This post is part one in a three-part series on how to rebuild the relationship between partners after a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), which includes postpartum depression and anxiety.
You’ve heard it time and time again: Relationships are work. It is a cliche because it is true – relationships are hard work even without children involved. When you add a baby, it becomes even more difficult to find time to tend to the relationship with your spouse or partner. According to renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman, it is common for relationship satisfaction to drop after the birth of a child.
A perinatal mood disorder can make the task of balancing relationship and parenting roles feel impossible.PMAD expert Karen Kleinman writes in her book Tokens of Affection about how those diagnosed with a PMAD often have more conflict in a relationship and reduced marital satisfaction. Clinically, I see it time and time again where once Mom (or potentially Dad) starts feeling better following a struggle with PMAD, the cracks in the foundation of the marriage relationship start to show.
In the middle of the PMAD crisis, no one had time to worry about this. But when the crisis passes, the relationship strain becomes much more visible.
Getting Your Relationship Back on Track
One of the most basic, but important things you can do for your relationship is spend one-on-one time together. This sounds easy, but in the day-to-day reality of jobs and new babies and possibly older children, not to mention endless laundry, cooking, cleaning and diapers, fitting in time for each other becomes a challenge. It is easy to feel like your partner isn’t an emergency and can be put off until tomorrow. Couples are encouraged to re-write this script and tell themselves “the laundry can wait,” because time with your partner is essential.
You must intentionally carve out and hold this time with your partner sacred despite unending tasks and daily life stress.
Carving out time together doesn’t mean hiring a babysitter and going for an expensive meal, although it’s certainly an option. Instead of focusing on big date nights, start small. Focus instead on a goal of simple moments of connection. Turn off the TV, put away the phones and just talk to each other…about your days, your stress, your hopes for your baby/kids, your dreams for the future or what you would do if you won the lottery. Tap into that connectedness and friendship that likely brought you together in the first place.
Tips to Get You Started
- Have points of connection throughout the day.
- Make sure you kiss each other goodbye and tell your partner to have a good day.
- Give your partner a hug when he/she gets home and genuinely ask “How was your day?”
- Send a text during the day to tell your partner you are thinking about them.
- Spend time together after the kids go to bed.
- Have a bedtime ritual that includes connecting with one another.
Being intentional about connecting may not fix everything, but is certainly a start.
If you feel like you are really struggling and your marriage could use professional help, Pine Rest offers therapists specializing in both PMAD and relationship difficulties. To find a specialized therapist near you, call 866.852.4001.
Lesley Hetterscheidt, PhD is a licensed psychologist at Pine Rest, as well as the Northwest Clinic Manager, and the Coordinator of Outpatient Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder services. Lesley earned her bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan, and her Masters and PhD in Clinical Psychology at Wayne State University.