QUESTION: My husband and I are currently
going through an informal separation. This was his idea. Ever since
our son (2 1/2) was born he says that I don't pay him enough attention
like I used to when I was pregnant. I have tried to explain to him
that our child should come first and he agrees but he still feels
that he should be first and foremost in my mind. I love him with all
that I have. This "separation" is merely a mental separation and not
a physical. Our sex life is definitely better because of it, and I
have been trying to compromise by giving ample enough attention to
both my husband and son. I don't want to lose him.
What do you think I could do to improve the
relationship with my husband while not jeopardizing the amount of
attention that I give my son? I am currently working full-time and
going to school for my degree as well.
ANSWER: Though it is fair for him to
want the quality of your relationship to be the same, his expectations
for the amount of attention from you may be unrealistic following
the birth of a child. And it is not fair for him to have his cake
and eat it too! If he wants a separation, why is he enjoying a sexual
relationship with you? Perhaps he wants the life of a bachelor back,
but this is not possible. Working on the relationship within the context
of living together is far different from working on it when separated.
It is the very intimacy of living together that is being avoided.
Such an arrangement contributes to the fantasy that your husband can
return to single life and still enjoy the benefits of being a member
of the family and a father. Yet he is distancing himself from his
son and from you. Having sex in this situation seems to reward him
for leaving and separating himself out from the family. This may be
a temporary shortcut to hot sex, (spiced with the threat of abandonment?)
but it is not an answer to the problem of forging a vital couples'
relationship in the context of a family unit.
Couples' relationships are healing vessels for past
wounds of childhood. Your husband seems to have a found a very loving
and responsive mate in you. And such healing may be a part of what
he needs in a relationship. It is not the case that you are between
him and your son. You and he must put your son first, for this is
the responsibility of both you and your husband. But it is also critical
to your marriage that there is consistent quality time that can be
counted on in the couples' relationship. Making consistent weekly
dates with one another could be part of the change that needs to occur.
Your husband's withdrawal from you in this situation
could prove to be damaging to your marriage. It is important to work
things out, however this means spending time talking through these
changes that have come about since you became parents. Your child's
well-being rests on the strength of your couple's bond. He benefits
from what you give to one another, not just what he gets from each
of you directly. It is important to process the things that were given
up by becoming parents. Grieve the life you left behind, but accept
the responsibilities of what you have entered into together. Perhaps
your husband is looking for an escape from mourning life before children.
Instead he is attempting to return to being single.
Perhaps your partner should join a father's group
where he can share feelings like his own with other men going through
the same life phase. Or he could go into individual counseling to
explore why your loving attention is not enough, and what the reasons
are for his continued jealousy of his son. It is not the feelings
of jealousy that are the problem, as this is a common response in
new fathers. But it is the fact of his withdrawal from the family,
based upon these feelings that could communicate a destructive message
to his son. Is he developing a relationship to his son, that is separate
from your mother-son relationship? What is he doing to feel a part
of the family, other than through your love and attention? It is not
your job to dole out nurturance. And you need nurturing, too. What
is your partner doing to nurture the relationship with you, and his
son separately? For therein lies the connection he longs for. Sex
is a transient and empty substitute for enduring intimacy. It is common
for men who have experienced difficulty attaching to their own mothers
as infants, to seek connection through sex. However sexual connection
alone never satiates the deep need for intimacy and contact that is
an important part of finding your place in a family.
Your commitment and devotion to him should give him
cause to consider looking inside for some of the answer to his own
need to feel included in your love. And if the two of you are both
working full time and parenting, it is true that your attention to
one another is curtailed. Going to school in addition could also be
leaving little time for each other or parenting. Is there anyway to
balance time and commitments that give more time to relationship and
connecting, both as a family and as a couple, and less time working
or going to school? Could you both continue to pursue work and educational
goals, but at a slower pace that would allow for more family and couple
Perhaps your marriage is simply the casualty of too
much to do with too little time to do it. If this is the case, discussion
and re-prioritizing might be in order, rather than separation. Ask
your husband to talk with you about prioritizing. Request his help
and his positive suggestions for solutions. What is the emotional
meaning of his moving out? Is he angry at you, but not asking for
changes surrounding time and commitments on your part? Ask him to
tell you what his vision would be of a loving relationship with you.
And ask him to give you positive and realistic suggestions for how
things could change, and what he is willing to do to help it to happen.
In short, develop a shared vision of what you both
want together. But pay attention to the difference between balancing
parenting, work, school and marriage and unrealistic expectations
for couple's relating after a baby arrives. There are changes which
must be accommodated to when a child is born, and this does include
reduced attention to the couple and increased attention to a child.
But tease out whether with the work and school commitments, this meant
less time together versus no time together!