Relationship counsellor and life coach Savannah Steinberg delves into how the arrival of a new born can cause strain and end some relationships.
While it came as a shock to many when Zinhle Jiyane, a popular DJ and AKA, real name Kiernan Forbes decided to end their relationship, merely a month after the birth of their daughter - it catapulted into the spotlight an issue experienced by many couples - a split shortly after the arrival of an infant due to various factors.
According to Steinberg, relationship dynamics between both married and unmarried couples radically change when a child is born. Steinberg says many couples do not fully comprehend the addition of a new member to their family and the impact of this on themselves as individuals.
"Today we face more demands on our lives than any other time in history. We operate in a VUCA climate (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), where the new certainty for most has become uncertainty, in all aspects of our lives.
"Businesses are asking more of us for less, roles between men and woman are changing swiftly, relationships as a whole and the structure are in transition, nothing as we once new it exists anymore with real stability and all of these external shifts impact us on an individual level and in relationships," says Steinberg.
With the rise of depression in society, people are finding it difficult to cope and the birth of a little one can add even more strain to everyday life, explains Steinberg.
"One of the main shifts that occurs once you have a child is the focus and quality of attention in the relationship. Women go through many biological and hormonal changes which they have to manage. Suddenly there is this little person that requires attention 24/7. The couple becomes sleep deprived, and as soon as someone is lacking in sleep their coping mechanisms get challenged."
Added to this the pressure of every day life may lead to couples individually attempting to cope by acting out by disassociating and disconnecting. Steinberg cites a case where a new mother is sleep deprived and becomes emotional and erratic.
She may become extremely needy of her partner for support. If the new father finds this too intense he may react by never being home, by working late and on weekends. Instead of turning towards each other in support to get through this process, both may end up feeling abandoned by one another which when not discussed can build up huge resentment between the two perpetuating the situation.
Steinberg explains the result may be the father feeling he does not have a relationship anymore as his partners attention is no longer available sometimes leading to infidelity, and the mother feels she is raising the child alone with no support making her feel resentful and both desperately alone.
"Sometimes women experience post natal depression, changing entirely the way they show up in a relationship. What can also play out is the baby becomes the new focus of attention, the mother gives all her energy and focus to her new born child and the father feels abandoned and neglected. Under this context there can be little or no time for intimacy or simple time together as there once was, throwing both lives completely out of kilter. If there is no proper support structure in place this can place too much strain on the couple resulting in the breakdown of the relationship resulting in a split."
Steinberg also cites unmet expectations which can make a relationship unbearable to stay in. Also, for fairly new couples, there is not enough of a foundation to hold them together when the stress of a new baby enters the relationship.
Steinberg advises young couples who are coping with a baby and considering a split because of a shift in relationships dynamics to go through a counselling process where they will receive support on how to part ways amicably. The counselling will also aid couples to gain clarity on how to manage the stress and strain in a way that brings them together in this process whilst honouring each others individual needs. Steinberg adds that questions need to be asked such as why they are considering splitting, the context of their union and if they have explored all options to make things work.
"Sometimes when you do it alone the stress is too high, and by simply adding a nanny or family member who can alleviate the strain by taking the baby to give the mother space, this can shift the whole dynamic."
Questions all couples should ask themselves before opting to fall pregnant
For what reason do you want a child? Do you both want a child equally, or is it one partner who really wants a child and the other partner complies? Under this set up the compliant partner may choose to leave when things become too tough.
What are the financial arrangements in your relationship? eg when things are working people are loving and generous. When things are tough, if you rely solely on your partner for income, this may change when things are strained. Are you able to support yourself and your newborn child without any support from your partner? There are more women than I can count who's partner do not pay maintenance, (the reverse is also true, women not paying maintenance to their spouse). This will mean you need to go to the court each month to fight to be paid. Have you factored this into your decision to have a child?
Steinberg on how couples can stay committed to each other through having a baby
If you want to win a game of sports you need to know the rules of the game right? many people wonder why they can't make their relationship work, yet they don't have any agreements / terms of how they want to play. In this their relationship becomes one in consistent reaction to circumstances. This is not fun at all.
If you are committed to one another I would suggest you take time to set up the rules you want to play by to have the relationship that works for you both. Part of this is how you want to operate in the relationship, what you want to use the relationship for (eg fun, growth, learning together). As part of setting out the rules of the game you need to have an agreement of how you will fight together. If you have not clarified this it will be reaction which is usually destructive.
From once having a lot of time together, after having a child there is hardly any time. It is important to create a structure that enables you to have time alone together to recharge and reconnect. Maybe every 2nd weekend baby goes to their grandparents so you can just hang for the weekend. There needs to be a pressure valve - where each can blow off steam. Without this you end up taking it out on each other. My suggestion is if you are finding yourself highly reactive to each other, chances are you need time out and time alone to connect again.