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Problems Since Moving Out of In-Laws House

QUESTION: My heart is breaking. I have a beautiful 10 month old son and have been married 3 years. But it seems like ever since the baby was born we have been disintegrating as a family. We lived in my husband's mother's house in the inner city, and when she moved in my brother in law and their family on the next floor it was all too close for comfort. There was excessive noise due to construction on the apt., (while I was pregnant), a controlling mother in law, and a husband who never separated from his parents. I begged him to move out and we bought a house.

But now it seem he can't handle this responsibility. He comes home after a long commute from work, miserable and moody. Each day all I hear is how I made him do this, I make him work so hard, and how easy he had it before. This escalates into huge arguments. One day he even slapped me and I called him names. I don't know what to do.

He cannot let go of the fact that in mom's house he had a 5 min. drive to work, low rent, etc. I don't work right now because I am breastfeeding still on demand. Our initial agreement was that I would work part time, but when I did that he couldn't handle work plus the baby.

ANSWER: The two of you have proceeded to having a child together before truly establishing your own family cohesion. You and your husband are facing the tasks of two stages of family life cycle development all at once! No wonder you are experiencing high levels of stress. The major problem is the fact that you are taking out your frustrations on each other. However verbal and physical abuse is not the solution, as you well know. The resolution to this stress is to turn to one another for teamwork in mastering these life challenges.

The task of the new couple stage includes establishing boundaries around your relationship. Your dependency must shift towards your spouse as a primary support, rather than his (or your) parents. The fact that you were living in your husband's home created a likelihood that this shift might not take place. And indeed this seems to be the case.

The tasks of the next stage of the family life cycle revolve around becoming parents and the adjustments necessary in the family to accommodate greater responsibility for this new little member. Incomplete tasks related to establishing a separate couples' relationship no doubt prompted you towards sudden separation from in-laws in an attempt to gain independence. However, your husband has not finished the emotional work of separating from his parents before becoming a father himself. Nor have the two of you constructed a safe haven for one another to express frustration and experience comfort in your relationship.

It is not too late to come together and establish a team approach to your present life situation. Ask your husband to place his loyalties with you and work together to establish an emotional support network in your marriage. But also respect his need for some dependence and connection to his parents at this time. Is there a way to separate more gradually while establishing a stronger couples' bond too? Could you allow your in-laws to help with baby-sitting or other tasks appropriate for grandparents, while you and your family live under a separate roof and establish boundaries which respect your own family rituals and couples' time together? Could your husband find a closer job, or establish ways to relax when he does get home? Can he lean on you emotionally during his work day? Sometimes calling home can increase a sense of connection with your spouse that is soothing for the rest of the day. In this way, the two of you may be able to nurture each other, and your husband's emotional needs to depend on someone will be transferred from his parents to you. View this present crisis as an opportunity to realign your relationship.

Perhaps the two of you realized that something was wrong, but instead of talking it through realistically, you found yourself jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Slow down. Reassess your needs. Establish goals for improving your relationship, developing independence as a new family and establishing a satisfying support system with in-laws. Refer to my articles on the Making Healthy Family series, "Becoming a Family", "Communication and Problem-Solving" and "Traveling on the Family Lifecycle" for further discussion and exercises to help you with these two family stages.

Since going backwards is not a possibility, invite your spouse to consider suggestions for moving forward in your family's development! Remind your husband that you love him and that you are not his enemy, but his partner. Ask him for positive suggestions which can lighten his load in a realistic manner which acknowledges his needs, but does not disrespect the boundaries of the couples' relationship. Make room for discussing feelings, separate from actions. Let him know you care and are willing to empathize with all the pressure he feels as a new father. After the emotions have been released, consider your best options for solving your problems.

You are already well on your way with your own home and a new son. Perhaps you just need to catch up emotionally with all the changes of the last three years! Create a safe space in your relationship to adjust to changes by expressing both negative and positive feelings. You may be relieved to find that after negative feelings are aired, love and commitment for one another and your baby, are close behind.

Remind your husband that you did this together and that you very much need him. And keep in mind one key thing spouses want from one another more than anything in marriage ...... compassion.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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