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How To Manage Relationship Stress During Pregnancy

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PREGNANCY STRESS
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Written by Kelly Polci, MSW, RSW, a social worker in Sunnybrook's Women & Babies Program.

When you find out you are pregnant, you want to be able to enjoy the experience, but this can be difficult, especially if your relationship with your partner is stressful.

Now that you're pregnant, you're saddled with making decisions for both yourself and your unborn child about how to respond and react when things get stressful. You know that you want to minimize stress -- so as to have a healthy pregnancy -- so you may choose tactics like avoidance.

Alternatively, your responses and reactions may appear, either from your perspective or your partner's, to be heightened in pregnancy. This may lead your partner to dismiss your concerns and leave you feeling unsupported and misunderstood.

Common reasons expecting couples face relationship stress

Pre-existing stress

Sometimes relationship stresses begin before a couple is expecting, and continue into the pregnancy. Even if you have always wanted to be a parent, the pregnancy may not be planned or the timing may not be ideal in terms of your relationship's health.

Financial stress

Financial stress in pregnancy can often be a source of relationship tension. As your family expands, it is inevitable that you will need new supplies. You may even need to reconsider your housing situation.

If one or both parents intend to take maternity/parental leave, there is a financial implication to that reduced income. The exorbitant child-care costs in major urban locales like Toronto can also be daunting.

Change and uncertainty

Everything is about to change! Will we still have time to nourish our marriage and our respective need for "me time"? How will intimacy be impacted? Are we ready to be parents?

The uncertainty of what is to come can be very overwhelming and can lead to relationship stress. For some women, these feelings of impending change, evolving responsibility and the resulting worries can be more significant given their physical experiences of pregnancy.

Differing parenting philosophies or gender expectations

In pregnancy, you may be starting to converse about your hopes and expectations of parenting, as well as the division of labour between you and your partner.

Will the child have a religious affiliation? What is important to you about your child's early life? What are your feelings on discipline, infant sleep and feeding?

As you begin to discuss these hopes and expectations, you may realize you are not on the same page, and compromise may not initially feel achievable.

Unfaithfulness

Occasionally, I work with women who discover their partner has been unfaithful while they are carrying a baby. The hurt, anger, and betrayal that results is so amplified.

You may feel particularly vulnerable when faced with a decision to reconcile or separate when there is a baby on the way. Being a single parent was not what you had envisioned for your life, but perhaps it also does not seem like sufficient reason to stay.

Coping with relationship issues in pregnancy

Methods for dealing with relationship stress are dependent on the nature of the stress. But, as always, you should consider harnessing any established, effective and healthy coping strategies you have.

For example, it may be helpful to exercise, tap into creative outlets, seek social support from friends and family, engage in your religion/spiritual practices, or engage in the community.

It is also important to speak to your obstetrician (OB) or midwife about the health of your relationship. Depending on the hospital where you will be delivering, you may have access to a perinatal social worker who can offer additional emotional support.

You and your partner may also decide to attend couples counselling. Check to see if you or your partner's employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP) wherein confidential individual and couples counselling is available free of charge. You may also seek out couples counselling by asking your family doctor for referrals, or checking out the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

Domestic Violence

Pregnancy is a time of increased risk of abuse. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the incidence of violence in pregnancy runs between 4 and 17 per cent.

Physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse are unacceptable behaviours. You are not to blame and there is help available. If you are experiencing domestic abuse while pregnant, share this information with your care provider.

If in crisis, in danger, or concerned for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1

For more pregnancy information and articles from Sunnybrook's experts, visit health.sunnybrook.ca

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