In the first several weeks as a new mother, I remember saying more than once, “All I want for Christmas is a hotel room for the night – alone”. The thought of a full night’s sleep was more appealing than anything else in my life.
Sleep deprivation can contribute to illness, weight gain, irritability, and increased fights with your partner. If your partner is also sleep deprived, it is reasonable to expect increased fights and overall relationship dissatisfaction. A new baby is a strain on even the strongest of marriages, and if you are experiencing shorter patience with your partner or find yourself being more critical, you are not alone.
In the book And Baby Makes Three, marriage researcher and author Dr. John Gottman offers instruction regarding what to do after a fight. Once the emotional intensity of a fight is over and you have restored a sense of calm (if you haven’t yet, take 20 minutes to relax first), you can begin to process what happened, attempt to understand your partner’s point of view, and take responsibility for your contribution to the fight.
Process the Emotions
First, Gottman says to identify your feelings during the fight. How did you feel? Sad? Worried? Criticized? Overwhelmed? Tell your partner how you were feeling, and then listen as they tell you how they were feeling. Be sure to communicate using “I” statements like “I felt…” rather than accusatory statements that begin with “You…”.
Understand & Validate
Second, calmly invite your partner to share their viewpoint. For example, you might start by saying, “I know we see things differently. I want to explain my point of view, and I want to hear yours. I know we can figure this out.” Try to avoid placing blame as you go.
When you are listening, attempt to see the argument from your partner’s perspective by setting your own thoughts aside. Try repeating back what you heard and ask if you understood correctly. Once you have an understanding of their side, let them know you understand where they are coming from by offering a validating statement such as “I imagine that made you feel very frustrated when I used that tone.”
Own Your Part
After you have identified your contribution to the fight, admit it to your partner. Start by saying, “I have been feeling overwhelmed with the baby and I took it out on you”, or “I know I have been overly critical with you. Sometimes I feel like I’m in this alone”. Give your partner a chance to admit their contribution – do not do this for them. Your partner will likely find your admission of fault easier to hear than further criticism. Your admission opens the door for your partner to admit their part in the fight as well.
Arguments are inevitable, especially in the midst of figuring out your new role as parents. Approaching the aftermath of a fight in this way will help you increase intimacy with your partner at a time when you may feel estranged. If you find this is still not helping to relieve the tension, you may want to reach out to us for new parent couples counseling to help you navigate this rough patch.