Newborn Troubles

He won't help me with the baby.

Question

I know that the Bible says divorce is wrong, but what about a separation to get your spouse’s attention?  Ever since our daughter was born four years ago, my husband has left all child care responsibilities (feeding, bathing, dressing, taking to sitter, etc.) and housework to me.  What’s worse though for me, is that every time I bring the subject up and tell him how overwhelmed I am, he refuses to listen.  I’m at the end of my rope with resentment and anger.  I feel like a separation might do us good and get his attention.  I don’t even like being in the same room with him anymore.  I don’t want a divorce, I just want things to change.  What do you think – is separation even an option?

Answer

One of the most exciting and at the same time most challenging seasons in any marriage relationship is when a man and woman are blessed with their first child. Most couples have no formal preparation for the enormous transitions that first-time parents experience. Schedules must be adjusted, priorities reordered, roles redefined and relationships are forever changed.

First-time parents are forced to negotiate new ways of being together. It’s easy for the baby to take center stage and for the “couple” to get lost in the excitement. Before the baby, you could just pick up and go out for coffee or to a movie. Now, the together times that used to come naturally need to be scheduled. Babysitters need to be found. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes intentionality. This is one of the pivotal transition times in a marriage that if not navigated well, can lead a couple down the pathway of becoming married singles.

Most new moms read books and talk with other moms about this transition. Unfortunately, most men have little to no input. Very few dads talk with their sons about becoming a new father. Few men read any books on the subject. Few churches offer any classes for new parents. These facts don’t justify insensitivity on the husband’s part, but they do contribute to understanding the problem.

It sounds like you have some good reasons to be experiencing anger. There is no excuse for what sounds like your husbands total abdication of responsibility in caring for your daughter. It’s rough on you, and it’s even more tragic for him because he is losing an invaluable opportunity to bond with his daughter that he can never get back.

However, separation is not the solution. Separation is not something you do as an attention-getter. Research tells us that the vast majority of couples who separate end up getting a divorce. The only time we recommend separation is where there has been abuse, unfaithfulness or when it is the only other option to divorce. Even then, we only recommend a time-limited separation for the purpose of growth and reconciliation. During this time, couples are involved in regular counseling that includes homework and other relation-building activities.

It’s understandable that you would respond to your husband’s irresponsibility by experiencing fear, hurt and frustration—all of which are primary emotions that can lead to the secondary emotion of anger. Unfortunately, when we speak out of an anger, we have allowed to control us we often come across in ways that make it less likely others will hear us. People are rarely open to change when they are told that they are selfish, lazy, not carrying their load and that they’d better change or else. All of those things may be true, but that approach rarely helps.

We encourage spouses to start with the Psalm 139:23-23 principle. Ask God, ask your pastor, ask your friends: “What could I do different in communicating with my husband?” Norm Wright’s book, Communication: Key To Your Marriage offers many simple, practical and powerful tips for communicating in ways that will increase the probability your husband will hear what you are really trying to say.

Is there a couple in your church that you and your husband are friends with that are a bit further down the parenting path than you are? Perhaps you could ask the man if he would be willing to do something with your husband and, in the process, give him some hints on being a partner in parenting. Your pastor might know of a seminar or workshop that would provide a new perspective.

Another solution might be to see if he would be willing to join you in seeing a licensed marriage and family counselor. If you are miserable, the odds are good that he is too.

Couples who catch problems early save themselves enormous pain, guilt, grief, remorse, not to mention time and money.

Don’t allow the reality of your “problem” to blind you to some positive solutions. You know what doesn’t work. With the encouragement, support and prayers of a few friends, try some of these solutions that many other women have found helpful.

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