Having a successful and happy marriage with your spouse can be challenging all on it’s own. Adding in a child or a few children can further test the success and happiness of any marriage. To help learn how to stay happily married with children, I have interviewed marriage family therapist Cynthia Horacek.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a marriage and family therapist and have been in private practice for 12 years. I have been married for 31 years (to the same man – a client once asked me that!) and together we have raised two wonderful daughters, and we have one grandson. I am currently taking a break from my practice to help my husband battle rectal cancer, so I find myself in the role of caregiver.”
“I also teach at California Lutheran University in the Clinical Psychology/MFT program. Before becoming a therapist, I taught middle school math and science. Teaching adolescents taught me quite a lot about the issues adolescents have, and dealing with their parents, I think, helped me to be an even better therapist. I work with children ages 8 and up and adolescents are probably my favorite population to work with. I specialize in trauma, chronic pain and illness, phobias, anxiety and depression. And of course, communication issues.”
How does having children change the relationship between a married couple?
“When two people come together and form a union (marriage), they have a special intimacy and a certain way of relating to each other that they don’t have with anyone else. When a child – usually a newborn infant unless they are adopting an older child- comes into that relationship, they are suddenly “put to the test,” as they experience lack of sleep, often feel a loss of intimacy and find it difficult to find time for each other, let alone themselves! While care giving roles have changed, and many new mothers go back to work as early as 6 weeks to 2 months after giving birth. Often the new mother feels isolated and resentful that she is the one “stuck” at home while her husband goes back to the adult world of work. Now many new fathers are able to stay home with their infant and the new mom is the one who goes back to work. Either way, the partner who is home with a baby may look forward to their partner coming home at the end of the day, while the working partner just wants to come home and “chill out” and not have to carry on conversation or be involved in childcare. However, this is changing and many newborns are left in the care of a nanny, a relative or day care. When this is the situation, the parents may feel overwhelmed coming home from a demanding job and then having to deal with the demands of home life, including the demands of a child who has not seen Mommy or Daddy all day. On top of that, many new parents find themselves feeling guilty that they are not at home with their child. The things that usually suffer in this “new” threesome family are communication and sexual intimacy as the couple often finds that they don’t have the time or energy for each other. For many couples, a second child comes a long before they have a chance to resolve the issues they have experienced from having the first child, communication continues to deteriorate and before they know it, they are arguing over every little thing and not talking, to say nothing of their sex life diminishing more and more.”
“Financial concerns are another major issue that changes with children coming into the relationship. One parent may have given up work altogether and the other feels the burden of being a sole provider. This may cause him or her to feel they have to issue rules about spending set down to the other partner, who then feels powerless and often that they are being treated like a child.”
What can a married couple do to stay happy with their children?
“There are several steps married couples can take to stay happy with their children. The first is to keep the communication open, and to not hide their feelings. When one partner feels resentful or angry, it is important to talk about it. It is also important that neither person take responsibility for the other’s feelings. For example, if one partner comes home tired from work and their stay at home partner bombards them with stuff the minute they walk in the door, they may need to be able to say, “you know, I really want to talk to you about that, but I just need a half hour or so to come down from my day.” Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean you are not a good spouse, and it’s not about you! Or one partner may have to be able to say, “you know, I had a really awful day with the baby today; can you please help me tonight?” Or “Can you give me some time to take a walk and watch the baby so I can clear my head before dinner?” If the other partner comes back with “yeah, well, let me tell you…”, that is a sign they are escalating their defensive side. Basically, the key to healthy communication is managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense. Partners should look at how they communicate – are they complaining, are they blaming, or are they vague or defensive? It isn’t always easy to admit when your communication skills are not great; that’s where a good marriage and family therapist can help.
It is important to make “couple” time as well as family time. It is important for families to do things together, and for parents to have their “alone” time, too. Find a good baby sitter; make it a habit to go out at least once a month as a couple. Make it important to have a “family day” at least once a week – whether it’s family night, or family day, family time is important. Eat dinner together, and keep the television set turned off! Sit around the table and talk about your day. If you have little ones who have to eat earlier, then feed them earlier, and the parents should eat together when the kids are in bed or maybe watching one last television show before bed. Read to your children; make this a nightly ritual. It will help them in school, and they will learn an important habit – reading daily.
“Remember that parents are the models for children – we teach our children how a relationship should be. If they witness a lot of fighting and miscommunication, they won’t learn how to have a healthy relationship of their own someday.”
What advice would you like to leave for a couple that is struggling to stay happy with children?
“Seek help. Find someone to talk to, whether it is your minister, priest or rabbi, or a marriage family therapist (MFT). Remember that MFT’s are specially trained to work with couples and families, and are usually the best source of help. A MFT can teach practical communication skills, but can also help you find the core issues that are driving your dissatisfaction. Exploring your own childhood issues, and the way you grew up can help you understand why your life is the way it is now. It is my personal belief that most parents do the best job of parenting with the tools they have to work with. We learn to parent from our parents. No parent is perfect, and we all have “baggage” that we bring to a relationship. The problem is that his baggage bangs into her baggage, and then issues arise. By opening up the bag and cleaning it out, we learn to feel our feelings – that its okay to feel them – and how to talk about them, without blame or judgment.”
Thank you Cynthia for the interview. If you would like more information about Cynthia Horacek you can check out her website on www.odysseytherapy.com.
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