by: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC
My wife Laura and I have been together for eight years and married for six, and we have two wonderful daughters, ages four and two. We recently purchased a home, both of us are successfully in business for ourselves, and we are financially stable. In other words, we have a lot on our plates but are very fortunate and have so much to be thankful for. With all we have our marriage and family life should be going well, right? Unfortunately it isn’t, and as our arguments have become more frequent so has the strain and emotional distance between us.
The problem as I see it is Laura’s belief that she is not high on my priority list and that I don’t have her back. She has actually said that I am not as responsible a parent as she is -which has led to attempts on her part to control my behavior in social situations as well as a reluctance to leave our girls alone with me, especially when my parents are there. There have been a couple of incidents involving alcohol when I was critical and verbally abusive towards her.
At another time, we were at a family wedding where we were both drinking, and our kids ended up not being as carefully supervised as Laura had understood they would be. She had asked my parents to watch them during certain times we would not be available, but my parents were also drinking and did not follow through. This upset her immensely and now any use of alcohol is a big issue. When we try to discuss this, Laura tells me she doesn’t want us to drink together ever again because one of us has to always be in the role of the responsible parent (RP).
I feel angry about this because according to Laura I “always” drink when we are out socializing and I am incapable of abstaining and this then leaves her as the sole sober and responsible parent and this isn’t fair to her. I also hear her saying I don’t care as much about our daughters’ well-being as she does, and that they are not safe with me and with my parents/family. My anger only gets worse as we talk because she basically lays out what needs to be done and thinks I should just agree to it. When I try to assert myself and suggest a compromise or other solutions she gets upset and suggests I don’t care about how she feels and I don’t back her up. She has even said she doesn’t see me in the same way she used to- and I don’t even know what that means.
These talks are getting us nowhere, our limited family and couple time is increasingly being spent in tense discussion and conflict- and I just don’t know what to do. I love my wife and want to fix this. Do you have any advice or suggestions for how we could go about working on our problems? So far our way only seems to be making things worse.
Signed, The Bad Guy
Dear Bad Guy:
It seems as though the elephant in the room is alcohol, and my hunch is backed up by the examples you use which all involve incidents in which you/she were drinking. From what I gather, alcohol has always been a part of your relationship but now that you are parents, Laura may be feeling differently about the frequency and amount you (both) are consuming it. This, in itself, is not that unusual. Parenthood shifts our priorities, leads us to make changes in many areas of our lives, and things that weren’t issues before you had children can become ones once you do.
A few things jumped out at me as I read your letter. The first is that you feel Laura is trying to control you. If this is accurate, it may help to explain why you get defensive and angry and even verbally abusive, which I am not defending, just pointing out. Secondly, your comments suggest you are concerned and even hurt by the belief that you and the marriage, itself, matter less to Laura now that you have children, and that the responsibilities required of you as parents are taking your wife and your pre-kids relationship away from you.
If I am correct about what I am hearing from you, the path back to one another will require finding a balance between your responsibilities and your needs, both as individuals and as a couple. What happens too often is that parents with young kids become overwhelmed with the changes and demands of family life and they put their relationship on the back burner with the idea that as the kids get older, then life will get easier and there will be more time for each other. This is a big mistake, as you are learning, and if it goes unaddressed, the anger, apathy, and distance will only get worse. Since you appear to have the resources, I would recommend you find a competent therapist who has a lot of experience working with couples. He or she should also be someone you both feel a sense of comfort with and confidence in.
If Laura is resistant to going, go alone. A good counselor can help you to figure out what you can do on your own and together you can find strategies for getting Laura involved. One, or both, of you may come to face to face with realizations about yourself and/or your behavior that you want to deny or dismiss. Alcohol use may be one of these for you, and using controlling behavior to deal with fears may be one for Laura. This is why having an objective third person helping you negotiate your way through the process is so useful.
Ideally, you will gain new insights into yourselves and your behavior, you will learn to hear and be heard by one another and keep your defenses in check when hard truths are being discussed. A good counselor can also recommend different ways to find that balance and good resources to help you do it while keeping you on track and accountable through the process. Nothing will get better if there is a loser and a winner. The only solutions will be win-win ones, so don’t expect the therapist to take your side or Laura’s. The only winning side to be on is that of the marriage. If both you and Laura are invested in your marriage and in a future life together, this is very doable. Don’t spend any more time doing what you have been doing because it doesn’t work. Make that call today.
Toni Coleman is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of http://consum-mate.com. Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications, top-ranked dating and relationship websites. Toni has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in The Business And Practice Of Coaching, (Norton, September 2005); and authored the forward of Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). Toni's popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self-help, personal growth, and dating/relationship websites. From March until December 2005, she was a weekly contributing commentator (love and dating coach) on the KTRS Radio Morning Show, (St. Louis, MO). Toni holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni writes bi-weekly for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com. Follow her on FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.