Q Since having our first baby 8 months ago our relationship has gone downhill. I’ve tried talking to him but he says I’m just imagining it and everything’s fine. But I know it isn’t, and that it’s not all in my head.
He seems to be pulling away from us. He’s moody and snappy, and is ‘busy’ at work and not getting home until our little girl is ready for bed… and I’m exhausted by then. He’s started to do more work at the weekends too as he says we need the money – but we don’t.
We used to have a laugh and things used to be fun and we were a ‘team’ but that isn’t the case now. I’m also afraid he may be having an affair (our sex life is virtually non-existent since I was pregnant). I’ve mentioned counselling but he nearly hit the roof! I’m really worried and sad by it all. Has our baby ruined our relationship?
A Changed your relationship? Yes, for sure. New demands, new stress, new experiences.
Ruined it? A baby can’t ruin anything – we grown ups do that all by ourselves… even if we’re not fully aware of the reasons for doing so.
Our thoughts create our reality so it’s worth bearing that in mind. Might you be projecting rejection and avoidance when it’s not really there, or even be setting it up?
I’m not suggesting that you are – it’s just best to check that part out with yourself first.
You’ll have to get your ‘detective hat’ on and look objectively at the situation. Separate out what is fact (with evidence) and what is thought, imagination, wishing, or fear.
If there is fear in the mix (when isn’t there?!) then you’ll need to dig down and see if there’s a link for you to something from your own past that might be reactivated in the present and clouding your perceptions.
Ask yourself – ‘Have I ever felt like this before?’… and wait for your sub-conscious mind to offer up an answer.
If/when you are clear that what is happening now isn’t just a replay of something from your past (such as your parents relationship changing when they had a child; or you feeling neglected as a child when a new baby appeared on the scene); then you can tackle the present situation much more clearly.
However, from what you’ve describe he is behaving differently towards you recently by coming home later and being tied up at weekends.
- What exactly IS different about your relationship now? (Be specific)
- What adjustments have you both had to make since becoming parents?
- What fears do you have about the future of your relationship and your child’s upbringing?
- What do you feel about your relationship right now?
Ask your partner/husband to give you 20 minutes of his time for something that really matters to you – and without interrupting you as you share your observations, thoughts and feelings.
Then ask that he give his honest and heartfelt response – and be sure to listen to the words as well as the unspoken communication from him.
In this way you will give one another ‘permission’ to share what’s going on inside for each of you, without blame or shame – or any guilt-tripping.
Avoid challenging one another – just listen and do your best to empathise with the other’s point of view. Be prepared to hear something you may not like.
He may for instance say that he feels overwhelmed with responsibility, or fear for the future of the relationship – and maybe fears for your financial future too. He might not want to have sex because he is making assumptions about you and your needs. You won’t know until he tells you, and he’s unlikely to tell you if he expects a fight about it.
Remember – he’ll also have his own links and associations being made between his past and the present day too. He might not want or be able to put them into words, but at least he can, hopefully, be open to the possibility that some of what he’s feeling may not belong in the present day.
The bottom line is that your child matters most here – and this will, I hope, encourage you both to share your deeper selves with one another in these manageable chunks of 20 minutes (assuming that he’s willing to go along with this of course!)
If he refuses to discuss things then this is a sign of a relationship in trouble, and you may need outside help to put egos aside and expose the deeper emotional layers – for you both.
It’s possible for you to re-define your relationship now and to see becoming parents as a catalyst for creating a different type of relationship – one that has open communication, commitment, and connection embedded within it. One that you are proud to model to your child.
It all starts with the willingness to separate fact from fantasy, and to then look inside and be willing to share ourselves in an emotionally intimate way.
Our children deserve that from us, and the stable and safe future a happy relationship provides.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)