QUESTION: My relationship with my
husband has gone terribly wrong since the birth of our daughter two
years ago. We have been married five years. I feel like a mother to
a toddler and to an adult. My husband has literally jumped up and
down yelling, "I need attention!" And he means attention without our
daughter. He pesters me constantly for sex, yet he doesn't want to
spend family time with us. On his days off he finds it impossible
to even come home for dinner. I guess I could find a way to pay more
attention to him, but I don't want to find a way anymore. (My husband
did have a difficult childhood. He was adopted by a couple who were
abusive to him and he has been on his own since he was a teen.) I
am spread thin emotionally and physically. If it weren't for my daughter
I would have packed it in by now. Please help!
ANSWER: Without change, you and your
husband are quickly becoming emotionally (if not legally) divorced.
Share your feelings with your husband. Let him know what you need
in order to continue in the relationship. If he continues to believe
that there is nothing is willing to change, consider what your options
are. You may want your own therapy to look at what you need at this
point. Your husband clearly needs to explore his own childhood experience
and how it is affecting his relationship with you, his daughter and
take into account his contribution towards recreating family breakdown
instead of family cohesion.
You are at the crux of a crisis in the development
of family. First, your husband may be expecting you to make up for
his childhood neglect. This situation may have compounded his ability
to give attention to his own child, and so he left that in your hands.
In this way he abrogated responsibility for developing his role as
father in the family. This led to the second difficulty, that your
role as wife and mother became overloaded, leaving you tired and resentful.
At this point you are both suffering from feelings of abandonment
which threaten the marriage. The central breakdown here, is that your
husband has not met the challenge required of him in creating a satisfying
and fulfilling role for himself as a father in his own family.
Your husband's unavailability to his wife and daughter
on his days off indicates that he is separating himself out from the
family. This separation leaves him lonely and cut off from the nurturance
that being a part of a family unit can bring. He feels left out and
blames his spouse for these feelings. He does not see his own contribution
to his loneliness -- that separating himself from the family is causing
his pain. His ability to perceive himself as a part of a family whole
and to act in the best interests of the whole is lacking. This may
be the way he survived as a child in an abusive family -- to separate
himself from it. This is a common protection that children learn in
surviving toxic family situations.
When we embark upon family again, ghosts of childhood
haunt us. Defenses established in childhood are reactivated and difficult
to penetrate, as in your husband's case. Your husband does need to
take a walk down memory lane if he is to learn to be included in family
in an adult role now. Though as a child such inclusion might not have
been safe, he now has the power as an adult to make things different.
But to do so, he must be willing to see that his retreat from the
family is at least in part cause for his loneliness in the marriage.
Ask your husband if he wants to be a part of a family.
Be clear that you feel your marriage is threatened and why. Accept
responsibility for bringing these things to his attention and that
you are losing respect and affection for him based on his lack of
time and attention to his family. Tell him you are lonely for him
too! And invite him to take his proper and rightful place beside you
as a co-parent. Let him know that this would warm your heart and would
no doubt naturally increase your affection for him.
Your spouse may have had little in the way of role
modeling to even understand what positive involvement in the family
would look like. Be compassionate to the fact of his childhood neglect
and abuse, but do not take responsibility for what must be his work,
and his work alone...to reflect and comprehend the impact of this
past parental abandonment and how this affects his ability to include
himself in family now. Often, people recreate their own childhood
environments. This is the work of the unconscious in trying to break
through to seek healing in a new situation. Your husband experienced
abandonment at birth. He may now be recreating that abandonment with
his own daughter. He needs to wake up to the fact of his non involvement
in fatherhood and what this means not only for him, but for his daughter
and wife as well!
Your husband must take credit for his lack of connecting
to his fathering role which may be at the heart of destroying the
only real family he has ever known! Ask him why he would hurt himself
in this way. Why would he want to destroy the very thing he needs
the most -- family.
If your husband is willing to do the deep soul searching
that is in order for him, he may be at the brink of the deepest healing
he will ever experience. Far deeper than what he has already enjoyed
with you as a couple before parenthood. Taking an adult place in a
functioning healthy family can bring profound healing to a ravaged
childhood. But it is neither easily nor automatically achieved. Coming
to terms with past parenting relationships is a prerequisite to accepting
your own parental responsibilities.
Your husband has already benefited from the healing
that came from your love and nurturance in the first years of your
marriage. Now the challenge is to develop a positive and nurturing
father in the family. One that contributes instead of detracts. It
is your husband's job to reflect on his past relationship to his own
father or father figures. Becoming a parent means he must forge an
identity of himself as a father, which includes a journey back through
the pain of childhood, in order to see if there is anything given
him that he can salvage in creating his own fatherhood identity. If
he experienced his adoptive father as a negative influence, he may
be attempting to be a "good" father by avoiding fatherhood responsibility.
He may be at a loss to conceptualize a father as a powerful positiveinfluence
on his family, if he suffered abuse at his own father's hands. And,
he will indeed need to learn and develop the skills of positive parenting
which he may already be learning from you. However, he needs to forge
his own positive definition of the father role, its meaning and contribution
not just to you and his daughter, but also to himself. Fathers' groups
as well as individual therapy would provide a framework for him to
change, if he can see that change is not only necessary, but in his
By retreating from the task of developing himself
as a father, he is destroying his family relationships. It is as if
he is trying to keep things standing still when time has moved forward.
His time to contribute to the family is here, and the window of opportunity
is closing fast. It is not too late to catch the train, but he must
be willing to buy his ticket!