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Fighting More After Leaving Navy
and Having Baby

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?

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 and lovers.

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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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