When children put stress on a relationship
ASK THE EXPERT: Q:I feel very unhappy in my marriage and have done for some time. My wife and I seem to have drifted apart over the years. We are rarely sexually intimate and our relationship has become a bit routine and monotonous. We have three beautiful children – a five-year-old and twins, aged three – and this is the one blessing in our marriage.
We are both involved, committed parents and this is probably part of the problem. Everything is centred on the children and our relationship has always taken second place. We rarely go out together and tend to attend respective social events alone. Any time I try to raise a problem with my wife, she gets angry and says I am selfish and don’t appreciate how stressed she is.
She has rejected me so many times sexually that I have given up reaching out to her. We don’t actively row that often, though there is a lot more tension recently and sometimes whole evenings go by without us talking. I have now started fantasising about leaving, thinking about how we could separate.
The thing that holds me back are the children, not to mention the enormous cost. However, I have confided in no one about my unhappiness and find it deeply depressing that I am stuck in what feels like a loveless marriage and don’t see a prospect of it changing.
ACouples often underestimate the stress of having children and how much it takes out of their marriage. While children can potentially bring a couple closer in the long term, in the short term it can put stress on relationships and this stress can increase with the birth of subsequent children.
Reduced personal time, conflicts over parenting styles and neglect of the couple’s relationship are all common problems after the birth of a baby.
While many couples can learn to find a way of adapting to their new role as co-parents, unfortunately for many, the birth of children marks the start of a decline in their marriage which, if unaddressed, can start them on the road to dissatisfaction and separation in the future.
The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to address problems especially if you become aware of what is happening and take action. It is important to realise that the problems you are experiencing are relatively normal and not necessarily a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong in your relationship.
You could view the fact that you are “fantasising about leaving” as an early warning signal that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Certainly, it provides you with a moment of choice, either to continue to disengage and give up communicating or to turn back towards your wife and to redouble your efforts to redeem your marriage.
The first step is to try to understand things from your wife’s perspective. Tune into how she is feeling and what are her sources of stress or dissatisfaction? What does she need and what is missing for her in the marriage at the moment? The common marital dissatisfactions that mothers report to me are feeling unsupported with domestic chores, missing the closeness and affection of the marriage and feeling personally stressed by parenting. If you begin to understand her needs, she may begin to understand yours.