There’s no doubt that having a baby can put a real strain on your relationship with your partner; even the most rock solid of unions can wobble under the pressure of a tiny new arrival. So we asked you to submit your relationship concerns to Andrew G. Marshall, marital expert and author of I Love You But You Always Put Me Last. Here’s what he had to say…
Andrew writes: When you read these problems from other readers, I would be surprised if you don’t recognise something about your own situation. That’s because we’ve bought into some myths about being a parent – many of which are so deeply ingrained that we often can’t name them, let alone challenge them. So what are these myths? [Please note names have been changed
Myth One: You have to be perfect (and your partner too)
Susan is bi-polar (where people can alternate between manic energy and not being able to get out of bed) and thought she’d never be able to have a baby. At first it was hard, “my partner wasn’t the amazing Prince Charming while I was pregnant and I did worry if I had made a huge mistake and he wasn’t going to be the amazing partner I was looking for.” However, it did get better. “During his two weeks paternity leave I barely got chance to do anything. However, now he’s back at work, he suddenly wants to play golf when he’s off. ‘When do I get time for me?’ I ask but he shrugs and walks away.”
We put ourselves under so much pressure to be ‘amazing’ and get everything right. Deep down inside, we’re worried how we’ll measure up to the huge task of bringing up a small and helpless baby. Rather than admit to our own fears, it’s easier to judge our partner and find him wanting. After all, nobody can be ‘amazing’ all the time. The secret is to be a good-enough parent rather than perfect. In fact, in the long run, it’s better for your baby. If you could know and fulfil all your children’s wishes, you run the risk of them thinking the world revolved round them. Furthermore, if they’ve never had any obstacles to overcome, because you’ve carried then over, they don’t have the chance to make mistakes, learn from them, grow and become independent. So next time you get critical with yourself or your partner, take a deep breath and tell yourself ‘perfection and parenting don’t go together’. You only need to be good-enough.
Myth Two: You have to see eye-to-eye with your partner
Harriet writes: “We argue all the time but the main argument is that when my partner comes home he says hello them goes upstairs to have a shower while I am cooking the dinner and having to deal with the children. I feel that he should help me more but he feels he should be allowed time to rest and be by himself.”
No wonder, you’re arguing so much – because you’re both right! He does need time to unwind and be something other than dad and provider but you need help and to be something other than mum and home-maker. So instead of trying to convince him that he’s wrong and you’re right, take a step back and listen to him, ask questions and really understand all his pressures and concerns. When he feels heard, he’ll listen to you and your needs too. At this point, you can begin to negotiate and find a compromise that works for both of you (rather than bludgeoning each other into submission). Don’t worry about approaching parenting differently because more times than not your partner will bring up something you haven’t really thought about – like not losing sight of your own needs when you become a parent.
Myth Three: You’re never going to regret starting a family
Gemma writes on behalf of her daughter: “Her husband told her he no longer loved her and moved out of the family home abandoning her pregnant and with a two year old. He said his feelings changed when their first child was born and wants everything to go back as it was before.”
You love your children but if you’re being honest, sometimes they drive you up the wall or you’re so tired that you end up resenting them. When they’ve destroyed your clothes, your sofa and your nerves, if someone gave you a magic wand and you could turn the clock back to those wonderful pre-children years when you could lie in on Sunday mornings, you might just do it. These feeling only lasts for a few seconds but you do regret having them. Of course, you then think of all the pluses and feel stupid because you couldn’t live without them. Unfortunately, the myth of never regretting is so strong that people push away these thoughts before they’ve even had them or feel a ‘bad’ parent so won’t even admit that they sometimes resent their children. However, shutting away feelings doesn’t make them go away but get bigger and bigger until running away seems the only solution. Tell your daughter that instead of shaming her husband (because he feels enough already), tell him that she understands – and how sometimes she wishes it was just the two of them too. Finally, they can talk about having a couple of child free hours or a weekend to be lovers again (rather than just mum and dad).
Myth Four: You’re not going to be jealous of each other – ever
Kerry writes: “My husband has depression and goes through periods where he withdraws from our daughter because he feels she loves him less than me.”
It’s great that men have a more ‘hands on’ approach to their children than their fathers, but there’s a downside. While previous generations of men expected their sons and daughters to gravitate towards their mothers – after all, they spent most of their time with her – we feel let down or even rejected when they reach out for their mum. Equally mums that go out of work can feel jealous of their husband, mother or child minder for having those special times with their children. Jealousy is a natural human emotion. It’s only a problem when we pretend it doesn’t exist or won’t talk about it. Therefore, congratulate your husband on being so honest and don’t worry about how your husband’s depression will effect your daughter. If you can talk about jealousy in your family, you will also be able to talk about depression too and explain that everybody gets down but her father has a medical condition. So if he withdraws, it’s probably nothing that she’s done.
Myth Five: You should always put your children first
Linda writes: “We were fine after our first child but after the birth of our second child, we have had real problems. We are so distant and at times don’t talk to each other. My husband has also started seeing someone at work which I recently found out about.”
It’s so common for relationships to go off the rails at this point that I call it Second Child Syndrome. Two children under five plays havoc with a woman’s hormones – it takes eighteen months after the birth of one child to settle back to normal – and then she’s pregnant again. This means she will not feel spontaneously horny and a couple’s sex live can suffer. Of course, mothers can still be turned on (through romance, flirting and cuddling) but some women are so wrapped up in the dreamy world of mother and baby that their husbands think they don’t fancy them any more. Sadly, many men feel not only taken for granted but that their wife has left them (for their children). No wonder, they are vulnerable to attention from other women. That’s why I’ve written my book to help couples balance their priorities and not put all their energy into being parents – because they can exhaust and then ruin their marriage. Fortunately, your husband has realised that an affair makes these problems worse rather than better. If you can both learn from these experiences, it’s possible to come out the other side with a stronger marriage.