QUESTION: I'm about to become a father
for the first time. I want to make sure that I am supportive of my
wife, but she makes it hard. She won't tell me things, like when she
is having pain, etc. She will tell her mother, whom we live with,
but I have to push for the answers. We have been going through a rough
time with my job. I think she is trying to keep me from worrying.
How can I support her?
ANSWER: Congratulations on becoming
a father! Not only is your heart in the right place in wanting to
support your wife, but you have an instinctive knowledge of the realignment
needed in your marriage.
It is true that you have identified a weakness in
your relationship, and if you are to grow closer instead of further
apart as parents you must strengthen your partnership for the journey
It is critical that you and your wife develop an independent
intimacy as a couple. The developmental task of becoming a new couple
together requires that you create a shared closeness and primary dependence
on one another in order to create your own "family" together.
This by no means excludes your in-laws, nor limits
the close connection that is natural to a mother and daughter during
pregnancy and new motherhood. But these relationships should be supporting
rather than replacing the primary bond between husband and wife!
Becoming parents together holds stress as well as
joy. And it is often the case that parents must work to stay current
with one another through the many changes that occur in the wake of
this family transformation. You are each taking on new identities
as "mother" and "father." And adding a new member to the family is
statistically one of the greatest stressors in family life. Adjustment
to these changes requires greater sharing than ever before.
Clearly your wife's willingness to share her pain with her mother,
but not with you leaves you "out of loop" and guessing. No wonder
you are worried!
Begin by talking with your wife about your desire
and willingness to "be there for her." Explore her fears about depending
on you. True intimacy includes honest and direct communication. By
sharing worries and concerns, you will be more likely to bond around
finding solutions together. Let her know that you respect her relationship
and welcome her mother's support, but that you want the childbirth
and parenting to be a primary shared experience between the two of
you. Listen to her feedback, carefully. If there is some reason why
she does not trust you to support her, allow that expression to be
heard. But do not stop there. Work toward successes in depending on
one another and building the primary bond that is now lacking between
Phone calls for checking in during the day, spending
time preparing for the labor and birth and shopping for baby clothes
should all be a part of your relationship activities together. Be
sure to attend prenatal visits and actively include yourself in the
pregnancy. Let your wife experience your presence as a positive factor
in her preparation for motherhood. And take time to have conversations
about the changes each of you are experiencing as you become parents.
You are your wife's partner in life. She and you are
copilots on your journey. It is not too late to invite her to take
her seat beside you!