A Case For Pre-Baby Couples Therapy
When Baby G was born, Andrés and I felt like we were living in a beautiful dream. After having a baby, our relationship became better and easier (and our sex life too).
Trust that this did not come easily, we had to put in a lot of work. I mean A LOT. We spent 4 months in intensive couples therapy while I was pregnant. It was a very positive, grueling and painful experience which we both treasure. We continually utilize the tools that we learned and we both openly share our experience with those close to us.
I really hope this piece assists someone, because I am going to disclose the name of our couples therapist - Sanaa Hyder (I asked her first). She utilizes the Gottman Method and guided us immensely. And yes, the secret to love is just kindness. She incorporated this book into our sessions and had us do exercises from it between sessions. One of the first questions she asked us was, “What was your dinner table culture like growing up?” Andres and I had been married for 3 years and never once discussed this. We quickly learned that our dinner table cultures were so different! We were making so many assumptions about the other in our heads because of our separate experiences with our families of origin. Couples enter relationships with so much individual history behind them, it makes sense that we don’t know every aspect about the other. Instead, many of us make assumptions about our partners based on our (undisclosed) past experiences and not necessarily based on the current reality. This ven diagram (hopefully) illustrates what I’m trying to say:
The A and the F, by themselves represent each partner’s full self. The A&F shape is where the partners overlap and know about one another. But look at the space of the A and F circles outside of the A&F shape - that’s how much each partner does not inherently know about the other.
I could write so much about our experience, but that would become a novel. So, instead, I am going to write a bunch of lists and tips that incorporate what worked for us. Note: I am writing this for first time parents. I don’t think we could have put in this much time and effort if we had a (born) child to take care of.
What triggered this?
A couple, who we both admire and respect, told us that they were considering breaking up after they had a baby. Andres and I were floored. They had been through so much together, but it was the baby that almost broke them. We appreciated their honesty and candor regarding the stuff that parenthood conjures and wanted to address it head on. This couple is still together and they are doing amazing! It just really helps to discuss the challenges and talk about this stuff, openly.
We had an argument that we couldn’t solve due to the four horsemen. Of course, we had no clue about these four horsemen until our Gottman Method sessions.
My hormones were raging during my first trimester. I was one of those women who wanted to stick a pitchfork in my partner. Thankfully I felt much better on the first day of my second trimester (literally, to the day).
Tokophobia. YES, I was ALSO going to a reproductive health therapist during this time. That sh*& affects your relationship with your partner too.
Andres and I are both first generation children of immigrants and we did/do not want to pass cyclical and generational trauma onto Baby G. We were very aware that without deeply unpacking our childhood traumas and pains, we would inevitably and unknowingly pass on painful cycles and habits to our child.
Finding The Right Therapist(s)
We both committed to doing the work.
We interviewed 2 therapists before we chose the right fit. We literally stood up during the second session with one therapist, gave her some choice words and left. Because, remember, some therapists can actually do more harm than good due to their internal biases and lack of proper training.
Our gut informed us. We felt the energies and trusted it.
We negotiated a price that worked within our budget. We were then able to go to Sanaa consistently (sometimes 2x a week) for four months.
Our couples therapist recommends that clients also see individual therapists while working with her. I was already seeing one (see above) and Andres eventually found a good fit for him (after interviewing 3). Since individual work is covered under our health insurance, we only looked within our network. We were definitely able to get deeper into couples therapy by working on ourselves on the side.
Tips for New Parents in Preparation of a Baby (with no access to couples therapy)
Get the book, And Baby Makes Three and do the exercises! It is really worth it, especially if you are unable to use a therapist. Incorporate the part about feeling “flooded” into your discussions. That was really helpful for us.
Sanaa recently started a podcast called So Many Feelings. It may be helpful, especially if you are unable to use a therapist.
Talk openly to trusted friends, family, community. They will have so many sage pieces of wisdom and advice.
When you are done with the book and exercises, take a babymoon. Somewhere, anywhere away from home. Take time to relax and get away before the baby comes. We were told this repeatedly and it was excellent advice. Our babymoon to Italy was the 10 best days of my pregnancy. We still reminisce.
Did you do pre-baby couples therapy? I would love to hear other tips that were effective and I’m sure others would too!