Transcript of the video: Marriage and relationship counseling
My name is Ginny Lindsay, and I’m the principal therapist at From 2 to 3 relationship counselling in Crows Nest, New South Wales. I work with couples and individuals that are transitioning from a couple to a family of two, three, four or more.
I work basically with young families that are either pregnant, have just had a young baby, or have young families, and I’m often asked why people come and see me during this time. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why people come and see me because I used to work a lot with individuals and couples through separation and divorce, and what I recognized was that the cracks started to show when they first had a child.
The idea is to save marriages and relationships so that the resentments don’t build up so I thought I’d share with you what I am often asked during this time.
Firstly, it’s very much a transitional stage of life when people go from a couple, often a working couple to a family, or a young family where one may have to give up work. Therefore you’ve got one working and one not working, and when the one not working has to go back to work, they start juggling again all those roles and family obligations they have.
Relationship Before Children
Before we had children we usually have our own identity, we go to work, have our own identity for what we stand for and what we do in the world, and we often have financial independence and separate bank accounts. At the same time we are just looking after our affairs, and often have a social group at work, our friends outside work.
What often is the case, is that we will be checking in with our partner, but it is pretty much along the lines of: “Well, we can do what we want, and when we want.” So, there is a lot more freedom than when a young child or a young family comes along. Also, there is a lot more couple time together, a lot more focus that’s put onto each other, time spent together, going out for coffee, dinners, walks or weekends away. Often, that can be spontaneous, so life before children gives you a lot more time to do what and when you want. There is probably a good sex life, and everyone would be also saying that they usually get enough sleep, and can control how much sleep they get.
Before children, there is a sense of self, and then the baby or a young family comes along, and life changes. It is like a switch, and it doesn’t mean that it has to be for the worst, but what it does mean is that it is just different, and couples or individuals have to learn to adjust to those changes at this transitional stage of life.
What Moves the Focus Off The Couple?
Everyone is excited that the baby is coming along, and the focus is starting to shift down onto the child. First, there is the excitement of the pregnancy and very much a focus goes that way, and because the focus then goes onto the child when the baby arrives, it goes off the couple. As we know, when we have children they are very consuming, very demanding, and it’s all about them.
So, when we look at what life was before, the first thing that happens when one has a young family is that there’s a lot more tiredness, and therefore there is a lack of tolerance, patience, and respect that often comes between the couple. Then friction starts to build and causes more arguments that keep in, more resentment that builds between the couple, and often couples in this stage don’t communicate very effectively.
This is something John Gottman would call the “Four Horsemen” which means a lot of criticism, defending, contempt and stonewalling. There are also judgment and blame that come in, and these are all counterproductive in keeping the connection. What they do, is building a negative sentiment between the couple and they are growing apart rather than bringing themselves together.
What Causes the Problem?
What I realized is that a lot of the couples don’t have the communication skills to be able to communicate what is going on for them, and the other person to be able to just listen where one can just offload.
Potentially, women like to be able to just get it off their chest and offload, and the man to just be able to listen and not feel. He has to fix that, but actually, his role is just to listen and be able to say “Did you just want to get that off your chest, or did you want to be able to work through that?”, but at that point do that conversation a bit differently.
With the tiredness, the next thing that usually comes in is the lack of sex, because the biggest killer of sex is tiredness. It is not because she’s wanting to make excuses and doesn’t want it, many reasons can get in the way, but tiredness is one of the biggest sex killers.
What often starts to happen is that there is a disconnect as well, and the separation starts to occur. There is a loneliness that both parties could be feeling, and then there is the isolation that seems to step in, and it’s not often helped if you’re not connecting with your partner but also a lot of your friends may not have children as well.
They might still be at work or your social group was at work, so they don’t get where you’re at as well, and that can make things hard. Because we’re now on this path of separateness and resentment, people will then think that it is okay to stay back and have drinks, or stay out and go to work. Things that happen there which exacerbates the loneliness and isolation and the trust issues can often kick in as well. In this, we have got the change of identity of going from a working person to a mother or a father and roles that change.
What I often realize is that the expectations and the beliefs of those roles also come into the mix. There can be cultural differences where you’ve got two different cultures that are coming together and trying to raise a young family. We have different expectations and beliefs about how we both feel that should be done, and what is needed is to get underneath. All of that to decide what parts of that are really important, and how you’re going to make your new family.
How Can I Help You Improve Your Relationship?
One person is system one, and the other person is system two – both from your own family of origin and life experiences that make up who you are today. When you come together, you are making the relationship and in the middle is system three. When people come to see me, what we’re going to be working on is the relationship. It takes looking at oneself, and it is an individual journey, as well as an interpersonal journey of being able to support each other. There are also compromise, understanding, empathy, and being able to work out this new system three that’s in the middle.
Another thing that happens when people have young families is that the focus is very much based on tasks, and what gets lost in this is the focus on each other. Because it becomes on task, we don’t get to deeper levels which are so important to get to know your partner underneath – and so we lose that ability to sit down and have a conversation and connect with each other. By keeping connected, you might have different opinions, beliefs, and expectations, but it provides the opportunity to be able to open up and find a compromise and understanding.
The “H Relationship”
What we are looking for is the emotion that’s underneath, and getting connected with our partner, so we are walking with our partner. We are understanding where our partners are on that particular day, and instead of living parallel lives, the idea is that we start to be much more what we want to be in a relationship.
That is what we call the “H relationship”. This person here is fully fed within themselves it’s their identity, their work, it is everything that feeds them, it is their interests, and the same for the other person over here. This bit here is your communication and everything that you share, and what happens is often when children come along is this bit gets lost and that starts leading to parallel lives.
What I’d work with my clients to do is to understand the needs that are very important for each one of these, so they feed themselves but the other one is helping feed the other, as well. That helps them both feel fulfilled in what they’re wanting in life, and that is an essential part which is keeping them connected. Those are all the things that they want to be able to share and enjoy together, so there has to be communication and sharing.
Don’t Hesitate to Contact Me
When couples or individuals come to see me, these are some of the reasons that bring them into counseling. I have given you a bit of a picture before and then what happens when a child or a young family comes along, so if you feel you can relate to any of these, please don’t leave it.
Let’s talk before it breaks. It is very important that this can all be addressed and you can have a really rich, fulfilled relationship that has a meaning, and where all your needs are met on both sides.