It goes without saying that the decision to start a family is a monumental one. For many people, the ‘right time’ may have come after years of thought and reflection, and is bundled up with a plethora of fears and anxieties about this new, unknown, pathway.
From time management to body image, exhaustion, frustration, disappointment, external expectations, internal expectations, and boredom – family life has a lot to contend with, and all of that can take its toll on our relationships.
According to a study by ChannelMum.com and The Baby Show, a third of parents reported that their relationships suffered in the months following the birth of their babies, and a fifth ended their relationships during the first year of parenthood.
If the outlook seems bleak, know that the stats only show part of the story, and that relationships can break down for many complicated, and sometimes unavoidable, reasons. And although it’s fair to say that children can put a huge amount of strain on couples, it’s also true that there are steps you can take to address potential problems way before you hear the pitter-patter of little feet echoing around your home.
If you’ve ever been under the impression that counselling is just for when you reach crisis point or are living with a diagnosed mental illness, it’s time to throw everything you thought you knew out the window – because counselling offers so much more.
Preventive counselling aims to do what it says on the tin: prevent issues from escalating further. It helps you to nip any potential problems in the bud before they have time to grow, and it can also aid you in building resilience for the times to come.
Think about it: how often can you sit down with another person and say exactly what’s on your mind, without the fear of upsetting the listener or feeling judged? To really explore what’s going on, deep within you? Preventive counselling is a space to do that and, when it comes to preparing to expand your family, it could be the missing piece in your pre-baby prep plan.
“There are many benefits to a couple seeking support as a prevention to long-term issues,” says Natasha Crowe, a counsellor and psychotherapist. “It provides a safe and comfortable space for couples to explore life’s challenges, and it gives the opportunity for solid communication – to feel heard is key to a healthy relationship.”
All this is part of the day-to-day job of a counsellor, who is there to facilitate difficult but meaningful conversations, and uncover the key to a working dynamic between two people – examining how they communicate, be that verbally or non-verbally.
“As individuals, we all have different perspectives, attachment styles, opinions, habits, and family narratives that we may bring to a relationship,” Natasha continues. “We sometimes don’t recognise these in ourselves because they are often subconscious elements and behaviours that we may have learned from previous intimate relationships throughout our lives, or the relationships we experienced growing up.
“These narratives, and sometimes mistaken beliefs, aren’t always helpful.
Therefore it’s important to really understand your partner’s perspective, concerns, and beliefs. Counselling can then help to give a couple the tools to communicate, build greater intimacy, and deeper levels of trust.”
Crossed wires, conflicting priorities, and rising emotions – they’re all commonplace in any relationship. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if they are handled in a calm and productive way.
Of course, you could seek preventive relationships counselling at any point in your life, but for those about to start a family, the offerings are particularly ripe.
“Starting a family is a big life decision that comes with much joy, expectation, and anticipation,” says Natasha. “Quite often, couples seeking support may have avoided conversations about how they view parenting or family life – it doesn’t even cross our minds to think our partner may have different ideas about bringing up a child, and how our parenting styles might differ.”
Perhaps one parent believes in being firm and setting clear boundaries, where the other wishes to be more intuitive and flexible. Or maybe there are cultural differences that may feel more distinctive when parenthood arrives. As Natasha highlights, these disparities can creep up on us, where they were once just an undercurrent on an otherwise smooth tide.
Additionally, not every journey to starting a family is easy, and those who are experiencing fertility issues or IVF may find counselling particularly helpful. There should be no shame in admitting that you need extra support – it’s not an indication of a ‘failing’ relationship, rather it’s a sign of commitment and, as Natasha highlights, can help you move forward with optimism – something we all deserve.
So, let’s say you decide to give preventive pre-baby counselling a try, what might you expect from a session?
“During sessions, we may explore and challenge old beliefs and parenting ideals, understanding that the couple’s journey together is unique to them as they build their own family, exploring fears or worries,” explains Natasha. “There may be unresolved childhood trauma or emotional pain that hasn’t yet healed, which may manifest in unhealthy behaviours within a relationship, and often these are discussed and explored.”
“Starting a family is a big life decision that comes with much
joy, expectation, and anticipation”
As Natasha sees it, these sessions can help both the couple and the individual, and could possibly uncover some areas where one person might want more support in the future.
“Parenting is a transitional journey, there is no right or wrong way, and there will be lots of changes ahead – personal sacrifices can be hard to accept,” Natasha continues. “You can never be fully prepared, as it’s such a life-changing experience, yet you can begin to build the foundations of a solid partnership where each parent feels supported, listened to, and respected by the other person.”
The decision to start counselling is a daunting one. This could be the first time in your life that you open up to another person – really open up – and the courage it takes to reach out shouldn’t be underestimated. But understanding preventive counselling to be the deeply positive step it is, makes the journey that much easier.
“Being curious, open-minded, and adaptable to other ideas can really help open clients up to a new self-awareness,” says Natasha. “It helps build confidence and allows the couple to grow, and to face the challenges and joy of becoming a family together.”
Good mental wellbeing is the foundation of any healthy lifestyle. It can help us face the problems that come our way with resilience, compassion, and a clear mind. Of course, our mental health will often fluctuate, particularly during immense life changes, such as starting a family. But with communication, companionship, and the support of our loved ones, the challenges that once seemed incomprehensible become a little more manageable.
For more relationship and perinatal mental health support visit counselling-directory.org.uk
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