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Tame the tension Parenting

Tame the tension

How to minimize bickering during the sleep-deprived newborn haze.

You’ve spent months waiting for your little one to arrive, and although her birth day will be one for the books, the weeks after can be a rough ride for new parents. You’re at the constant beck and call of a helpless newborn, and you’re doing your best to function on a basic human level with meager shut-eye. All of which explains why nearly 70 percent of couples experience a drop in relationship satisfaction after becoming parents.

The fact is: Fighting is inevitable, but how you go about it can save or wreck your relationship.

Trouble’s brewing
As much as you hate duking it out with your other half, there’s no way to sidestep squabbles when you’re in a long-term, lasting relationship. “Happy couples fight, but they know how to make up,” explains Laurie Puhn, couples mediator in Scarsdale, New York, and author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In. “Fighting is normal because two people should have different opinions and preferences.”

The pressure cooker that is early parenthood only ups your chances of a tiff or two. “The time after a baby is born is so incredibly stressful, and both parents are tapped out,” says Michelle Brody, PhD, couples therapist in White Plains, New York, and author of Stop the Fight! An Illustrated Guide for Couples “Both need more relief and nurturance from the other, but with no sleep and such a major role change, neither have any extra to give.”

Instead of striving to avoid conflict altogether, Brody suggests, “A better goal is to be really good at repairing after fights.” The more you reconnect after misunderstandings, the more security and trust you build with each other.

Sleuthing for a solution
Now that you know the quarrels are coming, you can keep the damage to a minimum by squelching flare-ups before they get out of control.

Altering your outlook can make an enormous difference. It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: This is your partner, not your opponent. You’re both playing for the same team and striving for the same goal of doing what’s best for your family.

So, instead of viewing your disagreement as a battle royal, think of it as a puzzle that you’re working together to solve. If your endgame is to grow closer and understand each other better, then you can argue productively.

“The goal is to have a good fight, in which you air the disagreement and end with a joint solution to prevent the same problem from occurring again,” says Puhn. “That means, play detective by asking neutral questions to try to understand your mate’s perspective. If you think you already know your mate’s perspective, then you are doomed for an eternal fight.”

Admit that you don’t know it all—no one does—and try to see things as your partner might. Puhn suggests saying something like: I’m trying to understand. Why do you think that? Is there something I am missing?

Listen first, then paraphrase what your spouse said and repeat it back. This will ensure you’re on the same page. Puhn advises following up with: Is that all, or is there more to it? Once your partner is done talking, you can share your perspective. “Respect is reciprocal,” she notes.

After everything has been laid out on the table, Puhn counsels couples to each suggest a potential solution. Then say: Let’s throw out both and come up with one together. (Research shows that people are far more likely to go along with a solution that they help create.)

Difference of opinion
When it comes to child rearing, you and your sweetheart won’t always see eye to eye. These scuffles can be a lot harder to navigate than spats about whose turn it is in the diaper-change relay.

“Decisions about how to raise a baby are deeply rooted in values—and it’s pretty hard to compromise about values,” says Brody. In order to find some sort of common ground, you need to understand what the competing values are.

For example, if you have drastically different parenting methods, suss out what you each want to instill in your child through those approaches. Brody goes on to explain that a more disciplined parent may want to teach organization and productivity, while a more laid-back parent might want to encourage flexibility and less stress. “We could run into some tension trying to teach our two different lessons at the same time,” she says.

But there’s value in both sides. Instead of sticking to your respective corners of the boxing ring, meet in the middle, and find a balance.

Who’s who
A lot changes when you bring home baby, but your partner is still the same person you fell in love with—so try to treat each other with the same compassion and thoughtfulness that you did prebaby.

“For starters, be polite,” offers Puhn. “The rush to get the bottle, change the diaper, etc. puts us in a fast-paced mode, and we think manners just waste time. Not true. Your baby can handle an extra five seconds as you calmly and politely ask your mate for help.”

No one is perfect, but sleep deprivation can bring out the worst in all of us. “The same ‘flaws’ you see in your mate now existed before. You just didn’t care or notice them,” Puhn says. “Recognize that the same is true for you. What flaws might your mate suddenly see in you?” Instead
of being quick to criticize, cut each other some slack.

Through all your bickering ups and downs, Puhn urges couples to keep their eyes on the prize—a solution. The next time you find yourself in the fray, recognize that this is your chance to do things differently. As Puhn says, “Just pause and say out loud, ‘What I said won’t help us get to a solution. Can I rephrase in a better way?’ That kind of humility is powerful.”