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Gals, give this to your husband to read

from publication series OUR RELATIONSHIPS    February 2012

Guys, we know how hard it is for your wife to find the right balance between being a good partner to you, a competent mother, and achieving her career goals; everyone acknowledges how exhausting and never-ending are the demands on her. Yet, sometimes we forget to attend to the burden that falls upon you, too. For dads, managing the new family, dealing with work demands, and finding time for personal needs is not easy either.

Each of the most common models of post-baby families (the traditional dad at work, mom at home; the reverse with stay-at-home dads; and families attempting to share the work and at-home time equally) has its own difficulties. This message is for families where Mom has taken time off to raise the kids and Dad is working. Here are some of the family dynamics that typically present themselves:

• Many working men find the post-baby period immensely satisfying, yet, in other ways, a lonely time. The kids are great, the new family is something that you’ve always wanted, and your new identity as “Dad” is a prideful experience. One thing that you do notice, however, is that the partner who used to be there for you emotionally, socially and sexually is not as available as she used to be; she’s just too wiped out by the constant demands of mothering and running the household. You understand this completely and don’t complain, but it still feels hard sometimes. You’re often not even aware of this loneliness and how it affects you.

• Another difficulty that can occur is figuring out your role with the kids. Someone has to be the ultimate decision maker with the children, and, with working dads, it’s usually the mom who has acquired this expertise. This is fine, except for your need to have your own relationship with your kids. Sometimes it feels that you just cannot be yourself and relate to them in a way that feels natural and enjoyable without your wife commenting on how you can do things differently or better.

• Also, coming home from work is a busy time for you. Mom and kids are glad to see you and immediately want and need your attention and help. You’ve learned that you just cannot have the decompression time that you always needed to transition from one situation to the other, so you pitch in immediately as asked. Sometimes, you are so depleted by the time the kids go to bed that all you can do is space out. You know you should be attending to your wife, but often you don’t have the energy to approach or listen to her.

• And the money! It’s rare that two people have the same values about how much to spend and what to spend it on. When spouses are both bringing in salaries, each has power in deciding on compromises. The differing spending values get trickier when it’s just you bringing in all the money, and your wife is the one spending it, sometimes in ways that you do not feel comfortable with.

These are some of the almost universal young-family problems faced by families like yours. If these or other discomforts are on your mind, they need airing. Your wife probably talks to her friends about this stuff, and they all totally understand and share advice. But you need someone to talk to, too. And the best advice I, as a marriage counselor, can give, is: “talk to your wife.”

Keeping these feelings in can create a distance between the two of you, and you can start drifting apart emotionally. Acknowledging them, agreeing that these stresses go with the turf, and sharing ideas about how they can best be handled can reconnect the two of you as loving partners who are in this together.

So, how to begin? Even a gently expressed remark like, “Honey, I miss talking to you. How can we get some time to ourselves, so I can even figure out what I want to talk about?” sets the stage. Acknowledging that you’re ready, willing and able to talk about these new family dynamics, and how you’d like to nurture the relationship so that you can problem solve in a constructive way, will begin a process of reconnection. Most wives are more than delighted to know that you’re noticing the absence of the closeness and communication that brought you together in the first place … she’s missing it, too.

First step, therefore, is to do some talking and listening. Gentle communication is the key. None of the blame that you sometimes feel has a place here because, in reality, there is no blame; both of you are struggling to get through a wonderful, yet overwhelming phase of life. The willingness to have a gentle and loving conversation about the kind of changes you wish for and an interest in listening to the changes that would be most helpful to your wife will begin deep feelings of appreciation and safety. Try it!

>> read the previous article in the publication series OUR RELATIONSHIPS
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