QUESTION: We recently had a baby
and moved. My husband got out of the Navy. We are with his parents and
buying a house. It just seems lately we are having such bad fights and
every time he gets mad at me he says he wants a divorce. I don't think
he means it but he always says it. I don't know how to tell him I hate
it when he says that. I don't want our son always hearing threats of
his parents getting a divorce. How can we work this out and stop saying
hurtful things to one another?
ANSWER: Your husband may be going
through a major transition in leaving the Navy and becoming a new father.
In addition, issues from childhood may be ignited by living temporarily
with his parents. But this is no reason to act like a child in your
marriage! Whatever is eating him needs attention but it is important
that you let him know that his behavior is damaging not only to your
marriage relationship but to his son's sense of safety and security
in the family.
Express your love and concern for him and share your
observations with him about how he has been acting since his release
from the Navy and your current living situation with his parents.
Ask him what is going on for him. What has he experienced in your
couples' relationship since the birth of your son? Your relationship
has undergone tremendous change when you became parents. Perhaps he
is missing the attention he used to get in the marriage before your
son was born.
Fathers can sometimes feel left out of the "goodies"
in the family when Mom and baby are closely bonding and getting to
know one another, and he is gone most of the day. Jealousy that is
present but difficult to express due to feelings of guilt may make
their entrance as anger. And with the other changes going on confusion
may have given way to irritation. Although sometimes destructive,
anger can serve to make a person who feels out of control temporarily
in charge and defined by rage. But it is only fleeting relief from
what could be overwhelming feelings of pain and confusion.
Leaving the structured environment of the military
and finding himself at home with his parents could also precipitate
a sense of losing control, of not being in charge of things. And being
at home with Mom and Dad as a new father himself could evoke tensions
that impact your relationship and family life. Any of these things
could cause your husband understandable stress. Buying your first
home is also a major life event. Any one of the things you have described
in the situation are significant stressors. Good things like having
a baby and buying a house are still stressful even though they are
also positive moves forward in family life.
Remind your husband that you are his friend! Not
his enemy. You are the one he can confide his feelings in, and you
are on his side. Working through difficulties together strengthens
relationships. Let him know you care and want to be there for him,
but that his references to divorce are hurting you. Resorting to threats
of divorce in a discussion is a sign of powerlessness. Ask him what
he is feeling unhappy about. Powerless about? Tell him you are willing
to listen to his feelings and expect that he will be interested in
listening to yours as well.
Negotiations in family life increase with the birth
of a child. Establishing a forum for processing feelings, opinions
and needs is important to the future of your relationship and your
child's well-being. We are all constantly growing up. Responsibilities
that we take on need to be answered. Marriage and fatherhood are both
significant commitments. Ask your husband to honor these commitments
by communicating his feelings and needs instead of running away from
issues with the threat of divorce.
Perhaps his threats of divorce which seem so unreal
to you are a retreat to a world of fantasy where he is not responsible
for the commitments he has already made. This is a common and understandable
fantasy shared by many of us at some point in our lives. But it is
only a fantasy and not any kind of real alternative to life's demand's
for maturity in responding to responsibilities we create.
The two of you are undergoing a great transformation
in your couple's relationship. Get into your own home, establish your
own family traditions and take time to sort through your feelings.
Agree to stop using the threat of divorce as a fantasy escape from
dealing with problems. Such a threat is disrespectful of your marital
vows. Instead, spend time reaffirming that you are in this together!
Establish yourselves as a team working through your current transition
as parents, without forgetting your commitment to one another as friends
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