[Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of our series on how postpartum depression and related illnesses can negatively affect your marriage or partnership, with tips on what you can do about it. Check out part 1.]
We know that marital and relationship conflict is a risk factor for developing postpartum depression. We also know that PPD can cause great distress in marriages and relationships. It is a bit of the “what comes first” debate and, on one hand, it doesn’t matter much.
What does matter is that partners find a way to appreciate and support each other during this time so that both of their needs are met. And, so that the baby’s needs are met too.
Research has shown us that while partners who report satisfaction in their marriages are more likely to also report positive attitudes towards their infants and their roles as parents, partners who report dissatisfaction in their marriages are more likely to spend less time bonding and attaching with their babies. This goes especially for dads who, when in conflict with their spouses, are likely to pull away from both mom AND their little one.
So, with all of this said, I offer some suggestions for getting back on track.
Please note that these are only suggestions and that really making some of this stuff happen often requires outside support from a trained therapist. If you are already in therapy for treatment of postpartum depression or anxiety, or antenatal depression or anxiety, and haven’t already, inviting your spouse or partner to a session or two so that he/she can become aware of how to best support you might be a great start.
Never assume that your spouse/partner knows what you need. I know that this can be really frustrating but I swear to you, waiting for him/her to read your mind will keep you waiting forever. This is not fair to either of you.
Become as clear as you can possibly be on what your needs are right now before you attempt to communicate them to someone else. This can be really hard to figure out and so outside help can be really useful.
Realize that your partner is probably scared and overwhelmed too and that he is also going through a giant transition. Many, many dads whose wives/partners are depressed become depressed as well. It is important that you both receive the support that you need.
Carve out quality time to talk. Yes, I know that this one isn’t easy either, but it is hugely important. If you haven’t already, spend time talking about your hopes, joys, fears, anxieties, and uncertainties about parenting. Highlight the places that you agree and see if you can negotiate where you don’t. And understand as best you can that you will each bring your own experiences into your choices and instincts around parenting. This is often where past and present blend, and your relationship together thus far may be primarily based on what you know about each other as adults.
Find ways, together, to invent yourselves as parenting partners. It is very common for couples to feel as though they have two very different relationships: One when they are parenting their children (with all of the logistics) and one when they are on their own during couple time.
The relationships that report greatest satisfaction are those that can be described as “close” and “confiding.” There are a million ways to exemplify this and each relationship will be unique. But having the goal—together—of working in this direction is golden. In what ways can you feel more “close?” Can you spend more time telling each other that you love each other? Can you hold each other when going to bed at night? Can you leave notes for each other? Can you hold hands more? Schedule in time to be intimate? Can you make sure you each get a hug a day? And how can you be more “confiding?” How can you communicate more directly with each other? How can you make sure that each of you is able to express your needs from the other?
Taking care of yourself is such an important part of taking care of your babies… and this goes for taking care of the relationship with your spouse/partner as well.
This can be hard work, folks, I know. But man, oh man, does the hard work pay off. And if you and your partner are having difficulty doing this hard work on your own (and this is difficult for most) outside help might be the key. Chances are that with a more solid relationship, your recovery from PPD will feel easier.
Kate Kripke, LCSW