baby is born. With that sudden, drastic change comes a period of grief that a social couple will undoubtedly feel, and couples that are less social will still feel obvious, immediate changes to their lives. Also, a formerly sexually active couple will see changes in their love lives, as the hormonal changes in many early-term pregnant mothers often reduces sex drive. During this period, emotions may flair and couples may say things to one another they may regret in the heat of the moment.
The key to getting through this period with more trust, and not less, is to understand one another and to honestly express emotions without judgment. Change creates emotional confusion, and both members of a couple will experience that emotional change in their own ways. The thing to remember is that you, as a couple, are in this together, not separately, and being able to share and listen to each other doubts and fears, as well as hopes and dreams, is crucial to building connection throughout a pregnancy.
Prepare Your Relationship For The Adventure of Parenthood
And guess what? All that emotional uncertainty will not go away immediately after a little one is sleeping in a crib next to you! What better way to prepare for all the changes of new parenthood, than to practice changing and growing together during your pregnancy? Enjoying the good times and understanding the not-so-good times of pregnancy will bring couples closer together, not tear them apart. Practicing your patience, compassion, flexibility, and acceptance of each other now will make you an even better team for the baby that will be here before you know it.
Knowing that your life changes immediately after pregnancy, and not when the baby is born, can help you make positive change in your relationship, and your love, that will strengthen your bonds and create a more joyful family experience.