Prenatal Couples Therapy: Learning to Communicate with a Baby on the Way

I am a big believer in preventative measures when it comes to your physical and mental health. Many women plan and prep their bodies for a potential pregnancy through exercise, healthy eating, Ob/Gyn appointments, and taking prenatal vitamins… but how many prepare their minds and relationship for the transition into parenthood?

Prenatal therapy is a term I came up with to describe the importance of establishing healthy communication and mental health prior to a pregnancy or birth. Lots of focus is put on the mother during a pregnancy, but we often forget that although things are changing for mom-to-be they are also changing for the relationship.

Bringing a baby into the world means bringing another person into your family dynamic. For many relationships there is a drastic shift (whether it is baby number one or two or three) in the relationship as attention is split between more people. Partners have all sorts of feelings as well, when it comes to a pregnancy, and many times we forget that they are going through changes too.

One of the things I remember most about my own pregnancy with my first born, was how my husband voiced that he felt left out of so many things. While he was at work, I was at home putting a nursery together and going to doctor’s appointments, but it never crossed my mind that he wanted to participate in these things. We had a thorough & productive conversation (we’re both therapists so this isn’t uncommon for us) that led to a whole afternoon together building a crib and celebrating the new baby, and he began attending every doctor’s appointment (even though the doctor’s were surprised to see him…every time).

This is just an example of how communication is so important around this life transition. Once baby is here it is harder to find quiet time to have in-depth conversations, and communication often takes a turn for the worst. Attending prenatal couples therapy allows time to think about this shift as a team and discuss some major ideas that may not have been relevant up until this point.

Some of the topics often looked over prior to having a bun in the oven:

  • Will household duties be distributed differently (especially during postpartum recovery)? What will it look like once maternity/paternity leave is over?
  • Are visits with family welcome? Who is high on the “frequent flyer” list (grandparents, uncles/aunts/cousins, friends, etc.)?
  • What family/cultural traditions will be practiced? How about holidays/birthdays/vacations?
  • What parenting/discipline style do you expect to use? What was your experience like with your own parents?
  • How will you communicate your unique needs? Will you need “me time”?
  • What will “couple time” look like? Date nights? Childcare?
  • What are expectations around physical and emotional intimacy (especially during postpartum)?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many decisions will be first time decisions, and first time discussions. Thinking about these things in a space that provides extra tools and insight to communicate effectively can be a lifelong gift to your relationship. Consider adding prenatal couples counseling to your “get done before the due date” to do list. It may be the key to a smooth transition from two to three.

Healthy Disagreements: What’s the Difference between Solvable & Perpetual Problems?

So your spouse forgot about Valentine’s Day again? That is a problem for sure. Is it a deal-breaker though? You know that they are going to forget it because it happens every year, so you’re prepared for their sad attempt to make it up the weekend after with wilted roses and a dinner at your 2nd favorite restaurant. 

What if your partner doesn’t want to get married? That may be a deal-breaker. You may value the union that is marriage, while they never see themselves becoming tied down. That isn’t a problem that is solved very easily. 

Solvable vs. Perpetual Problems. These are the types of problems that are present in any relationship. You have examples, so let’s define them.

  • Solvable Problems: aspects or behaviors of your partner that are difficult to handle, but tolerable. There are usually reachable solutions or compromises that can be made for these types of problems.

  • Perpetual Problems: values your partner holds that may be intolerable or in opposition to your own values or beliefs. Things that you may have to “bend” on in order to stay happy in your relationship. These types of problems will always be present in your relationship.

You may go into therapy knowing that there is a problem in your relationship, but you may not know whether it is a solvable or perpetual one. This is an important part of the therapeutic process. Realizing what type of problem you are working to solve will allow you to figure out with your therapist the steps necessary to either solve said problem or learn to live with it.

Using simple tools such as “I Statements”, “Repair Attempts”, or deep breathing can all be ways of approaching solvable problems. See the list below for some tips and tricks on how to handle solvable problems in your relationship.

solvable problems

If any of these approaches do not seem like enough when it comes to a problem between yourself and your partner, you may have a perpetual problem. This problem is most likely best suited for therapy. Going to couples therapy can be a great place for solvable or perpetual problems because it allows for a neutral space to practice the skills necessary to manage the problem at hand. Going into therapy with an open mind and open heart can be the defining factor in whether solutions are found.

What solvable or perpetual problems have you been able to manage in the past?

 

sign off

 

Engagement Anxiety: How You Really Feel After They Pop The Question

Did you get proposed to at Christmas? New Year? Your birthday? Or are you expecting a proposal on Valentine’s Day or at another upcoming celebration? Whether you were recently proposed to or hoping to take your relationship to the next level, here’s some ways to manage the anxiety that often follows…

There are a lot of big moments in your life, and getting proposed to is arguably in the top 5. The society we live in has created a billion dollar business off of couples committing themselves to one another. You may be knees deep in bridal magazines, color swatches, Instagram feeds of brides and grooms and venues…oh my! And although everyone may ask you, “How did they propose??”, very few may ask, “How are you feeling about getting married?”

Cue the engagement anxiety.

Everyone expects you to be smiling from ear to ear for the next year or two as you plan the “biggest day of your life”, but you may feel as if nothing but stress and worry and doubt are flooding over you. Some brides-to-be (or Grooms-to-be) may start finding small things to nit-pick about their partner…”His teeth aren’t white enough.”, “Her toes are strange”, “They don’t understand me!” Things you didn’t even notice before become these huge question marks looming over your relationship.

Where does this anxiety come from? Is it normal? And what do you do about it?? Here’s 5 steps to resolving your engagement anxiety…

black girl1. Be Aware That You Are Not Alone

Engaged women all over the world are panicking at this very moment about whether they should get married or not…they just aren’t telling anyone (other than their therapist). So you are not alone. You are allowed to have some anxiety about a new life transition and how your role in your relationship might change as a fiancé or spouse. There is no other time in life when you make a commitment to stay with one thing/person, literally forever…even kids leave the nest after 18 years. If there was a list of “legitimate reasons to be anxious”, this would definitely be on that list.

2. Recognize What Role Anxiety has Played in Your Life

Step 2 is to realize that anxiousness is present for different people at different times. Some people have dealt with crippling anxiety their entire lives, and are not surprised when this anxiety shows up in the middle of the proposal. Others have never felt anxious at all, so anxiety about their engagement feels extremely scary and completely new. Recognizing other times you have felt anxious allows you to recognize what skills you used to calm yourself down, and also allows you to recognize what may have been a trigger for this bout of anxiety. These questions you ask yourself may very likely be questions you also hear in a therapy session with your counselor.

shadow yoga

3. Do Some #SimpleSelfCare

When people hear “Self Care” they often think of a day at the spa or a vacation, but the key to good self care is consistency and small doses. Doing something as simple as buying your favorite coffee creamer to put in your instant coffee in the morning, or setting your alarm 10 minutes early so you can cuddle with your partner in the morning before you start your busy days. Those are the most effective ways to take care of yourself…what I call #SimpleSelfCare. Doing these little things will help reduce your level of anxiety and remind you that you are in control of how you feel. Being mindful of your breathing is another small adjustment that can have a big impact.

Some practice…breathe in (hold it)…1…2…3…4…5…breathe out. *Repeat until anxiety has subsided*

4. Communicate with Your Fiancé

Let’s be honest all this engagement anxiety is your partner’s fault. They just had to divulge their undying love for you in the form of a proposal. But really, if your anxiety is truly wrapped up in the engagement it is very important to talk with your partner about how you are feeling. Chances are they may already have noticed a shift in your demeanor or behaviors due to the anxiety. Discuss with them what is triggering to your anxiety and give suggestions on how they can help make you feel more comfortable. Whether that means them rubbing your back if you have a small panic attack or them chiming in when another person asks, “Have you set a date??” (*Side Note* that is honestly the most annoying question). Cluing your partner in to how you are feeling is a skill that is important now, and will be important for the rest of your relationship, so might as well get in some practice.

ring

5. Go to Premarital Counseling

Last, but definitely not least…go to premarital counseling! I know that I am biased because as a therapist I recommend therapy for any and all things, BUT this is one of the most ideal times in a relationship to go through couples therapy (it’s also one of therapists’ favorite stages to see a couple in). Premarital counseling is ideal because (hopefully) there aren’t any real problems in the relationship yet. This is the stage that you can really take a look at your partner and say I want to love this person unconditionally, and I’ll take whatever tools necessary to make that happen. When couples come into therapy 4, 7, or 10+ years into a marriage with a laundry list of reasons they want out, therapists often spend most of their time trying to get couples back to this place of wanting to try their hardest. Go now, so you can talk about all those little concerns and start building your tool box of skills that help you communicate with and love on your partner in all the best ways!

sign off

 

Cheaters: Why They Do It & How to Prevent It

So you are in a “committed” relationship (or so you thought), but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Something is wrong. You start to dig for clues as to what is possibly going on, and slowly (but surely) drive yourself crazy wondering, “are they cheating??” Well I bet there is another question you haven’t asked yourself…”have I been meeting my partner’s needs?” Yep. I bet you haven’t taken a second to think “why would my partner cheat?”

I wonder why you haven’t asked this question because there is only one reason why people cheat. Yes, one. Here’s the big, top secret reason…their needs are not being met.

man and woman wearing brown leather jackets

That’s it. Every person needs certain things to be fulfilled. These things could be love, sex, passion, compassion, security, generosity, time, affection, and an assortment of other things. More often than not people wind up in a relationship where their partner cannot satisfy ALL of their needs. Now this is the point where you are probably thinking, “well if your needs aren’t being met, just break up with the person!” Relationships aren’t that simple. Imagine this…

If our emotional needs looked more like our physical needs such as food, water, & shelter, how would things pan out? Imagine you were in a relationship where your partner is providing 2 out of 3 (water & shelter), but they were starving you. No food. You have dropped hints that you are hungry, maybe even straight up asked for food, but were denied 90% of the time. Then you come across someone who is offering up a feast on a silver platter. What are you going to do?

A. Go home to your water & shelter and continue starving?

B. Leave your whole life behind with only a guarantee of food (none of the water or shelter)?

C. Or are you going to try and sneak enough food to meet your needs, then go home to a reliable source of water and shelter?

Let’s be honest with ourselves, the last choice makes the most sense. Now putting this back into the emotional sense…when you partner with someone because they meet most of your needs, there is a risk that the needs that aren’t being met will be met somewhere else. The other option is to learn to live without that additional need, but that is often easier said than done.

Now, you may be wondering “how do I prevent cheating from happening in my relationship?” Great question. Before I answer, I must remind you that relationships are SELFLESS acts. That means at any given point in a relationship you should be trying to meet the needs of your partner, while effectively communicating your needs as well.

woman sitting in front of body of water

The best way to prevent cheating is by utilizing the time you spend as a single person figuring out how you can meet your own needs. This allows you the time and energy when you enter a relationship to focus on how you can meet your partners needs. Because again, relationships are not about you! They are about having a mutual understanding that you will support one another. If you can figure out your own needs, then you will want to be with someone who has done the same, and neither of you will be looking for a partner to complete them. Because you are a WHOLE person. No one can “complete” you.

pexels-photo-2169425.jpeg

Here’s the trickier part. If you are already in a relationship and feel your needs aren’t being met, then you have to learn what it is you need, and teach yourself/partner how to meet that need. You cannot just say “I need your attention more.” You have to educate your partner on how they can give you more attention. Give them the who/what/when/where/why/how you learned in grade school. For example, if your need is sexual intimacy:

Who needs to be meeting this need? Obviously it takes two to tango, so your partner needs to be involved in meeting this need.

What is the need EXACTLY? Be clear. Is this need about actual sex, or is this need about general physical touch? Does foreplay meet this need? Would you like to kiss & hug more often? This is not just a single sentence answer. Go into detail.

When is the appropriate time to meet this need? Everyone has a preference, but also when is it feasible to meet this need? Maybe kids are in the house so babysitters have to be arranged. Or maybe this is a need that needs to be met more than just once a month. When would you ideally like to meet this need? Be open to some compromise in the process.

Where is the appropriate place to meet this need? The bedroom, a hotel, the shower? Hey, whatever floats your boat.

Why is this need important to you? This may be the most important question. This is where you help your partner and teach your partner the reason behind the need. Maybe you feel like there is a general lack of intimacy, or maybe you feel insecure about how you look and want to feel desired by your partner. Again, not a place for a one sentence answer. Be descriptive.

How can your partner support this need? Explain what role you would like them to play in supporting this need. If they can initiate sex more often or if they can provide compliments that make you feel sexy. Whatever it is, help your partner figure out how they can be supportive.

No matter what your need is, utilize these questions to effectively communicate to your partner how you two can work as a team to meet each others’ needs. A relationship is about support and giving. Taking preventative steps to care for your partner can help reduce the likelihood of having to take drastic measures to put a relationship back together. And at the end of the day if you are finding it difficult to have these conversations, make a therapy appointment! Therapy is a great place to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently.

sign off

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!: Intimacy During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Remember when you were having fun trying to get pregnant? I’m feeling sexy, let’s have sex!  I’m ovulating, let’s have sex! I’m bored, let’s have sex! Any reason was a good reason to do the deed. Then you actually got pregnant, and let’s just say you weren’t as eager any more. Then! You had the baby and thought you’d be eager to get back to having some fun, but that didn’t happen right away. Well that’s because pregnancies and children change your romantic relationship. The question is do you let it change for the better or for the worst?

bed bedroom blanket clean
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

One of the most common statements in couples therapy is, “We never have sex.” Surprising? Maybe not, because of course lack of sex is often a result of lack of intimacy, respect, understanding, and many other things already missing from a relationship. These same things can get lost in the changes that occur during and after a pregnancy. Let’s talk about some of the ways sex changes when a baby is on the way.

1st Trimester

You may still look like yourself for the most part, but you probably don’t feel like yourself. Between morning sickness, severe fatigue, and just the stress of understanding that you are actually growing a human inside of you…sex is probably the last thing on your mind (I mean that’s what got you in this situation in the first place! #TurnOff). Your partner may still be very much into you though…no pun intended.

As you go through these unrecognizable changes your partner may still be ready to jump in the hay and may not understand why someone who was all about the sexy time a month or two ago is suddenly completely over the idea. This is the best time to talk to your partner about what’s going on for you and try to get them on the same page. As things start growing and feeling more and more uncomfortable, it will get harder to have a rational conversation about your partner’s needs as well as what you need.

Try practicing other forms of intimacy. Whether that be cuddling, kissing, hugging, eye contact or (let’s stay scientifically correct) fellatio or cunnilingus. If you don’t know what those last two are, Google it…actually on second thought. Don’t Google it. I’m talking about a good old fashioned BJ and well in the words of Cardi B let him “swim with his face”. Anyway…moving on.

2nd Trimester

The first 3 months can be rough, but with the 2nd trimester some changes may occur. The path of pregnancy is a continuously evolving one and you may notice changes in mood, changes in your body, and changes in your sex drive. Some women even experience an increase in their libido during this time! The tricky part about the 2nd trimester is getting back into the swing of things. If you got your partner on the same page during the 1st trimester it is easier to divulge to them that your desire is back and your ready to see what that body pillow was really meant to do.

Now, with a growing bump your partner may have some fears about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to sex at this stage. Always check in with your doctor to make sure they don’t have any concerns about you doing the deed (and trust that asking about sex is definitely not going to make your doctor uncomfortable…they stare at lady parts all day, they don’t have an uncomfortable bone in their bodies). Take the time to educate yourselves on what sex could look like at this stage, and possibly take a birthing class to help build trust and intimacy in this time of delicate emotions. Going to therapy during this time (individual or couples) can also be beneficial for exploring how you are really feeling about this pending new life.

pregnant woman in white dress shirt
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3rd Trimester

Things are getting a little lot more crowded and uncomfortable. You may have to get creative with your positioning in this stage, but the deed can be done (again, double check with your physician). Use this as an excuse to practice your listening skills and communicate what works and what doesn’t work for either of you. This is technically the last time you will be able to get it done for a few months.

Also, carve out time in your schedule to discuss how you are both feeling about this new life growing and how things might change after their arrival. Set expectations for how you would like to stay connected once sex is something that inevitably becomes less frequent (at least in the short term).

Postpartum

The baby is out! Woohoo! Time for sex, right? Wrong. You have another 2 months (at least) before any doctor will give you the okay for sex. Let’s be honest those first 2 months you’re probably not going to have the time or energy for sex anyway (a newborn can really suck the life out of you). Use these two months to practice less physical intimacy (refer to 1st Trimester) and start discussing your birth control options with your ob/gyn as these will need to be started ASAP if you don’t want to be doing this all over again in 9 months. Note: you CAN get pregnant while breastfeeding, so do not use that as a form of birth control.

This is a time of transition for any couple, so recognizing that things will not be exactly the same, and putting in place some ways to create small, intimate moments that now work with your new life will be critical. If you are struggling in this time to communicate with one another your needs, utilize your village and have someone babysit for an hour or two (take up friends/family on their offers for help). You both deserve a break. Take some time to go on a date or go to therapy together. Giving yourself some grace allows you to be a better partner and parent.