Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Our Relationship has Deteriorated
Since the Birth of Our Child

QUESTION: My relationship with my husband has gone terribly wrong since the birth of our daughter two years ago. We have been married five years, together for seven.

Before our daughter, our relationship was not perfect, but since, it has become stressful and unfulfilling for me. While I was pregnant, I imagined us both taking that next step into parenting. He had wanted us to have a baby for quite some time. But somehow, I feel I took that step but he did not.

I work full-time, take care of a large house and manage all household affairs. On average, I have less than an hour to myself alone daily, usually driving in my car. My husband comes home around 8:30 p.m. from work. Our daughter is one to stay up late, sometimes until 11:00 p.m. My husband seems irritated at me that she is not asleep. I have since concluded that it has nothing to do with her late bedtime hour, but rather that he is not able to get my undivided attention. He has reverted into childhood! He has literally jumped up and down yelling at me, "I need attention!" And he means attention without our daughter present. In addition, on his two weekdays off, he finds it impossible to return home from his ritual recreational activities to join the two of us for dinner. I believe that he doesn't bother because my attention is not focused 100% on him.

I am spread thin emotionally and physically. I guess I could somehow find a way to pay more attention to him. The point is that I don't want to anymore. It is a major turn-off to me that he won't spend time with his family. I feel like a mother to a toddler and to an adult. He was adopted as a baby by a couple who were abusive to him. He has been on his own since he was a teenager. I don't understand what he is looking for in our relationship. Sexually we have suffered because I am so hurt and confused. I feel like I'm betraying my soul if I have sex with him. I hate him for making me feel like that. He whines and pesters me constantly for sex. I get so angry!

We have been to couples counseling, and that was useless because he views everyone in the world as trying to change him and he doesn't see anything wrong with the way he is.

Perhaps you can shed new light on this for me. If my daughter were not here, I would have packed it in by now. I want him to be a partner in raising our daughter, and not my kid!

ANSWER: Without change, you and your husband are quickly becoming emotionally (if not legally) divorced. Share your feelings with your husband. Let him know what you need in order to continue in the relationship. If he continues to believe that there is nothing he is willing to change, consider what your options are. You may want your own therapy to look at what you need at this point. Your husband clearly needs to explore his own childhood experience and how it is affecting his relationship with you and his daughter, and to take into account his contribution towards recreating family breakdown instead of family cohesion.

You are at the crux of a crisis in the development of family. First, your husband may be expecting you to make up for his childhood neglect. This situation may have compounded his ability to give attention to his own child, and so he has placed his share of that responsibility in your hands, giving up on developing his role as father in the family. This has brought up a second difficulty--overloading your role as wife and mother, leaving you tired and resentful. At this point you are both suffering from feelings of abandonment, which threaten the marriage. The central breakdown here is that your husband has not met the challenge required of him in creating a satisfying and fulfilling role for himself as a father in his own family.

Your husband's unavailability to you and your daughter on his days off indicates that he is separating himself from the family, leaving him lonely and cut off from the nurturance that being a part of a family unit can bring. He feels left out and blames you for these feelings, but he can't see his own contribution to his loneliness, that separating himself from the family is causing his pain. Creating this distance may be the way he survived as a child in an abusive family. It's a common protection that children learn in order to survive toxic family situations.

If things are to get better between the two of you, you're going to have to communicate your feelings. Ask your husband if he wants to be a part of a family. Explain to him that you are losing respect and affection for him based on his lack of time and attention to his family. Tell him you are lonely for him! And invite him to take his proper and rightful place beside you as a co-parent.

Often, people recreate their own childhood environments. This is the work of the unconscious trying to break through to seek healing in a new situation. Your husband experienced abandonment at birth. He may now be recreating that abandonment with his own daughter. He needs to recognize his non-involvement in fatherhood and what this means not only for him, but for his daughter and wife as well. Taking an adult place in a functioning healthy family can bring profound healing to a ravaged childhood. But it is neither easily nor automatically achieved.

Fathers' groups as well as individual therapy would provide a framework for him to change, if he can see that change is not only necessary, but in his best interests.

His time to contribute to the family is here, and the window of opportunity is closing fast. It is not too late to catch the train, but he must be willing to buy his ticket!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com