Working with pregnant parental couples effectively
Honor Rhodes, OBE, Director of Strategy, Tavistock Relationships and Trustee of the Early Intervention Foundation
You’ve known these friends a long time, you’ve held tissues, taken sides and been blamed, been studiedly neutral and been blamed, offered a shoulder and tea. Their relationship is volatile, lovely, affectionate and fully of warmth when it is working and a chilly, miserable affair when it is not. They’ve turn up on your doorstep, you are the very first to hear their glad news, shyly but happily they tell you that they are going to have a baby. It’s been a rough few months and this small being is going to be the glue that will stick them together forever.
What is the correct response, pick only one
- How lovely, you must be delighted (a Rogerian reoffering of their own truth)
- Is this the right time? (You do know the research on the impact of children on couple relationships, an evidence informed view)
- Please tell me this is a joke, haha….(a denialist position)
If even the best regulated and strong relationships come under attack after the birth of a baby it is easy to see how the fragile and tenuous can splinter, perversely the act of coming together to start the planned joint project of raising a child can be the device that causes separation.
But are we gloomy? No, we are not. Some fragile relationships survive, some strong ones do not, but we do know that frequent, intense and unresolved conflict is what causes harm to children, that pregnancy is a time of transition and vulnerability, that both parents need care and time to flourish and plan well for a life that brings parenting and coupling together in balance.
So, if it is too late to suggest trying a demanding puppy first don’t despair. Know that the people involved in helping couples become parents have an eye to this most significant of life cycle transitions and that parents can be helped when the pressures of being couples and being parents are in conflict with each other. It helps to know that anyone can have a couple conversation without creating a can of worms, and that the worms are there already. By wondering, in our everyday practice, “what does this mean for the parental couple?” helps surface issues that would lie hidden as reefs under shallows. Asking the question does not mean that we are expected to have answers, just that we can tolerate thinking the thought and asking the question for most couples in trouble is enough.