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'Baby-proof' relationships through pre-baby couples counseling

June 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Surveys show relationship satisfaction drops after couples start having kids. So what can you do? Here's how to "baby-proof" your relationship.

You've painted the nursery. Gone to Lamaze class. Bought a car seat. So what's left to do before your bundle of joy arrives? What about going to therapy? More and more couples are attending pre-baby couples counseling in an effort to 'baby-proof' their marriage before the big day.

Sometimes it's hard for Mary and her husband James to remember what married life was like before baby Woods came along. These days it's all about him.

"The days of just being able to do whatever you want on a weekend or going out quickly and randomly for dinner or whatever are rare," said James Moorhead.

But they didn't want their bundle of joy to become a bundle of trouble to their relationship. So they decided to give pre-baby couple counseling a try.

A recent study showed two-thirds of couples felt less satisfied with their relationship within the first three years of having a child.

In response, a growing number of programs are now introducing relationship classes in addition to childbirth education.

"As couples transition to parenthood, they typically have less resources like time, money and freedom to nurture their relationship," said psychotherapist Joyce Marter. "We see many couples fall into a cycle of work, kids and household responsibilities that can leave the couple feeling disconnected."

Marter is the co-founder of Urban Balance, a counseling center that offers pre- and post-baby counseling sessions.

Other centers offer group workshops instead of one-on-one counseling -- a less-expensive alternative.

"If you can learn as a couple, even before the baby comes, how to actually manage conflict with your partner, it's going to be so much easier to sort of just get through that, those issues, once the baby does come," said Renay P. Cleary Bradley, a relationship researcher.

So does it really work? One study found couples who participated in weekly group counseling had a much smaller decline in marital satisfaction - than parents who didn't attend counseling.

As for Mary and James? They believe that putting their relationship first has made them better parents.

"It just helped us to be more balanced," said Mary. "It really did."

Experts say men and women experience baby-related relationship problems at different times. Mothers report their marital satisfaction dropping almost immediately after the baby is born, whereas dads may not feel dissatisfaction until a few months in.


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