Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Marriage is Crumbling Since We Had a Baby”

I have a son who is almost two years old. I knew growing up I always wanted children. I met my now-husband in college and having a family was high on both of our priority lists. We’ve been married now for about six years. We had a great relationship until we had our son.

I’m not sure what has happened to us since then. We argue all the time. I feel like he has become so negative and he acts as though the world owes him something. He looks down on me for staying home even though he wanted me to. For example, any time I mention being tired, he’ll be say, “Why are you tired? It’s not like you get up and have to go to work where you get zero help.” It hurts that he almost treats our relationship like a competition and he’s always the winner. I just don’t understand how we can go from what seemed like being a great, normal couple to what we are now. I’m at a lost on what to do!!! — It’s Not a Competition

I think of my marriage and my life in terms of: Before Kids and After Kids. I love my children very, very much but/and their existence has changed almost everything for me, including my relationship with my husband. This is true for most parents (and, in fact, if a parent said his or her child didn’t change most aspects of their lives, I’d probably side-eye them and secretly think they weren’t a very invested parent). For me, it was about a five-year adjustment period before my life — and my identity! — After Kids truly felt like my new normal. During that five-year period, there was a lot of struggle, a bit of an ongoing identity crisis, and some grieving of the life/freedom I gave up. There was also some trial and error in terms of figuring out how to continue investing in and nurturing my marriage while also prioritizing my kids’ needs. Sometimes these things are in direct opposition and it’s hard to know where to focus your attention first/most. After almost seven years of parenthood, I not only have a better sense of what is most important and what can slide a little lower on the priority list, but my children are a lot easier to manage, too. In fact, as I write this, both of my kids are at school all day for the first time ever and I am like on a natural high! I have SIX WHOLE HOURS to devote to my own work, running errands IN PEACE, and writing without interruption. I haven’t had this much solace in years and I am feeling positively drunk from the sheer freedom.

Anyway, my point is that less than two years into parenting, you are still very much in the weeds, and things will get easier. But you and your husband need to get on the same page or your marriage is going to implode. Right now, that is priority number one (well, after making sure your kid is fed and bathed and clothed). You need to communicate exactly what you’ve said to me here: that you are tired of feeling in competition (and like you’re always the loser) and you need to get on the same team. Because you ARE on the same team! Right now you have different roles, but they are equally important and equally challenging (although, honestly, I’d argue that staying home day after day with a baby/toddler is harder than most jobs, and, of course, completely without monetary rewards or figurative pats on the back) and your husband needs to appreciate and understand that and, if he doesn’t inherently understand, then you need to tell him and figure out ways for him to get a sense of what you do all day. Are you getting any breaks from your kid? Do you step away for a few hours on the weekend for some me time or to connect with friends? Does your husband ever have the chance to be sole caregiver for a few hours to bond with your child and get a sense of the responsibility of child care? All of these things would help you and your marriage.

Another thing that would help is getting some time away from your kid, just you and your husband. You need some nights out or a weekend away if you have someone you can leave your child with. You have to connect with each other, enjoy some new experiences together as a couple (and not just new parents experiencing the “magic” of toddlerhood…), and find time to actually communicate with one another away from the very responsibilities that are weighing on you.

But the truth is, your husband might just be a real dick and no amount of date nights is going to change that. Maybe you didn’t know he was a dick earlier because life was pretty easy when you were younger and childfree and both working and living life in similar ways, but now that your days look different and he’s starting to feel resentful because he thinks he has it harder than you, his inner dick is really coming out. It’s easy to be easy-going and loving when you don’t have a lot of responsibilities and pressures – it’s harder when you are faced with challenges (like, say, being the sole breadwinner of a family and maybe grieving some of the freedom and financial stability you recently lost). Our true colors tend to shine a little brighter when we’re faced with challenges. Maybe your husband’s true color is dick.

Maybe your husband, though, is also feeling under-appreciated like you are. Maybe he doesn’t feel understood. Maybe he doesn’t see you recognizing his hard work to financially support your family. Maybe that responsibility, new as it still is, is scary and heavy and he’s not getting the support from you that he’d like. You might both be swimming in the sea of neglect from each other feeling like your marriage is crumbling when regular dates, expressions of gratitude, and the acceptance that things are going to be this hard for a few years is all you need to sustain your relationship until the pressures of parenting a young child ease up a bit and you have a little more breathing room again.

All of what you’re feeling is normal. Plenty of parents have been where you are, feeling what you’re feeling, and have made it through to the other side. Hopefully, you and your husband are together and stronger than ever on the other side, but if at some point you decide the marriage is not salvageable, please know that there is also life after divorce, too, and being alone is a lot better than being in a lonely marriage.

Related: Parenting a Toddler: It Gets Better…. Right? and “How Do You Find Balance After You Have a Baby?” and The Secret To Happy Relationships: Don’t Have Kids?

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

23 comments… add one
  • avatar

    brise September 13, 2018, 9:39 am

    What I hear behind your husband’s not so nice comment is: he has trouble at work. He is probably under great stress and has zero help. Perhaps you can ask him the question and ask him how you can help him to face those professional challenges? Perhaps he feels a bit neglected as a partner (in your attention, in the emotional support)?
    Anyway, if this is right, he needs to learn how to ask for help and support positively and without putting you down. If he is competitive with you, he feels in a competition at work and has trouble to catch up. Still, that doesn’t excuse such statements. You both need to communicate more openly.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph September 13, 2018, 9:52 am

      Yes, I thought the same thing. This isn’t about parenting at all. Husband hates his job. And maybe because husband is now the sole breadwinner, he feels trapped in a job he hates.
      As a mom who works full time, I think that SAHM is absolutely a much harder job than working outside the home (I mean its still work, but at least nobody tries to open the door when I go pee!) But since my husband and I both work, neither of us has to feel that feeding and clothing and housing our family is entirely up to us. And I think that must be very stressful, especially if he struggles at work.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor September 13, 2018, 9:47 am

    Someone once told me that no marriage survives children. Many people build something new from the wreckage but whatever you had was gone.

    The period from 0-3 was one of the worst times of my life even as I greatly enjoyed the parenting aspect of it.

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    • avatar

      Vathena September 13, 2018, 10:08 am

      Oh man, that’s so true. I definitely felt like it was Team Me/Baby vs. Team Dad for at least the first year. It started to gradually get better after that. My husband and I had the only fights of our relationship so far during those first few years. (I would say we’ve had fewer than a half dozen fights. And they’re more like…short bursts of tension. But still.) Figuring out your new roles and responsibilities as parents, and reconfiguring the way you spend your time and relate to each other, is so hard. Like, pretend that all the sudden you and your spouse are required to take in a family member you don’t know. This person is incapacitated and can’t speak, can’t walk, can’t use the toilet, and needs 24/7 round-the-clock care and supervision. And everyone expects you to be THRILLED about this change in your lives and so much more in love with each other now! Gag me.

      LW, I agree with everything Wendy said. Only you really know if your husband is a good guy or a dick, deep down. You might benefit from some joint counseling to improve your communication. I wish you all the best!

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  • avatar

    brise September 13, 2018, 9:56 am

    An other suggestion: now that your toddler is 2 years old, perhaps you can work again, part-time? This would be more equal between you both. And professionally better for you? You don’t say how you feel about being a stay-at-home-mum.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy September 13, 2018, 10:06 am

      Thank you! I meant to include that in my advice and forgot. Working on DW part-time with the support of a part-time nanny for the first 6 1/2 years of parenthood saved my damn sanity. I really seriously would’ve gone nuts if I didn’t have any help and distraction from the task of parenting my kids all day every day. I’m probably an exception to the rule in that I don’t thrive in a team environment and I really enjoy working from home/for myself, so my suggestion for most people in the LW’s situation would be to get a part-time job outside of the home/ with other people to help offset the loneliness and isolation one often feels as a stay-at-home parent.

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      • avatar

        Kate September 13, 2018, 10:15 am

        I work with a woman in her late 30s who I’ve known for years… she now has 3 kids and works part time, 3 days a week, in the office 2 of those days. She doesn’t need to work (husband is a full-fledged doctor after years of school, intern, etc), but she WANTS to. She really likes being in the office and away from the kids, and feeling like she has a life outside of the home.

        Our current company is really really small, and I feel like that kind of situation might make it easier to get hired for a PT position. They really need you, and they can save money by not paying a FT salary. We also use hourly people a lot, who are on a spouse’s health insurance.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph September 13, 2018, 1:05 pm

        I do think LW needs to get out in some way. It would be great if she could do that with a part time job, but there are other ways. Form a playgroup with other moms in the area. Maybe you could do a babysitter-share where a couple moms watch the kids while a couple of the other moms get some time off.
        Or see if your budget can include a Mothers Day out program, or a mommy and me exercise class (plug for Stroller Strides, which I love!) Being a SAHM can be very isolating if you don’t have a village.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark September 13, 2018, 10:14 am

    I agree trouble at work. Stop telling him You are tired. Vent that to another mom. As somebody who has spent a lifetime doing jobs they loath — let me tell you a secret.
    .
    It’s fucking exhausting.
    .
    The idea of staying home all day with ONE kids sound like a fucking breeze! (Not saying it is — but to someone who has never done it, it sure sounds like it might be… And that’s the point.) Plus you get to spent at this time with your kid while he is babysitting a bunch of feckless fools all day at the office.
    .
    So try not complaining about your day. Honestly? It makes you appear ungrateful. I can’t tell you how many of my mom friends wish they could stay home — only they can’t.
    .
    PS — my advice would be the exact same to a stay at home dad.

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    • avatar

      ron September 13, 2018, 11:53 am

      Your family has the added expenses of a baby, with one less paycheck coming in. This puts extra stress on your husband. There no longer is your paycheck available as a buffer, were he to lose his job and need a few months to find a new one. How do you and he handle financial issues? Do you add to his stress by complaining that money is tight?

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    • avatar

      saneinca September 13, 2018, 3:46 pm

      No, you wouldn’t. If it is a house husband, you will say how hard it is to raise a kid, how the wife had the better time of it by being outside and how she should help in cleaning and cooking after coming back from work.
      We know your MCP inclinations.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark September 13, 2018, 4:43 pm

        Um, no. I have found the working world to be utterly unrewarding, pointless, stupid, and thoroughly degrading. So much so I remain baffled women even wanted to work in the first place.

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      • avatar

        Kate September 13, 2018, 4:46 pm

        Idk, financial independence and control over your own body are nice-to-haves.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark September 13, 2018, 5:26 pm

        Financial independance? Most everybody I know is a SLAVE to a job they find dreary as fuck. 😉

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      • avatar

        Kate September 13, 2018, 5:52 pm

        Sure, but it pays the bills, and before they could work, women largely had to settle down with Mr. Right Now and have babies. Nice to have options, and I believe everyone who tells me they prefer to be in an office with adults.

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      • avatar

        Kate September 13, 2018, 5:56 pm

        Or, you know, be a literal slave.

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  • avatar

    Bacon Mistress September 13, 2018, 10:44 am

    You are wondering why he is so negative and your relationship has changed. He may b wondering why your relationship isnt a priority anymore, maybe he feels unappreciated, that he needs more sex/intimacy… I dont know. But there are TWO sides here. Try having an honest conversation and ask him how he is feeling and what he needs. Plan a date night as often as you can. And take turns giving each other the night off. If you need to, take the time to go to a therapist together.
    Your marriage comes first. Always. The kids need to be cared for, loved, supported and given a stable home. But your spouse is your life partner, who you solve problems with, who supports you and who you will grow old with. Good luck!

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  • avatar

    Beth September 13, 2018, 10:55 am

    Having a child completely changes every dynamic in your life. And it takes a long time to adjust to all the changes. I agree with Wendy, that if he is not taking a more active role in parenthood to have him spend time alone with the child.

    Also, you need to talk to your husband about what is going on in his life. If he is struggling at his job, can you help him find another? Does he just need a place to vent without being interrupted by you?

    If you can’t afford a night out, have a night in. Do something after the kiddo goes to bed, even if it’s just having a dessert picnic while watching the latest Marvel movie and talking.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros September 13, 2018, 11:42 am

    Obviously, your husband could go about things better, but it isn’t clear if you’ve shown any empathy toward him. The transition is hard for both parents, in different ways. It’s clear that something is going on at work that’s really trying his patience. Have you talked about it? Does he know that it matters to you? Additionally, have you ever talked much about your roles and stuff, seriously, not just in an argument? You mention that he’s negative and you mention that things are a competition. I know your letter was short, so it’s probably missing a lot of info, but you say nothing to imply that you are concerned about your husband or feel bad that he’s stressed. If he’s a good guy, which you imply that he is (or “was”), then presumably he isn’t just trying to be a jerk, right? At the same time, sometimes women marry guys who are jerks and they convince themselves they are great, until something happens and it can’t be ignored anymore.

    Again, I may be wrong due to lack of info, but it sounds like you both are focused on yourselves and aren’t really thinking about the other person as a person.

    I think counseling together would be good since you don’t seem to be able to communicate very well without it being an argument and may need someone to help you both see the other person’s perspective.

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  • avatar

    csp September 13, 2018, 12:08 pm

    LW – I agree with everyone here. I have a two year old and our relationship really changed. There is no question staying at home is hard. But, I think being sole breadwinner is hard too and when you work to support two people and then only hear complaints, it is hard. I know as a mom, how hard trying to keep everything at home together can be and it is very isolating. The best thing is to join mom groups, get socializing.

    If you have local family, see if they can help. My inlaws will grab my son and have some alone time with him and I can have some time to myself or with my husband for an early dinner. Finally, sometimes it isn’t about getting out with your spouse but just having time to connect. So if my son goes to bed ontime, we will sit on the back patio with a few beers and no phones to just talk. It isn’t a getaway but really is just time set aside to talk. Honestly, we actually have put sex on the calendar in the past when things were so crazy. We even have done fancy hot dog night. These nights we get dressed up, and use the good plates and have dinner. My son is there and the food isn’t fancy, it is just a way to really show each other we care. One final thing is that I try to tell my husband why I love him or notice when he does something good. When you show love and appreciation, you tend to get it back.

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    • avatar

      Allornone September 13, 2018, 2:47 pm

      I love the idea of fancy hot dog night. You guys sound like a very solid couple.

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  • avatar

    It’s not a competition September 13, 2018, 12:53 pm

    Thank you all for your comment and suggestions. I have read every one of them. I will share this with my husband and hopefully we can take a long hard look at each other and our roles and our feelings and figure them out together!!! He has said in the past he doesn’t really have any interest in counseling so maybe we can start with just trying to communicate our needs with each other and maybe spending more time together.
    Thank you Wendy for your prompt response. I appreciate your truthfulness. I appreciate knowing that it’s not only our relationship that has gone through trials. I enjoyed being home for the first two years, but I am starting to feel like he is ready for daycare. It’s just finding a job possibly part time that makes sense having. What I mean by this is a job where how much I make would be more than what I’m paying in daycare. This will all come later though after I speak more with my husband, but again thank you all for your comments and trying to help.

    PS: I appreciate that people don’t bash and pick sides. Thank you for soliciting advice and not talking bad about my husband or myself!

    God Bless all of you and thanks again!

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    • angelsiris11

      angelsiris11 October 22, 2018, 1:18 pm

      I am super late to this party, but I just wanted to respond to one of your comments. Please do not think of you getting a job as one that has to “pay for” daycare. First, because you and your husband are a team and you split daycare costs. Your job can be an investment in your future career. Second, if having a job and your child in daycare helps your sanity, makes you a better parent, makes your husband feel more confident that he might be able to switch jobs, AND improves your marriage, that job is worth so much more than the salary.

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