From being your partner's hero to feeling like the dog gets more attention than you, how to make sense of it and what to do about it.
“I feel like such a cliché! Since the birth of our children, I’ve just slid further and further down the list of priorities for my wife. Even the dogs are higher on her list than I am.” This is something I hear very often from my clients, and to be honest – even once from my husband!
It has been found that the list of chores increase exponentially with the birth of children. For both partners. But the mother’s duties, despite there being a lot more hands-on participation these days by men, still mostly land up being more. Not that it's a competition.
I’ve also learnt (from personal experience again) that being ‘Touched Out’ is a real thing! It’s an experience of feeling physically overwhelmed with all the physical and emotional demands. Poor sleep, feeding the babies and then also having to remember all the things needed for baby (from the nappy bag stuff to the schedules etc). Babies and toddlers require physical comfort and often use their partners as their climbing gyms is rewarding but exhausting too. Also, little ones cannot emotionally regulate or articulate their needs, leaving the parent having to think ahead and for them all the time. Between the things that need to be done physically, emotionally and mentally – the parents are often exhausted beyond expectations.
Unfortunately, sometimes parenting can feel like a competition. It’s not about who does more or who’s more tired. There’s going to be many times of it not being fair even. But there is often an unspoken need by women, who believe their partners to be old and capable enough to ‘fend for himself’ while they navigate the new waters of motherhood and the new life dynamics. Unfortunately, as this isn’t expressed, it can come across as neglect. The men feel un-cared for, unappreciated and unimportant.
As we aren’t properly taught emotional expression, and men moreover often do not believe they are allowed expression (through traditional masculine expectations) so they don’t talk to their wives about feeling unimportant. They hint, show jealousy, rage or avoid (by working later and later, or joining ‘the boys’ more) instead. Generally, he stays at work longer or is more absent and gets more distant and ‘out of the way’, perhaps hoping she’ll realise he’s absence and miss him, but at least definitely not having to face the pain of neglect. But unfortunately, this leaves the wife feeling even less supported and more drained, so when he does get home she’s unhappy to see him.. and thus the cycle gets perpetuated.
SO HOW DO WE FIX THIS?
To break this cycle both parents need to focus on a few things. Firstly, get specific about your needs or desires. Husbands, for example, it would help a lot if you could ask her if there are additional ways you can help your partner and support her. When she's looking miserable or tired, instead of jumping out her way ask her: "Is there anything I can do to help?" or jump in and do the dishes.
Did you know, behind every complaint is an unspoken need / request? For example: “You’re never home, you’re work always comes first” could rather be said: “I’ve noticed that you’re working a lot longer hours and I really miss you! Do you think we could take some time out this weekend to reconnect?” It will be wise to look at what your requests are and ask specifically for what you want. Nagging or complaining is ill advised – it breaks down connection, awakens inner rebellion and is usually really ineffective at helping you get what you want.
Be specific, but also ask in such a way that your partner is allowed to say no. Requests cannot be demands, demands break relationships down and lead to resentment.
Remember to speak words of appreciation to each other. Don’t assume your partner knows that you appreciate what they do. Say it. Make an active commitment to seek out the good in each other and share it. Your brain is like google – if you search for something you will find it. If you search for brown horses, you will find them. It doesn’t mean white or black horses don’t exist – it’s just overridden because you aren’t looking for it. If you search for faults in your marriage or partner – you will find! So please rather make sure you don’t loose focus in this exhausting time and stay focused on searching the positives in your relationship and your partner.
Lastly, as impossible as it may seem, try make some time to connect with your partner. Date nights are great, but not everyone has the support, time or finances to do it. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure. Having a cup of tea together in the evenings when the kids are down, or try doing the groceries together once a week, or make time for a garden picnic once a month (as an example). Find a way to create little rituals of connection that you can look forward to, time spent together. Laugh whenever possible and remember – the exhaustion of parenthood does get easier. Especially when you work as a team. It’s not always fair, sometimes someone must work harder than the other. You won’t always get the same amount of sleep or alone time. But together you can be a happy unit, not only mastering parenting but building the intimacy of growing as a couple.
If you’re wondering how to get you’re partner to be better, ask yourself “Would I like to be married to me?” If not – you know where to start working on.