Murphy's Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
My husband has lost his job. I have been doling out extra hugs, pats on the back, etc., but he seems annoyed when I do it. Why is he acting this way, when I only want to help?
-Trying to be helpful in NW**
Oh honey, I know you are just trying to be helpful. It makes sense that you think your sympathetic actions would be perceived as such. But it sounds like Husband is translating it differently.
Imagine it from his perspective. Your touchy-feely act is a direct result of him being out of work -– a bright, glowing arrow pointing out the fact that he has let you down. Some people (often men) struggle with shame in the wake of such a situation. Relationship expert and author Steven Stosny describes this as a result of the survival instinct: a male reacts protectively to a female’s fear-based anxiety.
Husbands want to defend and support their wives, but when the perceived danger is rooted in something they, themselves, have or haven’t done, they feel like failures and are ashamed. Stosny explains that men respond in a variety of ways that undermine intimacy (turning the aggression back on her, withdrawing, stonewalling, etc.). You being extra kind and lovey simply highlights his shameful experience, and he’s not going to be talked out of that, it’s programmed into his cells.
Instead, make an “appointment” to talk about your family game plan. Let him set the time. Ask him what might be helpful and be prepared to hear that it would be best not to talk about the situation for a while. He may need the buffer of a few weeks to really regain his footing. Stosny and I both recommend that you work to separate the content of the disagreement (e.g., his job loss) from the context of your relationship. Identify this fear/shame relationship dynamic as something that is happening to both of you, and make sure that maintaining your connected relationship is your number-one priority. Leave the résumé editing to him, and help only when asked.
If all this patience seems like more than you can take, find another place to channel your natural/expected/obvious anxiety. Exercise, phone a friend, start a new project for yourself. The point is that in this situation, Husband needs some breathing room. You can give that to him.
I am the mother of an adorable four-month-old baby girl and have been married for three years. I know that every marriage struggles when babies become part of the deal, but really our marriage has never been very good.
There’s just not a lot of love between us. We never seem to be able to compromise and always get stuck in arguments that last for days and never end with apologies, we just move on to the next argument. If I’m being honest, we had the baby because my biological clock said it was time, not because either of us really wanted to parent together. On the surface, I think I hoped it would make things better, bring us closer, but part of me also thought it might be just the thing to finally drive us apart. Looks like the second option happened.
I am walking around in a fog all the time, crying a lot and not because of the hormones. My friends and family are sick of hearing me talk about this. I find myself feeling numb more and more of the time now. I’m tired of wishing things were different, especially when I see other husbands adore their families – it almost feels like mine hates us. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
I’m sorry to hear that things look so definite. But since they do, there are some ways you can take care of yourself even as the romantic relationship comes to a close. You have a child together, so you and New Dad will always have some sort of connection. Now is a good time to start to define what that next phase is going to look like. Do yourself a favor and be deliberate about this, or else be willing to accept that the disconnect you feel with New Dad today is likely to follow you into the divorce phase with even more painful results for both you and your daughter.
If New Dad is willing, please revisit couples therapy. Not so that you can remain a couple, but so that you can work on some good communication strategies to help you over the next 18-plus years of child-rearing. Make a connection with a good counselor who you can use as a reliable base for future tune-ups. Perhaps you also might consider collaborative divorce as a first step toward pulling the union apart. If it works, you will already have the experience of working together in order to create separate lives, a skill you will inevitably hone in years to come.
I know I seem to say this every month, but every single one of your interactions with New Dad over the next several years is going to be part of the template that your little girl is developing for her own future relationships. Mommy and Daddy fight whenever they drop me off? That’s how you say goodbye. Mommy and Daddy talk trash behind each other’s backs? That’s how you treat your family. In other words, YOU ARE BEING WATCHED. Try to model civility and compassion whenever you can.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist, practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions! Send them confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.