She Said, He Said: Pressures of conceiving can bring to light other relationship struggles
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife and I were both ambivalent about kids for a long time, but about a year ago we decided we’d try to have one. The past few months have been really difficult. We never imagined it would take this long to conceive. My wife has begun micromanaging my life, assuming that I’m the problem. She’s fixated on what I’m eating and drinking, and how much time I’m on my bike. I can’t stand being around her right now. I just find myself wanting to point out all the things she’s not doing perfectly. In vitro fertilization is expensive and not really feasible for us, so I’m ready to move on as just the two of us, but frankly I’m scared to tell her that. It’s crazy. Neither of us were adamant about being parents before, but now she’s become obsessed. This whole process is destroying our relationship. How do we get back to where we were?
Missing My Marriage
Lori and Jeff: There is no going back, nor should there be. You are both different now than you were last year; you’ve evolved with new insights, feelings and experiences that you haven’t had before as a couple.
Lori: When you decided to try to get pregnant, a child represented something specific to each of you. What was it? What changed in your lives or your relationship that made you want to expand your family? For some couples, having a child is about creating more joy and love together. But for others, kids can seem like a solution to discomforts like boredom, lack of identity or an unfulfilling marriage. It seems that the stress of conceiving has brought some of these deeper issues to the surface and having a kid isn’t going to pave a smooth road forward.
What you perceive as your wife’s obsession is likely grief with a sprinkle of panic. Even women who’ve never had the desire to be mothers can feel great loss when their biological clocks begin to time out. Not only is it an undeniable reminder of aging, but for many it also represents the loss of choice, of possibility. On top of that, there is a pervasive assumption in our society that women are made to be mothers and those who can’t or don’t want to, can wrestle with guilt and shame. The bottom line is that this conflict over conception represents a part of her that you do not know. You can continue to see it as a battle to overcome, or you shift your perspective and appreciate it for the opportunity to develop a deeper bond.
Jeff: When couples start having difficulties conceiving a child, stress and frustration rear their ugly heads and, what once was a team effort, now becomes a boxing match— welcome to the blame game. Often, this hurtful finger pointing represents an element that lies deeper than the fear and disappointment of not being able to conceive. We’ve found couples who are more certain that they want to have kids from the start tend to be more accepting and understanding of the challenges involved in getting pregnant and are more supportive of each other as hurdles arise in the process. Couples who experience more ambivalence about starting a family, whether it’s just one partner or both, tend to get into blaming each other when things start to get difficult. It can be a way to mask one’s own ambivalence and uncertainty by identifying the other person as the source of the problem when, in reality, there might actually be some relief in the inability to conceive.
In order to resolve some of the tension and discord, you will both have to be clear about your own reasons for deciding to have a child. Lori addressed some of the challenges your wife may be having, but what’s going on for you? Was deciding to have a kid after so many years based on your own changing desires or were you acquiescing to your wife’s needs? What does starting a family and being a father really mean to you? Are these things in alignment with your core values or are they convenient add-ons along the path of least resistance? Once you both get clear about why this decision was ultimately made, the process will become more of a team effort and the blame game won’t go into overtime.
Jeff and Lori: If you ultimately decide together that having a baby is truly what you want and making one together is no longer a reality, there are other options. The real question is if you can learn to work together in a kind and compassionate manner so you can both get your needs met.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.