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Devastated After Partner's Vasectomy

QUESTION: My husband and I have two girls. We just went through a very difficult pregnancy with our youngest daughter, who was just born a month ago. On top of this, my husband just had a vasectomy. (He seemed desperate for the surgery!) Initially, I was neutral about this decision but now I feel it may tear our marriage apart. My husband does not discuss emotional issues. What can I do?

ANSWER: It is possible that your feelings are intensified due to postpartum adjustment. Dealing with your husband's vasectomy on the heels of childbirth may have stimulated emotions at a rate you were unable to process.

This will not be the last time intense feelings come up in your marriage. You must find a way to share what is in your heart and on your mind, even though you are reluctant to do so. After all, what is your alternative? You cannot run away from the job of developing the communication in your marriage and neither can he - - without suffering negative consequences!

Constructively airing feelings makes a marriage more viable. Like rain gutters direct the flow of water to prevent damage to your house, effective communication buffers your relationship from a back up of unexpressed feelings. Allowing feelings to fester can lead to blow ups or a chilling withdrawal from the relationship, either of which may damage your marriage.

Progressing on the family life cycle together brings inevitable challenges, and yes, disappointments! Accept responsibility for not speaking up earlier if you did have an objection to a vasectomy. Take courage to begin your communication with your husband with an "I" statement, rather than a "you" statement, which blames him for your feelings. Your emotions need expression, but your experience is not his fault. For example, "I know I did not say anything to you about not getting a vasectomy, earlier, but now I find I am having very mixed feelings. I don't want them to get in the way of our relationship. And though it is hard for us to talk about feelings, I need to feel safe to express and share them with you."

Let your spouse know that your feelings are not logical (after all, logic is not the nature of feelings!) and that you are only asking that he listen to your feelings. Ask him about his feelings, too. It is possible that he was extremely frightened by the last pregnancy experience, but unlike you, he may also feel a load of guilt for his genetic role. Find out the real meaning of your husband's "desperation."

The true nature of intimacy requires that you develop your ability to empathize with the other. Your feelings will likely change as you express your pain and make room for your husband's experience.

Do not underestimate what you have been through together. You have just come out of a high risk pregnancy. Dealing with life and death issues, topped with the weight of the deliberate decision to close the door on pregnancy and childbirth forever has left you to face your own mortality at an early age. Still, the greater the challenges you face in life, the more need there will be to communicate.

The test of any marriage is whether the adversities you experience on the family journey bring you together or pull you apart. Communication is not an optional part of marriage, but an essential ingredient to remaining connected through conflict, which is inevitable in any longterm relationship.


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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