Pip and Jamie (parents of Hamish, 2 years, and Fergus, 4 months)
Pip: During the pregnancy we tried to do some things to strengthen our relationship such as Beer and Bubs which is an information session and we had a doula so we talked with her about what we might expect and we also just talked between ourselves about things that might change and how we would deal with that.
Tim O’Leary (antenatal educator and therapist): In the lead up to the birth there’s probably a couple of things that the parents can do as a couple just to strengthen their relationship. Let’s get a lot of sleep now, let’s get a lot of times where we go out and see a movie or let’s do all the things now that we’re maybe not going to do much of later on, let’s make really good use of this time. And then you can do a bit of a talk about what you’re looking forward to as parents, how you want to work together.
Pip: Relationships need ongoing work, I think everyone knows that, and how we do that is we keep on talking. We do have our fights every now and then, but honestly not that often and we talk when there’s a problem.
Pete and Daniella (parents of Evangelina, Katerina and Irini, 4-year-old triplets)
Daniella: No book can ever prepare you for really what it does, not just to yourself but to your relationship, because all of a sudden you’re not the main focus. It’s not about you 2, it’s about keeping these beings alive and healthy and happy and asleep long enough so that you can sleep for 2 hours at a time. So I think it didn’t change in a way because it changed the focus away from us.
Jamie: There’s been times that we’ve been so tired and stressed that you feel quite irrational and what you’re saying or what you’re doing...
Pip: All those 3 o’clock, like Hamish never slept and those 3 o’clock ‘Well what are you doing?’, ‘What are you doing?’, so those 3 o’clock arguments…
Jamie: Of both of us not knowing what we’re supposed to be doing to get this child to sleep.
Daniella: There was a bit of tension because obviously you want what’s the best for your kids, but at the same time they don’t come with a manual.
Tim O’Leary: It’s not a bad sign that you’re having conflict around issues about parenting or housework; it’s pretty normal. The whole thing about it is you want to know how do we go about our conflict. Do we do it in a way that’s respectful or do we do it in a way that understands that we’re just trying to sort something out? Because if you can use those 2 things as a bit of a guide, let’s be respectful and let’s have this discussion so we can work things out.
Pip: After we’ve had a blue about it then we’ll come and do a bit of a debrief when we’re both a bit more cooler about it and actually say ‘Okay, well I understand where you were coming from and I’m sorry that you felt like that’ or ‘I’m sorry that that’s how that made you feel’ and then we’ll try and move on from there.
Daniella: When you look at communication though I’m talking about not just strategies for the children and how to parent them, but also communication about expectations. So a few times I’d be like ‘It’s just getting too much, I can’t handle doing so many things at home and also doing this and that and the other’, but if Pete doesn’t know that that’s how I’m feeling then I’m just going to be resentful.
Tim O’Leary: Often you just get a lot of misunderstandings between couples because you’re just working from different expectations and you’ve not verbalised them and you just assume she knows what you’re thinking or he knows what you’re thinking but the reality is they don’t.
Pete: The starting point to understand, particularly with triplets is, they’re emotionally and physically draining and again I spend most of my day at work during the week, Daniella spends most of the time with the kids at home emotionally drained, so again that flows over to particularly the sex life because being romantic and being in a sexy mood and then dealing with kids that are just physically and emotionally draining, they don’t...
Daniella: Like when Pete comes home and I’m in the foetal position on the couch and I can’t function and talk to him, it’s not a good sign, it’s not a romantic mood.
Tim O’Leary: The tricky thing about sex after you become parents is that you’ve got all these factors that look like they’re just going to forever get in the way and what tends to happen is that couples lose the ability just to have a discussion about it.
Pete: It’s communicating and getting to that point of view and what my expectations are and what Daniella’s expectations are and getting those expectations aligned.
Tim O’Leary: Some of the signs that couples are in a really difficult place are that instead of having the occasional argument, it’s almost like every topic that gets brought up leads to an argument and none of the fighting is sorting things out. So part of it is just going well you’ve got a problem with your teeth you go to a dentist, you’ve got a problem with your health you go to the GP, so there’s no shame in approaching someone else and saying ‘Look we seem to have got stuck, can you help us to get unstuck?’ If you go along and see that couple therapist and they help you to learn some great ways to communicate or some terrific ways to problem solve or help you guys just to have some heartfelt conversations that at the moment you just don’t seem to be able to have on your own, well that’s just from my point of view a really good investment in your future.