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In Consultation: The Motherhood Marathon - Page 5


Support teamwork and intimacy with her partner. Many couples disagree about childrearing and sharing the load, and there's little time for the conversation and affection that reknit relationships. As a result, a mother often feels inadequately supported, while her partner feels sidelined. So I'll try to help a couple to:

- Cultivate empathy. To build bridges, we'll explore how each has been affected by becoming a parent. Asking about empathy in the early days of their relationship helps spotlight its importance today, and they may practice its central skills: paying attention, looking beneath the surface, and checking back.

- Settle conflicts over childrearing. We'll begin by identifying where they already agree, and then explore the childhood experiences and deeply felt values underlying the issues that remain. With greater understanding, they're more able to compromise on practical solutions. Sometimes it helps to refer them to neutral experts as tie-breakers, to teach specific negotiation skills (e.g., focusing on solutions for the future) or to referee as they resolve a concrete issue like how to handle tantrums.

- Tackle workload inequities. The average mother is on-task about 20 hours a week more than her partner. This is a source of conflict with many couples. To help a couple work through it, I may start by asking them to record their time for a week, and the plain facts alone often prompt greater fairness. By discussing beliefs such as "working for pay counts more than caring for children," it usually becomes clear that childrearing and housework are more stressful than most jobs, and for more important stakes. Then it's easier to come up with practical agreements, such as making a base schedule for a typical week and deciding who'll do what.

- Buttress the foundation of intimacy. We'll explore what each partner wants in terms of time together, good conversation, and nonsexual affection. Then we'll discuss how to make that happen, such as sometimes having dinner together by feeding the kids first, a daily hug, a regular date night, or doing more childrearing activities together.

- Nurture sexuality after children. I'll help a couple talk candidly about the changes in their sex life and how each would like it to be. We'll often explore ways to increase the sensual aspect of their relationship and troubleshoot roadblocks, such as a baby in the bedroom. This often helps couples come to an understanding about how often they hope to make love, as something important that they both want to share reasonably often.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist and writer in San Rafael, California. He's the principal author of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships and of articles on the subject available at Contact: drrh@ Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to letters@

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