After PMAD: When You Just Aren’t Communicating

This post is part two in a three-part series on how to rebuild the relationship between partners after a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), which can include postpartum depression and anxiety.

One of the symptoms of a struggling relationship is the complaint, “We don’t communicate well.” Time and time again I’ve had a mom in my office complaining her partner “doesn’t understand me,” and just as often I hear her partner say “I’m trying to help. I don’t know what she needs me to do to fix this.”

Validation vs. Problem-Solving

These complaints illustrate a fundamental difference between the way men and women communicate. Women tend to look for validation and understanding, while men are more likely to focus on problem solving. These tendencies may not apply to all men and women, though they often tend to be true for many. This difference in communication style can lead to conflict when a woman is struggling and just wants to be heard. She presents the problem to her partner, he tries to solve it for her, she doesn’t feel listened to and now he feels bad that he wasn’t able to offer what she needs. The following dialogue demonstrates what this looks like in practice.

Mom: “The baby was awful today. She would not stop crying. I am exhausted and feel like I haven’t put her down all day.”

Dad: “She’s a good baby. Did you try feeding her? Is she teething? Did you bounce her like she likes?”

Mom: “I never thought of that, thanks!”

In this scenario a tired and overwhelmed mom is seeking some understanding from her husband. He instead, with loving and positive intentions, suggests ways mom could solve her problem. Odds are this mom has already thought through most of the things he has suggested and now perceives his problem solving as a comment on her parenting skills. Dad is left confused, because he thought he was helping and instead she is more upset. The conversation may have gone more smoothly if it went something like this.

Mom: “The baby was awful today. She would not stop crying. I am exhausted and feel like I haven’t put her down all day.”

Dad: “That sounds so tiring. She can really be a handful sometimes. You must be worn out from holding her all day.”

Mom: “Yeah, she really is, and I am tired.”

In this situation mom now feels listened to, understood and like her partner is on her side. Even if dad doesn’t think the baby is being that difficult, he is conveying the idea that if he can see how she might feel that way. The difference between the two conversations is validation.

Validation is a way of communicating your understanding and acceptance of another person’s position.

This does NOT mean that you have to agree. You simply need to convey that if you were in your partner’s shoes you can understand why they would feel the way they do.

In my clinical work I have found validation is an essential part of a relationship (romantic or otherwise). We have also come to discover that validation many times can be more important than an apology. A comment like, ” I can see why the (fill-in-the-blank) was really frustrating for you and how you are upset I didn’t stop at the store and get diapers like you asked me to. You must think I’m unreliable.” Is likely going to go further in soothing an upset spouse than “I’m sorry,” or even worse “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Next time you are in a discussion or argument with your partner, I challenge you to really listen. Hear what your partner is saying and work on understanding their point of view. Express this understanding to your partner before you A) defend yourself, and B) try to problem solve.

 


You are not alone! Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders are the #1 complication of pregnancy. Pine Rest has innovative, proven programs to help you feel like yourself again.

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