How To Make Sure Having Kids Won't Ruin Your Relationship

It's normal to have fears about becoming a parent: It can feel like every aspect of your life changes, and you're suddenly responsible for molding a little blob into a fully functional human — but no pressure.
A new short film in TOPIC's three-part series Still Life, Hydrangea, puts a magnifying glass on another common new-parenthood fear: What will having a kid do to my relationship? The fictional, surrealist movie is included in a three-part series called "Still Life," directed by Jim Cummings. Each segment explores a topic that's shaping the American cultural conversation right now, such as parenting, gender, and the digital age.
Hydrangea takes place on the set of an infomercial starring a couple and their son. During a break from filming, the couple has a tense conversation where they ping-pong small digs, like, "You shouldn't get so worked up," and "Have you not been listening to me?" Eventually the blows get bigger, like, "This is you breaking from your Lexapro regimen."
At one point in their argument, the mother, Hannah (played by Hannah Elder) asks her husband David (played by David Henry Gerson), "When did you get so horrible?" He says, "When I became a dad — when I became a father with responsibilities to support our family." It's a familiar, freeze-frame kind of moment that will give you pause, whether you have kids or not. Relationships change when kids come into the picture, and any stressors that were there before parenthood are amplified after, says Stephanie Owen, LMFT, founder of Motivational Parenting. But the good news is that there are some steps you can take to make sure you are more equipped to handle them.
The most important tip? Don't try to be perfect, says Esther Boykin, LMFT, a relationship therapist. "There are going to be periods of time where you don't get along, but if you are committed to putting in the effort to move through that, that's the goal." Ahead is the advice relationship experts wish people knew before having children.
Admit that you don't really know what you're doing.
Go into parenthood with the expectation that you and your partner will be the best you can be with the tools you have, so that there's room for mistakes and growth, Owen says. Boykin adds that many couples fight because each person has a vision of who they thought their partner would be as a parent. The truth is that parenting is going to be different for you and your partner individually "Everything is new, and there are a lot of internal expectations that really don't show up until after you've had the baby," she says.
Acknowledging that parenting is a continual process that requires trial and error will make the ups and downs feel more manageable, Owen says. "The hardest part of being a new parent is the incredible vulnerability that comes with putting yourself on a parenting ledge and acknowledging that you don't know what you're doing."
Practice self-care.
Amid everything you do for your new spawn, don't forget about your own mental health. "There is pressure [for parents] to always 'do more' for the other important components in their lives, but not for themselves as a partner in the relationship," says Summer Brown, LMFT, a relationship therapist. Taking time to practice self-care, and encouraging your partner to do the same, will make the smaller frustrations seem easier. "If all the things you need to do just to feel okay day to day aren't happening, then everything is a problem and everything will set you off," Boykin says.
Self-care can be as simple and low-cost as going to the library, or taking a longer shower or bath, Brown says. "As partners, you can set up a babysitter or a care swap with friends and spend a couple hours together doing something sans offspring," she says. And it's also important to keep in touch with your friends who have kids, and the ones who don't, Boykin says. "This is now a part of who you are, so that means there will be new things that you're going to discover about yourself, and you need a tribe of people who can support all the various pieces of you."
Consider therapy.
In case you missed it: There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to therapy or couple's therapy, particularly before you have kids, says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist. "It's important to be very clear about the baggage you bring to your relationship and how that will affect your relationship when you add a new dynamic, such as having a child," she says. Therapy can allow you to "think deeply about the challenges that you may face individually and as a couple once the child is born." Ultimately, you want to start your journey into parenthood from a place at which you feel like you understand your partner's intentions and feel understood, Owen says. Also, something that could've helped our fictional friends Hannah and David, a therapist can help you stop arguing about the little things and have a real conversation about what's going on in your relationship.
Say what you feel and really listen.
Communicating can get hard when you haven't slept, and there are hungry mouths to feed, but it's still important. Instead of throwing small digs out of frustration, like the couple in the film, Brown suggests starting with this sentence stem: "I feel...when you..." For example, "I feel grateful when you give me 10 minutes to shower," or "I feel frustrated when you don't supervise the kids cleaning up their rooms on the weekend." The point is to express your feelings about the behavior that your partner displays, so they get a clear picture how you're impacted, she says. In Hydrangea, the father figure says, "I know, I'm the worst because I don't listen," to express his frustration, and he's right that listening is half the battle. "Try to listen to each other more than trying to be heard," Brown says.

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