Baby Makes Three: Dealing With Children in Your Relationship

A newborn can bring joy to a couple, but it can also usher in stress.

ByABC News via logo

July 30, 2007 — -- The introduction of a new baby can be full of great joy. For millions of young couples, the arrival of a baby brings dramatic changes to their marriages.

But after the initial excitement, comes the loss of personal time and sleep.

"The reality is that your time, it's no longer your own," said Paul Kruglik. "You're definitely on the baby's schedule."

Paul and his wife of two years, Melinda, have a 5-month-old son, Parker. The couple always dreamed of having children. But, the baby brought bliss and blues.

"One day you're pregnant and everything's so great," Melinda said. "And the next day, everything's complete chaos."

While Melinda said she heard having a baby would alter her relationship, she didn't know how much.

"People can tell you that it's hard, and they can tell you that it's going to change your relationship, but [it's] not until you're doing it that you start to realize how true that is," she said.

"The euphoria's worn off, and your tiredness sets in. And so, right about 9 o'clock every night for a good week or two weeks, I would cry. And it was awful to feel that way."

Mothers aren't the only parents susceptible to this.

"Thirty percent of fathers have postpartum depression symptoms," said Relationship Research Institute executive director John Gottman. "Fifty [percent] to 80 percent of moms have symptoms of postpartum depression."

Gottman said many parents feel ashamed and embarrassed about their troubled feelings.

Celebrity mothers like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond helped bring PPD to the forefront with their personal tales. Today, more couples are seeking help.

Gottman began the Bringing Baby Home workshop. The two-day course prepares a couple for how their relationship will change once a baby arrives. Its research shows the workshop cuts PPD rates from 67 percent to 23 percent.

"About two-thirds of couples had serious problems in the first three years of the baby's life, where their happiness with one another went down," said Gottman, who has researched relationships for 30 years. "Their hostility increased."

The two-day workshop includes everything from lectures to a fun card game designed to test how well couples really know one another. They're taught how to remain calm during inevitable conflicts, and how something as simple as a 15-minute massage can increase intimacy.

Nancy Manzo said she attended the workshop to prepare for parenthood.

"I think the reason we're here is to learn as much as we can before we become parents, to see what we can do to help make that a positive experience," she said.

Another participant, Ian Mulholland, said he wanted to focus on maintaining his close relationship while simultaneously taking it to the next level.

The couples are given a chance to learn the realities of life when a baby enters the family picture.

"The baby required immediate attention," Gottman said. "It's stressful. You're not sleeping. You're irritable."

He added if couples don't have the information, they will believe their relationships are bad.

The workshop's goal is to strengthen the marriage so couples learn as much about taking care of one another as they do about caring for the baby. It also stresses the importance of fathers.

"The secret of dad's involvement with the baby is his relationship with the mother, and she is able to be a better mother if he's involved with her," Gottman said.

Many believe the focus on fathers is important.

"Often what happens postpartum is that Dad gets shoved aside, or he may feel that the best way to show what a great dad he is, is to run to the office," said ABC News parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy.

"Moms have learned to mother from their mothers. Fathers learn from their wives. So, working on the dynamic between the couple can help them communicate better, even when they're operating with a very short fuse."

Murphy said the program is amazing because Gottman was able to achieve huge reductions in PPD by focusing on the couples' relationships.

But postpartum depression can't always be helped with something as basic as better communication.

"There is a big difference between baby blues — that as many as 50 percent of moms may experience clinical depression — which affects 10 [percent] to 25 percent of moms, and is much more serious," Murphy said.

"Contributing factors include hormonal changes, family history, sleep deprivation and the symptoms are more severe: significant changes in appetite or sleep patterns."

Prolonged sadness, an inability to take pleasure in anything, including the baby, or thoughts of hurting herself or the baby also may be signs, she said.

"Then, treatment by a professional is absolutely critical," Murphy said. "PPD not only affects the mom, but we know from a large body of research that depressed mothers have depressed babies."

Murphy said it can be a vicious cycle for mother and baby because more fighting makes the child more irritable. In turn, the baby cries more, which causes more stress in the parents' relationship.

"Also, men and women experience stress very differently," she said. "We know from studies on psychophysiology that when people are stressed, adrenaline levels go up. And when this happens, men tend to fight or flee."

"Women react differently. They're actually able to calm down faster because of a hormone called oxytocin, which is excreted during breast-feeding, and when they rock or hold their baby."

Even though having a baby has changed his life in a very dramatic way, Kruglik said he wouldn't trade his experience for anything.

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