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Marriage and the Baby

5 ways to make it work

We welcome Donna Moss, MA, LCSW-R as a guest blogger today.

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When Brian and Sara came to their first appointment it wasn’t hard to see the problem. They said they were suffering from exhaustion. One of my favorite topics as a therapist to teens, young adults and families is sleep. “PsychCentral " says something like 1 in ten people is lacking sufficient sleep. One of the most disorienting problems includes

A Lower Stress Threshold:

When you’re tired, routine activities, such as stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work, walking the dog or picking up the house can feel like overwhelming tasks.

So when Sara started to weep in the second session, I probed a bit more. What is going on?! Well, it turns out that Sophie, age 2 typically wakes each night at 2am, and just when she gets back to sleep, Angie, age 18 months, typically wakes up.

Brian handles Sophie and Sara handles Angie.

Then at 5:15am Sara’s alarm goes off for work.

Sara, a petite, lively Hispanic woman, is a cop. She works whatever shift her boss sees fit. She told me on the third session that her boss doesn’t care that she has a family. That’s how it goes. Brian on the other hand is a salesman and has more flexibility.

But no one can get Sophie to bed but Sara. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” she wails. Brian and Sara want to work on thingslike communication but two babies less than 2 years apart makes quiet time together impossible.

Healthy Communication:

John Gottman, marriage guru, says that communicating without contempt is one of the keys to a good and lasting marriage. Sara is resentful; why can’t Brian handle Sophie? As Brian rolls his eyes, we have to wonder, will these two ever get back on the same page?

Only time will tell. For now, Sara’s resentment runs deep. No one ever tells you that the woman does more… (News flash: she does). Gottman reminds men to accept their wife’s influence for the sake of peace and harmony.

He’s got a point.

I remember my own therapist weighing in on this topic when my kids were small: “It’s just torture,” he would validate. And it was.

Divide the Labor:

As someone who cherishes my sleep almost as much as a hot fudge sundae, I should know. I cannot remember the first year of our second child’s life. She was a bit a colicky. I remember singing “Amazing Grace” a lot and pretending I was Annie Lamott writing “Operating Instructions” in my spare time – ha!

But the wear and tear on your marriage is an additional curse. It often seems like those who can divide the labor (no pun intended) do better. At least you know what’s minimally expected. Having a child is one thing, but raising one is a longer term investment. The counseling caveat is: don’t have a “love child” if you’re not doing well already.

Dani and Phil came to therapy to talk about a second round of IVF. Their lives were so chaotic my head screamed out to them, “Please wait until things settle down.”

However they plowed ahead like a derailed train. Boy did I want to transfer my feelings. Isn’t it just wrong to bring a child into that mess, I thought (to myself)? By round two she was hemorrhaging and injecting and freaking out. Instead of saying “I told ya so,” I tried to ask them both, if you cannot handle the stress now, how will you handle it later? Again and again the therapy was about how to calm things down for those who only wanted to ramp things up.

Finally there was Vivienne and Charlie, hard workers and devout family people they couldn’t wait until the arrival of their third.

However, tragically, Melody came with severe asthma, having been born pre-mature. The nights and weekends in the hospital and round the clock babysitting for the others from friends and neighbors put a big red stop-sign on the marriage. It would be three years before they went out again.

Best marriage advice for that is simple: become friends again. Gottman calls it a “Love Map;” learn what the other likes and dislikes and spend time in mutually rewarding activities. The rest will follow, we assume.

Couple's Therapy is a Good Investment:

Couples therapy has been known to be the hardest form of therapy, and that’s no surprise. Once the couple starts to feel better, they triangulate you, the therapist, as their bond strengthens. One must be able to stomach this in practice.

Marcy and Don said they felt so good they didn’t need me anymore. They learned how to fight fair, dig deep and hit the pause button. “We won’t be back,” they said, stepping out the door. “We don’t need you anymore.”

“Thanks,” I thought as I slowly turned back, feeling lost as ever. I witnessed their screaming for six months and now they said they wanted more time with the baby. Go figure! Couples can greatly benefit by slowing things down and re-setting their priorities. Babies demand an intense, beautiful and lasting love. There’s no way around it.

5 tips to fix your marriage right now!

1. Talk, talk, talk. Most people lose a relationship not from fighting too much but from fighting too little.

2. Seek help early (NY Times article said couples waited an average of 6 years before getting help!)

3. (Gottman) Soften the start-up. Can we discuss this in a calm way?

4. Don’t escalate. Nothing gets accomplished when flames are flying.

5. Call an expert whether it’s infertility, lactation or counseling. You cannot survive in a vacuum.

More to come: Toddlers today become teens of tomorrow before your very eyes. As the saying goes, “Little kids, little problems; big kids big problems.”


Guest Blogger: Donna Moss, MA, LCSW-R is a skilled adolescent therapist in the New York area who has written articles for the Internet and on many topics in mental health.

To learn more visit:


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