coming clean

My wife and I are in therapy. There. I said it.

We know so many couples who are struggling right now–in our real lives, in the blogosphere. It saddens me to no end to see so many of us who have recently had children hanging on by our fingernails to our marriages.

I know I have mentioned our problems here before, but I promptly stopped talking. It’s hard to talk about how difficult life is with one’s partner when all we have wanted is a lovely, happy family. But life with a new child is very hard. It strains even the strongest of couples. It exposes all of the cracks and frayed edges, and it makes it all that much worse. Oh how I know.

So my wife and I, after getting better and then worse and then better and then much worse, decided to seek out assistance. Our guide through this marriage-saving adventure is a tiny, very compassionate, buddhist woman (an MFT) who has been at this for two or three decades. We both love her. We’ve got an open arrangement where one of us can go alone or we can go together, so we’re working on our personal issues as well as our problems as a couple. She gave us the date night strategy. She gives us something to work on every week. She also gives us heaps of compassion and maybe even a little confidence that we can do this without falling apart.

And it really has felt for some time like falling apart is what we were headed for. I wish we had been enrolled in classes and therapy and support groups before we ever embarked on this journey of having a child. I wish there would have been some way of knowing that we would be at times unrecognizable to one another once our baby was born. I wish someone would have warned me that sleep deprivation can nearly kill a marriage.

The problem is, most of us keep silent because these issues are so personal. We don’t want to air our dirty laundry, to show that we are flawed and that our happy little families aren’t so happy after all. It sucks when those fantasies we had through months or years of TTC turn into nightmares.

So I’m going to ask us to talk about this. If you have kids, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your relationship with your partner since having children? If you don’t have children, what do you fear will be the biggest issues once you do have kids?

I will be revisiting this topic a bit more formally next week, but I want to get the ball rolling. We have such a supportive community; why not benefit from one another’s experiences and wisdom?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “coming clean

  1. Bridg

    I’ll start by saying good on you for getting help, and for peeling open this very private but vital topic. I hope that you find your way to a great future to your family.

    My husband and I have been married nearly 20 years and now have four children. Dream life? ‘perfect’ family? No way. Love, marriage, baby, no sleep – so very nearly split when she was only months old. Loss, new baby, no sleep… Right back there again. Losing loved parent, living one seriously a moron, another loss, disfunction. Without hijacking your post and writing a novel I can’t explain how hard the journey has been at times. We joke that we only stay married because neither of us wants sole custody of four kids. And we joke about divorcing so we can get a weekend off. Sad, huh!

    I’ve never told a sole in real life, so good on you for raising it. I know you’re doing it tough, but imagine how much harder it’d be on your own. Turn towards each other and stick with your lovely budhist lady, and keep on challenging us to be honest and open. I reckon it will help us and you.
    Bridg

  2. Pourlebebe

    For me, the hardest thing has been seeing my wife do things completely differently than the way I expected and had experienced for 12 years pre-baby. With other peoples’ kids she was always a no-nonsense, loving disciplinarian who bounced off the walls with enthusiasm for the tiniest things. With our daughter she’s a completely soft squishy marshmallow with few rules, forever changing boundaries, and sometimes a deep sadness (and probably depression) that is so uncharacteristic for her that it can be frightening. I had not anticipated the way that having our own child would push at the soft spots in her heart and make her deeply grieve her own childhood and loss of family. I often have to remind myself to walk softly, and then there are days when I just don’t want to walk softly and things explode. I had not anticipated the complete and total lack of alone time for me, something which I desperately need and have a hard time communicating about. I had not anticipated having moments when I wanted to send my family away, even just briefly, and when it happens things explode, I feel guilty, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t..
    I’m sure there’s more, but apparently that’s what was on the tip of my tongue but left unsaid.

  3. A (A&K)

    I love that you got the ball rolling early 🙂

    Falling into the “no kids yet” category, the thing that I would easily say scares me the most is the factor of all the variable unknowns. Had it not been for blogland, I would never have know to expect the difficulties that come along with a new baby and trying to coparent within a marriage — as you say above, “It saddens me to no end to see so many of us who have recently had children hanging on by our fingernails to our marriages”. I honestly would have thought that it worked like this: love each other, have a good relatoinship of 2; expand to a family of 3 (likely after some (much?) work and expense), then glow deliriously in the home you have created with your partner and your baby. Without the openess and bravery that so many bloggers write with, I would have had no idea that this “rough stuff” was even on the horizon post-baby and beyond.

    What I appreciate the most with these blog posts that openly discuss family/relationship dynamics once you become parents is that it gives us something to consider before we head down the path to parenthood. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have read a post by a fellow blogger and then mentioned it to K at some point (K doesn’t read the blogs) – be it in the car, over dinner or walking the dogs. I think that openly discussing the “what if” scenarios before we are stuck in the midst of something so difficult will be so very beneficial to us in the long run when we, too, become parents. There are no words to express the gratitude that I feel to be able to learn so much from others who have ‘been there, done that’. There’s so much that we as a community can learn from one another’s experiences, and this just furthers that point.

    Thank you so much for opening up with what you and your wife are currently going through and the steps you are taking to maintain and improve your relationship and marriage. K & I had a wonderful therapist last summer while we were still in MD and it truly helped us put a lot of things into perspective, become better communicators and strengthen our relationship. I wish the same to you 🙂

  4. Hello – I’m delurking because I am in a similar situation. I had a son right around the time BG was born and I have been following you for many years.

    My wife and I have been seeing a therapist off and on for several months, and we both see therapists individually as well. I don’t know if it’s helping or not, but we’re trying. Since our son was born, things have been very difficult for us – sort of a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of pattern. Our son is so sweet and loving, but very high maintenance – he needs attention and supervision just about all the time. He is very smart and talks our ears off constantly, and we are EXHAUSTED. We don’t have any family close by, but are lucky to have a few people we can ask to babysit occasionally.

    I think communication is our biggest problem – that and feeling like we’re both doing too much, like we need more help. The problem is, we’re both giving 110% already…there is nothing left for our us. My wife is an introvert and needs time alone, and I am an extrovert and need to go out and be social, but there just isn’t time. If we can’t feed our souls these two very different, but very important things, we start to lose ourselves. Our relationship has been in pretty big trouble for a while now, and with no time to work on it, I fear that it might be sacrificed for our children (we also have a daughter in high school).

    When you posted your date night strategy, I forwarded it to my wife and suggested that we give it a try as well. I hope it will help. In the meantime, I will do my best to communicate better, and will count even the smallest of victories. When I saw my therapist last Wednesday, I told her I had not wanted to leave my marriage at any point in the three days prior. A week later, that is still true – 11 days of wanting to stay has been lovely.

    I wish you the best of luck, and I’m glad to know we are not alone.

  5. tbean

    Glad you are writing honestly and sharing in a way that I hope is helpful and healing. I’ve been enjoying reading all your recent posts and I wish you so much luck and love as you get to a stronger place in your marriage.

  6. I never expected to have as many problems as my partner and I have had since our son was born. The amount of fighting (or not “fighting” but ignoring each other) that we have experienced is unreal to me. Countless times I have thought about calling it quits. I’m sure she has felt the same. Just yesterday, I was thinking how good things have been lately, and I was happy because I felt we turned a corner finally. Well, this morning, we had one of the worst fights we’ve had. We take two steps forward, three steps back constantly. Our fighting has lessened as the baby grows older, but it is so sad to me that we’ve been going through this. We have been together 8 years, and never had problems until this year.

    As an aside, we’ve gone through so much this past year that has nothing to do with parenting. This year has been the worst year of my life, hands down, and if it weren’t for my son I don’t know how I would’ve made it through the day. I know that everything combined has made the perfect storm, but I think with hard work on both of our parts we can make it through. Bottom line is we DO love each other and want to be together.

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. Sometimes we don’t talk about it until a relationship is over, so we all may feel alone in our problems.

  7. I’m glad you’re doing whatever it takes to maintain and better your marriage. I sometimes feel like I have to shut my mouth when people post things like this because our marriage has stayed just as strong since the arrival of our son, but then again, I want others to know that a relationship doesn’t have to suffer, even though many will. Babies and children are HARD work, and the work that goes into maintaining a marriage inevitably gets pushed to the side. It is so, so important to re-focus on it once the couple is out of baby “survival-mode.” But this isn’t to say things haven’t changed for us at all, or that we never have our own tiffs. Certainly we differ on the way we discipline him and deal with him on a daily basis and it’s very much a give-and-take sort of thing we have to do…and realize that no one is a perfect parent and we’re all going to make mistakes. We’re also very lucky in that he’s always been a great sleeper, and realistically we wonder what would have happened had we dealt with sleep deprivation for a year. It’s very likely things would’ve been more strained between us. That’s the thing I think about a lot- what type of child you get is going to effect how things go overall, and therein lies a certain amount of fear and uncertainty.

    Anyway, thanks for “coming clean” and getting us all to talk about the hard stuff.

  8. Kimberly

    My husband and I are in therapy too. He worked two jobs and I was in law school and working part time most of our marriage/dating life, so we spent very little QUALITY time together. Throw in twins and we were destined for a downward spiral. Some days I feel we’re doing better than others, and some days I feel like he’s forgotten everything our therapist says, but the truth is, no matter how I feel, I know that this is our only option as divorce felt rather imminent.

    Best of luck to you on your journey. Thank you for “coming clean” – so few people do it in real life. We’ve been “clean” with our close friends, but not too many.

  9. I feel your pain. It has been along time since I felt like a couple in my house. My wife worked third shift for a few years and I think that is when the separation started. We never were awake at the same time and never did anything together. when I got pregnant she took a weekend shift, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12 hour days. It allowed one of us to be home for the most part and only need outside care on Fridays. But again, we rarely ever do anything together. It is like we are single moms working different shifts at the same house. It is hard, we are very distant as a couple but love our son to pieces. I blow up every now and then but then it blows over and she thinks everything is fine. Ok I could go on because I need to get it out but I will stop to say I am glad you are seeking help and both of you are willing to work on it. Everyone’s life looks good on the outside but behind closed doors, we all have problems.

  10. No kids yet. But after watching relationship after relationship fall apart (both IRL and online), I definitely feel a hesitancy and fear about starting a family that I didn’t have before. Prudence and I talk A LOT about our feelings- it took us 4 years to get there, but we are as open and honest as it gets.

    That being said, the perfect bubble we live in now clearly won’t be the same if we bring a kiddo into the mix. So I worry that we’ll lose that sense of importance that we currently tie to “us.” I don’t want to become so consumed with being parents that we forget how to be lovers.

    I’m afraid for myself. I had a “rough” childhood and as much as I have healed and resolved that, I worry that in moments of intense emotion (and sleep-deprivation) I will revert back to the destructive coping “skills” of my family-of-origin and do/say things I’ve promised myself I would never do or say. Terrified.

    That being said- shit happens. I know our life won’t always be this perfect and I know being responsible for another human being will complicate things tremendously. I hope that if/when that happens, we’re also able to properly evaluate whether or not to seek help and have the courage to ask for it!

    I think its good that you’re asking for help and even better that you’re talking about it on here! We’re cheering for you! :_

  11. Kim

    Good for you for opening this topic up. My wife left me when my son was just 6 months old back in 2006 and at that time I could find NO ONE in the blogging world who was gay and who had a child and who didn’t have the “perfect” family. In fact that is why I started my blog 3 years ago: to be open about a lesbian couple who split up but who still has to coexist to raise their child. Like you two…we did the therapy thing for a LONG time and we even reconciled for about 7 months but it just wasn’t meant to be. And just recently I have been reading about couples who are finally starting to talk about this stuff and it is SO great.

    The one thing I can offer? If (god forbid) things don’t work out…there IS life on the other side. It is harder than hell and it completely sucks but for me now (5 years out from original split and 3 years out from FINAL split) I am in the best place I have ever been. My Ex and I are good friends and we co-parent great. I went on to have another child on my own so my son didn’t grow up an only child simply because his moms couldn’t make their relationship. And just VERY recently, I have dipped my toe into the world that is online dating (although that took me a long time to be ready to do). I won’t say it was easy or a smooth ride; it wasn’t. But I got here. And I am so happy things worked out the way they did. Living an unhappy life isn’t good for anyone and in particular your son. Fight for your happiness. And if you can’t find that together, then figure out a way to do it apart. I wish you the best of luck and I will be reading along and offering support in any way that I can.

  12. Running out the door to pick up the twins, but this is me, standing and clapping. Thank you for “coming clean.”

  13. I also think very highly of you for your ability to be honest and open about such a vital, yet sensitive subject. I can’t necessarily relate right now- but you can bet I’ll be thinking of your words and others’ words when my time comes. Thank you.

  14. thank you for your brave honesty with this post. i often feel like so much isn’t being said when I blog and so it’s inspiring to see all the talk about relationships and struggles coming more to the forefront.

    since having our girls (6 weeks ago) things have been a mixture of unexpected struggles to absolute bliss. there is an intense kind of learning curve with this parenting thing that i didn’t really anticipate. a balancing act that weighs on every family member differently.

    i’ve been struggling with feelings of guilt relating to the reality that someone is always getting the short end of the stick, while simultaneously being overwhelmed with the lack of balance in “parenting” due to my wife returning to work and not waking for night feedings. i don’t want to hold onto resentment but its hard to process things logically on so little sleep.

    i’ve been inspired by all the honesty and appreciate the reality check its awaken in me. thank you again for sharing and opening up conversations!

  15. Sorry to be late, but yes. We have struggled. Our struggles post-kid are much the same as pre-kid, but the stakes are SO MUCH higher. There are things I would tolerate for myself (though bitterly) but NOT for our son. In a way I am more willing to call out deal-breakers than before. There are patterns I will not tolerate, issues that must be resolved. And, like almost everyone else has noted, so much less time and energy to work with.

    We ar5e in therapy too. It has helped a great deal, and just being there together reassures us that we have a common goal and that we have the same desire to stay together and grow as a family, a happy family. Thank you for bringing this topic up.

  16. K

    Thanks for sharing this brave and honest post. For us, sleep deprivation was the root of all evil. Like Strawberry, I’m usually hesitant to comment on posts like this because I know that M and I have, so far, been very lucky. The only part that was really rough on us as a couple was the first 5-6 weeks after he was born, but there were many times during that stage that I thought we might not make it though intact. I have often wondered how parents of poor sleepers get by because I’m not sure we would have lasted much longer had things not improved in the sleep department. Once we started getting even 3-4 hours of sleep at a time, everything got SO much better. From that time until he was about 6 months old, I felt like we were back to a neutral position, and from about 6 months on, we have felt more committed to each other and our family than ever. So, I guess what I can contribute from my own experience is that you can come through rough patches and end up stronger on the other side. It sounds like you are doing great things to take care of yourselves and your family. I wish you both lots of peace and healing along the way.

  17. I, along with all the others, commend you on “coming clean”. Marriages are hard work and a baby is definitely added stress. H and I have been doing pretty well, but it is something we talk about usually on a monthly basis. I hope you both find the support you need through therapy and move on to a deeper committed place and true happiness in your relationship.

  18. We’re each in our own therapy for non-parenting or partner related things, but it seems to have a positive impact on our relationship anyway. That said, even therapy doesn’t seem to stop the occasional trip and fall. I’d say our relationship is super strong, but I’d kill for a little alone time with her that didn’t involve sleeping. 🙂

    Sadly, i don’t tell anyone I know about therapy. There’s just so much stigma (among people I know) so yay for the internet and yay for you and yay for knowing people you CAN tell!

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