I'm not trying to brag, and I'm not trying to say that my marriage is perfect, but I am going to say that the "pre-baby counseling" discussed in "So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage" at The Wall Street Journal seems a little pricey. Couples are shelling out $500 (I'm assuming per couple) to take a 6-session course in how to juggle marriage with a baby.
Does a baby change a marriage? Sure. Can a baby make parts of your marriage more difficult? Absolutely. But the advice this article summarizes isn't advice for prepping for baby; it's advice for treating your spouse like a human being, and I would hope that not that many people need lessons on how to do so.
The participants learn to use "I" statements, a lesson that I teach first-year college students when discussing how to give a constructive peer review. It should shock no one that couching requests in language that maintains the listener's autonomy gets you further than barking demands.
Because chores can be a place of tension (isn't that the understatement of the year?), "[c]ounselors at Urban Balance have expectant couples make a list of every potential task—from paying bills and cooking dinner to getting up with the baby at 3 a.m.—and decide who is going to be responsible for each one." Wait. These are pre-baby workshops. And they're writing down the chores. I had no idea what a typical day would look like as a new mother. I had no idea how long it would take to do anything. And there are all kinds of chores I didn't even know existed. Plus, there's no way that kind of schedule could remain in place without jeopardizing everyone's sanity. Maybe it's different for other people, but flexibility is the only thing that keeps this house standing.
They also learn to make a weekly meeting "to sync their calendars," which is good advice, but Google calendar is free, and probably does it a lot more effectively.
"The Bringing Baby Home program suggests that couples spend at least 20 minutes a day talking with each other." Twenty minutes? A day? Seriously? I know (trust me, I know) that schedules get hectic. On many days, there is literally not one minute that I'm not doing at least one required duty, whether that's nursing the baby, doing laundry, reading for class, editing a writing assignment, grading papers, lesson planning, or showering. My husband's schedule is equally hectic. But I cannot think of a time when we've talked less than an hour a day. It may be an hour spent talking while one of us folds clothes and the other one sorts mail. Or while one's cooking dinner and one's playing with the baby. But we always talk. Always.
Our relationship grew out of talking, and it makes no sense to me without that component. We have so many inside jokes after eight years of constant talking that we probably annoy other people. No less than ten times a day I laugh out loud at things I see because I can't wait to tell him later. We text each other what would appear to anyone else to be nonsense throughout the work day. We do crossword puzzles and play Sporcle together (yes, we're total nerds, we even have a pact that we can't look at the Sporcle quizzes unless we're both present--that's cheating).
I recognize that not everyone's relationship looks the same, so it could be that the way our relationship grew just happened to give us some skills that are good for coping with change. I'm not one to advocate my way of life over other's, but I also can't help but feel that our wholehearted attempts at equally sharing parenting responsibilities are truly keeping our relationship on track.
The study cited in the article found that "Mothers' satisfaction in their marriages plummets immediately; for men, the slide is delayed a few months." While the article attributes mothers' woes to physical changes after baby comes, I would argue that it's also related to the cultural pressures of being a mom that start way before the baby is ever born. I don't think men get as many of those pressures beforehand, so it takes some time for them to build up.
I'm not saying that this kind of counseling is useless, but the article admits that even though people who took the courses reported more satisfaction in their marriages, it had no effect on whether or not they would ultimately divorce.
I truly think that learning to communicate with one another has to start way before a baby enters the equation, and it should be as organic as possible. While there are certainly times you're going to fight, you should never forget that your spouse is a friend and, above all, a person worthy of your respect. Save your $500 and go play some Sporcle; it's free!