In 2016, it was reported that American fertility levels are at their lowest rate ever. There are many reasons for this, of course, but one of them is that many potential parents look at bringing up children more as a source of stress than joy. The sources of parenting stress are in 21st-century America are legion. Stagnant wages mean that both partners often have to maintain full-time jobs, and are often expected to answer emails during the evening and at weekends. The media bombards us with ever-changing information about potential health-hazards and new parenting techniques, which always leave you feeling one step behind. In addition, competition to give your children the best start has become ever more intense: as you read this, there are parents driving their three-year-old children to Maths enrichment classes to increase their chances of getting into an Ivy League college!
Excessive stress, whatever its cause, has a number of negative effects ranging from higher blood pressure to increased risk of diabetes. One side effect that I see particularly frequently, though, is the damage it can cause to previously happy and stable marriages. Of course, if parenting stress is causing you to argue more with your spouse and communicate less frequently and less well, this will only make the job of parenting even harder. If left unchecked, it can eventually lead to a vicious cycle, which could lead to the total breakdown of your relationship. When you reach the point where parenting stress is damaging your marriage, then it’s time to take immediate action.
Five tips to stop parenting stress from undermining your relationship
1. Plan your time alone together
You probably already know that you should be spending more time alone together without the infinite distractions provided by your children, but it’s a lot easier said than done. The most foolproof method is the same one you use when there is something particularly important you have to do at work: schedule a time slot in advance that you will stick to no matter what. Once you set aside 9.00-10.00 p.m. on Tuesday then that time has to be sacred, regardless of what may have come up in the meantime. When the time arrives it’s important to make sure that you give yourself the opportunity to really interact. Don’t turn on the TV! Studies have shown that iphones and similar devices have a distracting effect even when they are turned off, so, if possible, remove them from the room entirely. At the very least, put them on silent.
2. Plan time apart
This one might not seem so obvious, but a successful relationship is a union of two individuals and all of us need time alone as well as together. One of the things you lose when having children is the luxury of having hours a day that you can spend in silence with no-one to distract you but your own thoughts. Try to fit in at least 10 minutes a day for each of you to do something calm, such as reading a book, or going for a walk. Again, the key is pre-planning. Set a time and stick to it.
3. Allow yourself extra time
One thing that almost all of us lack is a real sense of how long it will take us to complete a task. When you are footloose and fancy-free it may not matter if your daily task load chronically takes longer than you thought. However, when you are a parent with a packed schedule, not allotting enough time for each task is a recipe for havoc. Making your predictions more accurate takes time, but there is a quick fix: when planning your day, estimate how long you need for each task and add 50%. If you can’t fit everything you want into this less compact schedule, then something has to go.
4. Get enough sleep
Again, this one is easier said than done, but it can’t be overestimated just how crucial it is to get adequate sleep. If you look back on unpleasant arguments you have had with your spouse then it’s likely that many of them came after one or both of you had two days in a row without adequate sleep. On top of that, when you don’t sleep enough, you are less effective and more sluggish so your packed schedule just gets busier. You can make the job of getting to sleep easier by setting a timer that turns off your lights, computer, TV, or internet at a set time. There are also gadgets you can buy that monitor how much sleep you have been getting, making it harder to kid yourself that you are well rested.
5. Try couples therapy
Many couples whose relationship takes a downturn as a result of parenting stress are reluctant to seke a couples therapist. They reason that since their relationship was fine before the children came along then there is nothing fundamentally wrong with and any problems are external. Many are also uncomfortable admitting that children have made them less, not more, happy, even temporarily. The truth is though that no relationship happens in a vacuum: every relationship problem is a mixture of internal and external factors and no part of life is either wholly good or wholly bad. The initial reason you are getting on less well with your partner may be parenting stress, but marital discord has a natural tendency to spread and colonize every area of your relationship. Even if you are only planning on having one or two children, by the time your life returns to something like the status quo ante, your marriage could be poisoned beyond repair.
Parenting stress is no less appropriate a subject for a couples therapist than any other relationship issue and if months have passed without improvements in your relationship, then it’s a good idea to look for a marriage counselor. There’s nothing more worthwhile investing in than your marriage and, aside from the other benefits, a better relationship will also make you both better parents!
Marriage counseling in Portland, Maine
If you are looking for marriage counseling for parenting stress or any other issue in Portland, Maine, or for online couples therapy then get in touch with Dahlia Mann. You can call or fill out the contact form.