Maintaining a healthy marriage while raising multiple small children can be quite a challenge! Today’s Expert Interview is with Shannon Fox, licensed family and marriage therapist, and author of Last One Down the Aisle Wins.
Check out some of her media appearances here!
L: Have you worked with many couples who are parents to multiples? Do you tend to see any particular patterns develop in those couples, that are unique to multiples families?
S: I have had the privilege of working with parents of multiples and even have a sister with triplets and another sister with twins. Across the board, couples with multiples develop a pattern of exhaustion. They go into survival mode for the first year or so and anything that is not absolutely critical for survival goes by the wayside. Unfortunately, statistics also show patterns of higher stress, more depression, and higher rates of divorce among parents of multiples.
L: Dealing with the “newborn stage”, I think most of us expect our marital relationship to go on the back burner a bit, but when should a couple seek help for their relationship? In other words, how do you know if you are experiencing “normal” symptoms of sleep deprivation and stress, or serious problems in your relationship?
S: It’s normal for a couple to put their sex life on the back burner for several months until the babys’ sleep schedules begin to regulate and the adults are getting some solid blocks of sleep as well. If a couple is still not easing back into a healthy sex routine that they both feel is meeting their sexual needs, it might be time to sit down with a counselor. Additionally, if they aren’t working as a team and one feels like the burden of the multiples lies squarely on their shoulders, it’s time to get some help. Everything has to change when multiples enter the home and if this transition seems too difficult to make on your own, seek professional help. Some signs that you need outside help: arguing constantly, crying frequently, one or the other feels depressed, building resentment, no sex, or even just a desire to talk to someone about how hard your new life is.
L: Many parents of young multiples have difficulty finding the time and money, and childcare to facilitate going to therapy. Do you have any suggestions for those in that situation?
S: With the increase in the incidence of multiples, new support groups are popping up everywhere. Ask at your hospital, pediatrician, or place of worship. If there are no groups available, ask someone if their organization would be interested in starting one. For couples therapy, many therapists now conduct therapy sessions over the phone or internet chat.
L: Do you have any tips for couples on how to stay engaged with each other under times of extreme stress/sleep deprivation/etc?
S: When you are sleep deprived, it seems like a momentous task to even meet your children’s needs, let alone your spouse’s. But it helps to remember that your spouse is probably just as tired as you are. Don’t fall into the comparison trap. You are both exhausted—don’t compare the actual hours of sleep and argue about who has a greater right to be tired. Instead, build trust by empathizing: “I know you must be exhausted because I’m tired and I didn’t even have to do the 3am feeding like you did!” Always remember that you are a team and that despite how it feels now, it will get better. You will get a full night’s sleep again. Just hold hands and try to keep a sense of humor.
L: Having multiples is a gift- but it can also hit you like a ton of bricks. If a couple finds that their connection has been lost, is there still hope for them?
S: There is absolutely still hope. Feelings come and go, but our commitment to our spouse can remain strong through the tough times and see us through to the other side. As long as you don’t make any rash decisions in the middle of the toughest first year, you can emerge a stronger couple, armed with the knowledge that if you could make it through that stressful time together, you can make it through anything. If you feel like you are all alone in your marriage, make the effort to reconnect with your spouse. It might mean begging someone to watch the little angels for a few hours so you can get dressed up and go on a grown-up date with your spouse. Your marriage can be a great source of strength when you need it most—commit to stay connected, or get reconnected.
L: What relationship characteristics do you see more frequently in couples with healthy marriages?
S: Healthy couples work together as a team, they sacrifice to meet the others’ needs (for a nap, a break, sex, a backrub, etc.), they work at communication, they are affectionate with each other. Regardless of how difficult it gets, they resist the urge to turn on each other, to blame or resent the other. They work alongside each other like a battalion in a foxhole—it’s war, but they’ve got each others’ backs.
L: Do you have any online/print resources that you would recommend for couples who think they might need help with their relationship?
A big thanks to Ms. Fox for sharing her insights with us today!
Have you experienced any positive or negative changes in your marriage since having multiples? What do you do to stay connected to your spouse?