Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I just found out she's pregnant. I thought the pregnancy was going to bring us together, but we've been arguing a lot lately. Either that or silence. Is this normal? Either way, what can we do to get back on track?
A: Pregnancy is a time of great joy and anticipation – and of great stress. And even though you and your partner are both expecting at the same time, you're not experiencing the pregnancy the same way or at the same pace. This can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts.
Adding a baby to a family is like looking at the family through a magnifying glass: everything that's good about your relationship gets better and everything that's bad gets worse. As the pregnancy continues, then, it's critical to learn to talk and to listen to each other, and to find ways to help each other through this marvelous, but emotionally bumpy, experience.
As men, we instinctively want to protect our partners from harm. And when they're pregnant, protecting them may include trying to minimize the levels of stress in their lives. One way men do this is by not talking about their own concerns. Sometimes it's because we worry that mentioning our own fears may cause our partner stress; other times it's because we don't want to expose how vulnerable we are at a time when we're supposed to be strong and supportive.
There are two big problems with this kind of thinking. First, by not giving yourself a chance to talk about your concerns, you'll never learn that what you're going through is normal and healthy. Second, your partner will never get the chance to find out that you understand and share her feelings.
On the other hand, men who talk about their feelings and getting their partner's emotional support during pregnancy have better physical and emotional health and are better able to maintain good relationships with their partner than men who don't get that kind of support.
So talk with your partner about everything – your excitement, your dreams, and even your fears, worries, and ambivalence. And don't forget to ask your partner what she's feeling about the same things. Have these discussions regularly – what the two of you and your partner are thinking and feeling now may be completely different from what you'll be thinking and feeling in two or three or six months.
Here are some conversation starters.
– Your involvement in the pregnancy. Are you going to stay on the sidelines and be a bystander? Are you emotionally involved in the pregnancy and do you see yourself as a full partner? Are you going to micromanage the whole thing, planning every medical appointment, every meal, and every trip to the gym? Whatever you decide to do, make sure to talk it over with your partner. After all, she's pregnant, too.
– Your involvement in family tasks. How much child care are you planning to do when the baby comes? How much is your partner expecting you to do? How much are you expecting her to do?
– Religion. Both you and your partner may never have given a thought to the religious education, if any, you plan to give your child. If you have thought about it, make sure you're both still thinking along the same lines.
– Discipline styles. How do you feel about spanking your children? Never? Sometimes? How does she feel about it? How you were raised and whether your parents spanked you will have a great deal to do with how you raise your own children.
Work and child-care expectations. Is your partner planning to take some time off after the birth before going back to work? How long? Would you like to be able to take some more time off? How long? What types of child-care arrangements do you and she envision?
– Finances. Do you need two paychecks to pay the mortgage? If you can get by on one, whose will it be?
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)