Good communication is the key to positive sex experiences in pregnancy & postpartum, but talking about the changes and challenges that might come up in your sex life was likely the last thing on your mind when you found out that you would be soon be expecting a baby.
In some ways, this is not surprising. Only a minority of women (29%) who participated in a research study about the connection between a positive sexual self and a more positive experience of pregnancy reported that their prenatal care providers discussed sexuality with them. As important as open communication is with your care provider, being comfortable communicating about your sexual pleasure during pregnancy and postpartum with your partner is also a key ingredient in having a positive sexual connection.
Research finds that comfort with sexual communication is directly linked to satisfaction in the bedroom. Self-disclosure and being open when communicating with one’s partner, is also associated with relationship satisfaction. But even though communicating openly about sexual issues is important, it can also be very hard. It’s not uncommon to feel embarrassed, “dirty” or awkward requesting what you want explicitly in your relationship. but communication is key to positive sex experiences in pregnancy & postpartum.
What to expect (in the bedroom) When Expecting Generally, unless your doctor or midwife has specific reasons for you to not have sex, it’s absolutely safe — for you, your partner, and your developing baby.
Interestingly, women who have orgasms during pregnancy benefit from the release of calming hormones and increased cardiovascular blood flow. Those benefits get even passed down to baby.
However, during the first trimester, you may feel exhausted, nauseous and emotionally exhausted. Fifty-eight percent of women in a Canadian study reported that their desire dwindled during pregnancy. If your experience is the opposite of this, know that you are not alone; pregnancy affects people’s sex drives in different ways.
During the second trimester, you may physically begin to feel a little better. Because of increased blood flow to your vagina, your sex dive may even increase. But, as you begin to show a little more, your partner can be affected, not only because you look and feel different, but because as the pregnancy progresses, they will see and feel the baby move. This can bring on some fearful feelings for the non-pregnant partner.
If the two of you aren’t used to having vulnerable conversations about difficult topics, it may feel like you are struggling to communicate effectively about how pregnancy and postpartum affects your sex life. Working towards improving communication is key to positive sex experiences in pregnancy & postpartum.
In the last trimester, being intimate can feel more challenging, simply because the baby has gotten so big and finding positions that are comfortable for everyone can be difficult. At times like this, being able to communicate about sex during pregnancy and postpartum is so important. It can help both partners to enjoy sex throughout the pregnancy. Being able to communicate with each other about which position are more comfortable, whether intimate activities like oral sex feel pleasurable or if non-sexual touch is a more natural way to connect.
Sex after Delivery You’ve spent hours picking out the perfect name, choosing the right crib and car seat and scouring parenting books. And then, the reality suddenly dawns on you…everything about having your first baby isn’t as magical as you hoped it would be.
Sleepless nights, leaky boobs and being touched or snuggled nearly 24/7 can take a toll on a your postpartum sex life. And, as enjoyable as you sex life had been before baby, the thought of being intimate may the furthest thing from your mind. At times like this, communication is key to positive sex experiences in pregnancy & postpartum so both partners can feel heard, understood and supported.
Dr. Natalie Rosen, who is a Halifax based psychologist and conducts research with her team at the Couples and Sexual Health Research Laboratory found 50% of pregnant North American women report being given absolutely no information about changes that may occur to their sexual relationship after childbirth. In response to this, she and her team created a video series to address the most common sexual concerns that new parents have.
Good Communication Is Key to Positive Sex Experiences in Pregnancy & Postpartum. John and Julie Gottman, who are therapists and relationship experts, found in their research from the Bringing Baby Home program that almost 2/3 of couples report a decline in relationship satisfaction up to three years after having a baby. The 1/3 of couples that reported higher levels of satisfaction had a things in common; they were able to share in the transition together by cultivating a strong sense of friendship, practicing healthy conflict management, and tackled the varying needs of a newborn as a team.
There are seasons, like pregnancy and postpartum, when “capacity and tolerance for sex fluctuates”. In fact, building intimacy and connection during these times is critical, and this does not come just from the sex act itself. Hugging, holding hands, snuggling, kissing all foster intimacy. So does good communication and a commitment to emotional intimacy.
The Gottman’s suggest building what they call “Love Maps” which really comes down to knowing the little things about your partner to create a strong foundation for your friendship and intimacy. In their series “Gottsex” they suggest some of the following conversation starters
*Can you recall some good moments of sex between us?
*What did we do that made you feel closer to me?
*What made you feel relaxed?
*What made you feel ready for touch and sensuality?
*What makes you feel connected to me?
*What makes you more in touch with your body?
They have also created a very useful app where you can explore what they call ‘salsa cards’ to help you turn towards, talk about and explore sexually with your partner.
Open and honest communication with your partner is an essential ingredient to building greater intimacy and sexual satisfaction in pregnancy and postpartum. If are looking to build a deeper emotional connection or want help learning to talk openly about any aspect of your relationship, including your sex life, with your partner, couples counselling can help.
Sue Johnson, psychologist and relationship expert noted, “It is the fact that in times of crisis and danger our attachment system is primed to search for comforting contact. Suddenly our vulnerability is impossible to deny or put aside.
The key relationship defining questions “Are you there for me-Can I count on you” are front and centre. And, if the answers to these questions are negative or ambiguous, our nervous system tells us we are in trouble.
2. Do you support each other – As humans, we rely on our romantic relationships to provide us with some level of encouragement and support. Feeling alone in a relationship some times is normal, but if your relationship is fraught with anxiety and disagreements, no wonder you are considering leaving your relationship.
Sue Johnson, psychologist and relationship expert, notes that the main resource our species has learned to rely on is the support of a loved one to whom we are precious.
Our brains go into what she call attachment panic, and we either try to strong arm our partner into responding, or begin to totally numb out and shut down emotionally.
3. Do your plans and visions for the future align? – To feel a sense of certainty about your commitment, you need to see a way ahead together with a vision and goals for the future.
A recent paper in the journal Lancet points out that humans have a long history of breaking down emotionally during quarantines and pandemics. Symptoms of isolation-induced distress may include emotional detachment from others, irritability and exhaustion. “I want out” is something couples may say in desperation when feeling trapped by a seemingly inescapable and interminable pandemic.
Check in with yourself; is the feeling of “if only I could escape this relationship” driven by pandemic frustration or is it because you and your partner have grown in different directions and have your own plans and visions for the future.
4. Are your arguments healthy? – Arguments are normal, but how you argue matters. Are you able to keep your arguments from getting out of hand, find a way to calmly discuss and reach a solution? You need to argue in a way that makes both parties feel heard.
You have no idea why things seem to go sideways in your conversations. Truthfully, you are confused about why you consistently misunderstand each other.
If all couples argue, why do some couples end up getting more and more distant and pissed off with each other while others seem to be able to work it out?
The short answer is that couples can get stuck in a negative pattern of reacting (triggering) each other that they don’t know how to get out of. This is often a strong indicator of the need for couples counselling. However, if things get violent often, then you need to rethink things.
Sex can be one of the most difficult topics for a couple to talk about. It’s a great idea to create a safe space in your relationship where you can openly talk about your sex life.
If you answered yes to most/all of the questions above, then you and your partner are probably in a great place.
If not, carefully reflect on the questions and try revisiting them with your partner before making a final decision to leave your relationship.
It might also be a great idea to meet with a skilled therapist to help you individually as you reflect on these questions.
If you’re struggling with the decision to leave your relationship, and need a therapist to talk to, please give me a call. If you would like to explore if couples counselling may the right path, I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.
“Why can’t we comminicate”? This is one of the most common concerns that couples cite when they begin counselling with me. In recent weeks, as restrictions ease and and certain pre-lock down activities resume, like-going to restaurants, working out, visiting friends and travelling around the “Maritime bubble”, I’ve had many couples tell me they are arguing more often as they to navigate their differing comfort levels.
Daily, there are questions like; should we eat out or cook at home? Do I work out at the gym or in the basement? Will we attend the family reunion? Is it safe to send our kids back to school?
One partner might have a chronic or acute illness and be at risk for complications from the virus.
Maybe one partner has parents who are older and more vulnerable and feels more apprehensive about increasing social interactions.
Or, perhaps one partner prefers the quiet, slower pace enforced by the pandemic, and doesn’t long to return to their pre-pandemic hustle and bustle.
However, if the other partner craves social connection with others or longs to return to their pre-lockdown routine as closely as possible, this can cause friction in the relationship as the couple seeks to adapt to new realities.
For many couples, these daily routines and decisions had long been addressed. They feel surprised and frustrated by the increase in conflict and poor communication, now that the answers to these questions may no longer seem so clear.
While our present circumstances certainly provide plenty of content for disagreements, any number of topics can be at the heart of a couple’s failure to communicate. Some of the most common topics that couples cite are; sex, finances, kids, in-laws and how much time to spend together.
What Creates a Communication Breakdown?
Why can these particular topics cause communication breakdown so frequently? Kyle Benson, one of my favourite relationship bloggers, says that it’s because they are “issues that are sensitive to our heart-typically something from our childhood or a previous relationship. These issues are often called triggers. Triggers are emotional buttons that we all possess, and when these buttons are pushed, it brings up certain feelings in us and we react accordingly.”
When we are triggered, we lose sight of the impact we have on our partner and the importance of our relationship. We get caught in emotional reactivity, because, according to psychologist and relationship expert Sue Johnson, “our brain codes moments of disconnection in love relationships as a threat.”
The way that our brains react to threatening or dangerous situations is for our amygdala to trigger the fight/flight/freeze response and to prepare the body for an emergency by flooding it with adrenalin and cortisol.
Why Can’t We Communicate Effectively?
Sometimes, under increased emotional stress, people turn down the emotional intensity by turning away from their partners and keep their emotions to themselves. This makes it hard for their partners to understand what they are going through or to provide support.
Other times, people become more reactive and their emotions bubble over. They express their intense feelings by turning against their partner in anger, frustration and criticism.
Bottling up or bubbling over with emotion directed at your partner can create a negative cycle where an argument escalates quickly, leaving both people feeling even more frustrated, confused and alone.
When couples get stuck in this negative cycle they rarely get a chance to deal with the underlying issues, but rather get caught in communication break down.
Even couples who typically communicate well, can experience a communication break down when there are many difficult decisions to make, if emotions are running high or are going through situations that are stressful.
When these moments of disconnection happen often and communication seems to be increasingly difficult, people begin to feel that there are real problems in their relationship.
1. First, on your own, identify the specific scenario that brought up your strong feelings. What was it that your partner did/said? What specific behaviours or body language got under your skin? What exactly were you reacting to?
2. Then identify the worst, most negative thoughts you have about your partner, yourself or the relationship that arose in that moment as a result of the interaction. (ie. “You don’t care about me”, “You don’t take my needs seriously”, “You’re trying to control me”, “Our relationship won’t survive this”).
3. Next, choose from the list of emotions here and pick the word(s) that best describe what you are feeling in these moments.
4. Ask yourself; do you show theses feelings or express them in a clear way to your partner? If not, what feelings do you usually express to them? Often it’s anger, frustration or no feelings at all.
5. Later, after the emotional intensity has passed, when you are both able to engage in conversation. Have each person take a turn sharing with the other about what happened to them during the ‘rocky moment’.
“When you stopped talking and looked at your phone when I was trying to tell you about how nervous I was to send Johnny back to school this fall, I felt like you didn’t care about me or take my concerns seriously. I felt really afraid and alone.”
6. Listen attentively to the other person’s experience, accept how you contributed to their distress, even if unintentional, and explore how you can be there for them.
Is It Possible to Improve Communication In Our Relationship?
Once a couple discovers what their triggers are, and works out a way to successfully communicate their thoughts and feelings with each other, they will begin to have more productive conversations. This help them to see their partner as more accessible, engaged and responsive to them and ultimately feel more statisfied with the communication in the relationship.
As a couple learns what each others vulnerabilities and sensitivities are, they can learn to soothe each others ‘raw spots’. This will bring them closer together and make each person feel more safe and secure as the trust within the relationship deepens.
If you’ve been struggling with relationship communication breakdowns and you just haven’t been able to work out your issues, marriage & couples counselling can be very helpful. I invite you to reach out for a free 15 minute consultation to see if we’d be a good fit to work together, to help get your relationship back on track.
A few months ago, in the thick of pandemic isolation, articles about ‘mom rage’ began appearing in my Facebook feed and in my inbox.
Intrigued, I felt drawn to read what I could find about this term that I had never heard of.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly experience feeling angry as a mom, but I had never heard of the experience described in such a raw way.
In case you haven’t heard of it, ’Mom rage’ is the term to describe the intense anger many women experience during pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. It is a fitting description for venting of the daily emotional and logistical pressures moms face, that have a way of building up and building up until we lose it.
‘Mom rage’ does not sound at all like the kind of patient, fun mom you’ve envisioned being, which makes it especially hard to talk about without feeling guilt or shame. If you’ve struggled with anger as a mom, I want you to know that you are not alone.
What contibutes to ‘Mom Rage’?
‘Mom rage’ can be linked to social isolation, lack of support, managing high levels of stress as well as maternal depression and anxiety.
Being a mom, for many, can intensify our experience of anxiety. Am I getting this right? How do I keep my kids safe? Are they getting all that they need?
Grief can also contribute to feelings of anger. Becoming a mom, while it can be a wonderful experience, is also an experience of loss. As moms, we might grieve the loss of our independence, losing control over our own schedule, decreased social connection, lack of sleep, our pre-baby bodies, etc.
During this pandemic, this experience of loss has only been amplified; when you stop and consider all of the changes that we have had to adapt to over the past few months, grief is a normal emotional reaction to have.
Part 1 of this blog series, highlighted the importance of recognizing your triggers and addressing them pro-actively to help you cope more effectively with stress and being overwhelmed.
Here are some steps you can take to help you in the moment, to help you get a grip:
1.Stop “Should-ing” All Over Yourself:Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy coined the term “should-ing all over yourself” to describe our tendency to criticize and judge ourselves with shoulds. Guilt and anxiety are amplified the more ‘shoulding’ you do.
When you catch yourself mentally beating yourself up for all of the things you “should” have done, ask yourself “who says this is important or how it has to be done?”.
Often the things that we feel we “should” do come from external pressures and are not even what really matters to us. Perhaps it’s our mom who says it should be a certain way or our friends who are all enrolling their kids in some program or another.
If there are some “shoulds” that really matter to you, don’t feel that you need to carry the burden alone. Enlist help from a spouse, friend, family member, or older child to help share the load.
2. Put Down Your Phone: The madness of social media is that on one hand you use it to try and distract yourself from whatever unpleasant emotions you are feeling (boredom, anxiety, overwhelmed, etc.) while it simultaneously makes you feel worse when you see the highlights of everyone else’s day.
Even if you’re watching the latest Kristina Kuzmic YouTube Video while you’re trying to parent your kids, you’ll likely be interrupted on multiple occasions, and what sort of mindset will you be in then?
Being distracted by your phone makes it even more difficult to regulate your emotions or to help your kids deal with theirs. Try putting your phone out of sight, at least for part of the day, so you can be fully present.
3. Notice What is Happening in Your Body: Become more aware of what it feels like in your body before you become unhinged. Where do you feel the frustration, overwhelm, anger, sadness or helplessness in your body?
Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and focus on what your body is feeling.
You might notice how you shrug your shoulders up towards your neck, or tighten your jaw muscles when you are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you notice how hot you feel when you feel angry.
Noticing and naming the tension you feel and the emotions that are coming up may not make the difficult situation it go away, but it puts you back in control and allows you to take a minute and think about how you’d like to respond.
5. Respond To Yourself With Compassion: Kristen Neff, who is a leading author and researcher on self-compassion has found that when caregivers (yes, that is you, mom!) pour themselves out for others without being kind and supportive towards themselves, they eventually burn out.
After a decade of research, Neff has found that held-compassion is associated with good mental health, protects caregivers from compassion fatigue and increases satisfaction in the caregiving role.
She defines self-compassion as having 3 main components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment with an awareness of ones painful feelings without ignoring them or holding on to tightly to them.
Here is a self-compassion exercise from the book Self-Compassion for Parents by Susan Pollack that you can try:
-Notice your experience (This is really, really hard. I feel so overwhelmed) -Validate your feeling; like how you would talk to a good friend (ugh! Moments like this completely suck! Parenting is full of these tough moments. Other moms definitely feel this way too! I am not alone experiencing this; this is part of parenting.) -Add words of kindness (You’ve got this! You can get through this. Let me be kind to myself today.) -Try putting your hand on your heart and notice the warmth and gentle pressure.
There are going to be days that you blow it! Have some compassion for yourself. Instead of feeling forever horrible and mentally beating yourself up for the rest of the day, see it as an opportunity to reset.
Ask yourself what you need in that moment to get back on track.
Apologize sincerely to your kids.
Motherhood will present you with the ‘opportunity’ again and again to learn to deal more skillfully with your emotions. Many moms have never been taught to handle their feelings effectively. As you learn to experience sadness, anxiety, anger and other emotions in new ways, you can also share this learning with your kids to better equip them.
If you’ve been struggling with stress, anger or anxiety on your own and don’t feel like you’ve been making progress, counselling can be a very helpful part of the puzzle. I invite you to reach out for a free 15 minute consultation to see if we’d be a good fit to work together, to help you learn to navigate your emotions more effectively.
How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids by Carla Naumburg (*has a lot of ‘salty’ language, but is a great book!)