One of the most exciting moments in life is the moment you find out that you are pregnant. You can’t wait to become a parent for the first time. You have probably heard so much about parenthood from people around you your whole life. “It’s the best thing that happened to me,” most of them say. I am not going to reject it, but there is a lot more to it than what is presented to first time parents. We have all seen parents full of joy and happiness talking about the miracle of life, of bringing a child into the world. But if you were close enough to a friend or family member when they had their first child, you might have gotten a glimpse of the less magical side of parenthood. The fatigue, real exhaustion, confusion, feelings of helplessness, baby blues, frustration, arguments, fights and the big impact it had on the couple’s relationship.
Why We Experience Anger
We all have a different understanding and expression of anger and therefore it is important that we define and standardize it. Anger is a healthy, very needed secondary emotion. Meaning, it comes after you have felt a primary emotion such as fear, hurt, shame, guilt or sadness, to name a few examples. Anger is one of the few emotions that is categorized as a protective emotion. The definition of a protective emotion is what it’s name implies: when we perceive danger, we notify our brain and it changes our physiology so that the only goal is to protect and to survive. The more you take care of your needs and feelings and communicate them to your partner, the less likely you will need to “protect” yourself and get into feisty arguments and fights.
How You Developed Your Response to Anger & How It Impacts Your Relationships
As kids we were first exposed to emotions and learned which emotions were safe to feel and which were dangerous. We learned it by the reactions of our caregivers, by the words they said, the consequences we had to endure while experiencing our emotions and how well we were attended to when we felt them. These emotions that we categorized as “dangerous” were replaced with anger due to the need of protection and survival.
For example, let’s say as a child, you went with your parents somewhere and said something you weren’t supposed to say. Then, afterwards your parent spanked you and said “you embarrassed me in front of people, you are a bad child.” You learned that feeling embarrassed is wrong, bad and dangerous. After this experience, you would do anything and everything to avoid this feeling again. Thus, in your adult relationships when you are faced with embarrassment, you’ll most likely display anger.
Another example might be that you grew up to parents who always fought. Your father worked a lot and your mother would disappear at times. Many times you would wake up in the middle of the night and would find yourself alone at home. When you would call to ask your parents where they were, you would be yelled at and criticized that you were “acting like a little kid.” Over the years, you unknowingly developed a fear of abandonment and feelings of unworthiness. So in your adult relationships, you’ll do anything to avoid feelings such as not being good enough, unworthiness, belittlement, abandamnet, unpredictability and loneliness. Now imagine how defensive and protective over your well being you would be in a romantic relationship if you avoid these feelings at all costs.
Everyone feels anger but we all express it differently. Some of us express anger passively, meaning we don’t say anything, despite feeling angry. Some tend to be sarcastic, ambivalent and indirect. We call this passive aggressive. Others express anger aggressively, yell, curse, break things around the house, or act physically violent and controlling. Some who are able to recognize and communicate their feelings and needs, will be assertive..
The Transition to Parenthood
During the first few months of the transition to parenthood you will be faced with massive challenges and no, I am not exaggerating. The transition to parenthood is known to be tough physically, emotionally and mentally. One of the most common issues during these months is the rise in clashes and fights between the new parents. Frustration and anger often becomes very prevalent in the relationship, as both parents are constantly in a state of fatigue, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty. Fights range between very important things, such as baby’s safety, to the smallest things, such as how to properly load the dishwasher. Each one of the partners may feel like they do more. The spouse who works feels the financial responsibility on their shoulders, while the sleep deprived partner feels like they do it all. Feelings and states such as fatigue, exustation, stress and anxiety are all highly correlated to impotence, anger and frustration.
As we approached the ninth month of pregnancy we kept hearing our friends talk about the sleepless nights and the physical challenges of recovering from pregnancy but no one mentioned the mood swings of both partners, the baby blues, the confusion in roles, the frustration and the stupidest, never ending fights we were about to experience. There was so much we didn’t know!
Diana Divecha, Ph.D., in her blog The Transition to Parenthood: What Happened to Me? wrote “Developmental scientists consider it to be one of the most massive reorganizations in the lifespan, changing the brains, endocrine systems, behaviors, identities, relationships, and more, of everyone involved.” One of the first steps to deal with this massive shift in your relationship is to accept that the dynamic with your partner will change but it doesn’t have to change for the worse, if you plan ahead or simply work on it.
How To Manage Anger As a New Parent
Most couples will face some shift in their relationship regardless of how “good” or “bad” their relationship is prior to the arrival of the baby. Most new parents will attest that the first few months of parenthood are one of the most challenging times a couple can endure. Don’t get me wrong, couples with strong and open communication skills and respect for each other will bounce back faster than a couple who didn’t deal with issues properly prior to the transition. The more proactive their approach and more mental preparation the couple engages in before labor, the better off they’ll be during the transition. Books, therapy, support groups, podcasts, and more than anything, having open and vulnerable conversations with your partner will help you during the transition to parenthood.
Here are ten ways you can work and grow together, instead of apart, during this transition:
- Compassion and forgiveness- this is the main key. Remember no one learns how to be a parent overnight. You will both make mistakes, both as parents and partners. Walk through this journey with compassion and forgiveness.
- Give each other space- both you and your partner need space to feel and experience parenthood and all that comes with it at your own pace. Don’t push each other. Respect the fact that people experience life differently. Give space and simply be there for each other.
- Express gratitude and active sympathy- this one goes a long way! In the midst of the transition to parenthood, there is a lot of confusion and self doubt. Showing gratitude and active sympathy can help your partner find their confidence and feel loved, seen and appreciated. Who would say no to that?! And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple gestures such as saying “I am so grateful for how you are with our baby” or “I can see how exhausted you are. This process is very challenging”.
- Self care- there is so much evidence and research to back this one! Take care of yourself, always! If you don’t have oxygen you won’t be able to take care of others. Self care could be as simple as taking short naps during the day, taking a warm bath at night, journaling about your experiences as a new parent, listening to favorite music or going on a walk ALONE. The more you will practice self care, the more patience and positive energy you will have for others.
- Daily check-ins- check in with each other, each and every day! It doesn’t matter who stays home with the baby, who has more time with the baby or who feels they work harder. You are both going through a big transition in your life and need your partner’s support. Ask each other “How are you doing,” “Is there anything I can do for you,” “Can I get you anything,” and “Did you eat anything today”
- First priority- make your relationship with your partner your FIRST PRIORITY. Remember, you two were there first before children came to the picture. There is this misconception that during stressful times the first obligation partners can drop is their relationship with their significant other but this simply is not the case If you build a strong foundation to your home, it will require a massive earthquake to crumble it down to the ground.
- Communication- it sounds so basic but it is by far the most important!! I hear many couples tell me “s/he should know that’s how I feel” “s/he should know that’s my expectation.” But if you want a happy relationship, drop the “should’s.” Simply talk to each other about your feelings, wants and expectations. Say goodbye to your ego and start saying what you WANT, not what you don’t want. Communication is the key!
- Delegate responsibilities- discuss what each of your responsibilities are. Don’t expect “help” and don’t do it all on your own. Have days where one is responsible for food, while the other is responsible for the baby. On other days have one responsible for grocery shopping, while the other is responsible for paying bills. Don’t do it all on your own! Like business partners, learn how to divide the responsibilities so your business will be a successful one.
- Weekly date- plan dates on a regular basis. Treat this time with respect and importance. In many studies it has been shown that couples who had “couple quality time” together reported higher satisfaction from the relationship and were less likely to divorce.
- Physical touch– physical touch doesn’t only mean sex, but sex is defenitly part of it. Make sure to touch each other daily. ”It helps increase the level of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which is called the “happiness hormone”, and oxytocin, a hormone involved in human bonding.” (Professor Ralf Nickel) It could be a good morning kiss, a hug when you see each other or a simple rub on the shoulder.
Remember, the more you take care of your primary feelings and needs, the less likely you are to get angry, impatient and frustrated. Try a new tip everyday and see what works best in your relationship.