For nearly two years I have been rolling around in the same low-level but wearing problems like a pig in my own muck, and it’s got to the point where I think I’m the problem – in two ways. One, I keep having the same problems over and over, and not managing to change, so it’s got to be at least partly me. Two, in the specific instances at the moment, being unhappy is making me act like an asshole. I feel like the villain in my own life – every time I read a book with an antagonist, I think ‘Yeah, I have that fault’. Basically, I feel stuck in my own head and trapped by circumstances and I simply don’t know what to do or how to make a decision about it.
I am in a relationship with a very decent, lovely man, Rob, who is the father of my 18-month-old daughter, Lila. Lila was unplanned – Rob and I had been together just 10 months, lived in different towns and he knew he didn’t want kids (I was undecided). He changed his mind immediately she was born and is a devoted dad now. He does so much: cooking, cleaning, his share of the childcare, gardening, making things for the house. He moved in with me two weeks before Lila was born. The house is mine but since we’ve been living together we’ve got a joint account and split everything. Rob is also supportive of me wanting to change career and of my pursuing my childhood ambition to write.
Rob wasn’t my usual type and some of the things that attracted me to him were (I see in hindsight) things that weren’t like my ex (e.g. not criticising the way I ate or sang). I’d recently become more healthy and fit than I’d been for a long time and felt really good. Our relationship was based a lot around food, sex and big physical challenges in those early days.
Since having Lila, a lot of that has changed. Rob always had a lower sex drive than me and I was not always as understanding of that as I should have been (instead feeling rejected). Since I got pregnant our sex life has disappeared. In the last year we’ve had sex maybe once. He has many (undoubtedly true) reasons for this – to start with, he was shocked by becoming a father and thinking his life was over; then he was exhausted from having a newborn and dealing with my depression; now he thinks we need to spend more time together so he feels a connection, and feels I would rather spend time on my phone than with him (this is sometimes true – I feel like we don’t have that much in common or interesting to talk about, and get frustrated with our conversations – if I’m 100 per cent honest, I don’t feel intellectually challenged by him). But I’ve felt very rejected and ‘I still find you attractive’ is not convincing when not backed up with any actions (even hugging is rare, and the only kissing is a peck goodbye in the morning).
We do things together as a family at weekends, but not really the same outdoorsy things we used to. But we take Lila out a lot together – to the woods, to model steam train exhibitions, to farms, camping, to see grandparents or friends. And we host games nights at our house or have friends for dinners. We only rarely do things just us though.
We argued a lot after Lila was born – not immediately, but it started after several months. It goes in phases – we can get along OK, doing the routines, but if certain topics get brought up, arguments flare into volcanic force with breathtaking speed. Some of the resentments run deep on both sides and we don’t seem able to address them. And the worst thing is, neither of us seems to have any self-control once the floodgates are down, and we argue in front of Lila (who is now 20 months).
Rob actually proposed just under a year ago. I feel awful because although I didn’t pressure him, he knew I wanted my mum (who’s terminally ill) to be at my wedding. Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way. I said yes – we were on vacation and had been happily making our 5 year plans the night before, it was romantic and I was cowardly. But then I think subconsciously I started pushing at the pressure points of the relationship after that. We starting arguing more and I started distancing myself more.
Rob isn’t perfect and he’s said some pretty mean things to me in arguments – that I’m pathetic, useless, to just ‘take pills’ for my depression (despite my stated personal preference for counselling and two doctors’ opinions to the same effect), saying when asked why he’s with me that he loves ‘the old me’ and knows I can be kind and lovely etc. (he means emotionally/mentally, not physically – I’m the one who can’t come to terms with my post-partum look, although his lack of desire for me doesn’t help).
Where I’m unhappy, I am acting out and am often unfair. Sometimes I am so childish in my emotions and reactions (although Rob can be too, and he loses his temper easily). I’m also selfish and feel I’m using him. When I’m depressed, I get lethargic and he ends up doing more than his fair share of chores. I feel really torn. On one side, staying together would be the optimum outcome for Lila (assuming we can have a healthy relationship), and for us too, even if just in terms of sharing her growing up and not having to split time to see her. Also, Rob wouldn’t be able to buy a house on his own, finances would be tighter for us both (probably also not helping Lila down the line), I may have to go back to work full time (I’m currently part time) and we don’t want Lila in childcare 5 days a week. So if it can work, I want it to. And I don’t know if it is just my attitude getting in the way, that I need to commit more. But small things seem to take so much effort. I don’t know if that’s because I’m depressed, or if my depression has partly stemmed from the situation. I’ve also started stupidly romancing in my head about someone I barely know but who showed a flicker of interest in me. Rob is a great guy – loyal, kind, generous.
On the other side, something doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to go without sex. Sometimes I’m so frustrated that I want an affair – although I wouldn’t actually do it, I hate that the thought even pops into my head. I don’t feel we have enough intellectual common interests or ground. We don’t ever agree on even films to watch. We do have some interests in common, but I worry I’d be bored sitting on a sofa with him in 20 years’ time. But I have a history of ‘grass is always greener’-ing, and maybe I’m just jinxng the relationship all by myself? I don’t want Lila to grow up seeing an unhealthy relationship. And without him, my life will be a lot harder and any career change (I really hate my job) or creative/social time would be much less likely. There’s no guarantee I’d find a more fulfilling relationship so maybe I should try and make the best of things. But then I feel bad for using him. One of my pragmatic practical friends said we should just keep going for now until Lila is a bit older, but that has its issues too.
These counter arguments have been rolling in my head over and over for more than a year now and I’m exhausted and no nearer to knowing what’s best.
Rob says he wants to make it work, but I secretly feel maybe it’s just because he wants to see Lila all the time and because of the house situation that he’s trying. We never seem to change, however often we mean to.
Sorry this has gone on and on and waffled. But any clarity would be welcomed.
The villain in my own life
In your words:
“Something doesn’t feel right“
“Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way….I was cowardly. But then I think subconsciously I started pushing at the pressure points of the relationship after that. We starting arguing more and I started distancing myself more.”
Going out on a limb here, but I don’t think you want to marry this Rob fella.
Not to make your mom happy and because you can’t imagine your wedding photos without her.
Not because he asked and because you like him a lot and he tries hard and is a great dad.
Not because of affordable housing for him or career stuff for you or coparenting your kid.
I…just…You don’t want to marry him. You’re not compatible. You feel awful and guilty and trapped so you’re taking it out on him and distancing yourself and pushing on the weak points of the relationship instead of trying to shore them up. You’re calling yourself names – a villain in this story – when really you just sound incredibly unhappy and lonely.
Would it be a relief to admit that you don’t want to be married to him, out loud, at least to yourself? What would it cost you to take planning a wedding and the prospect of getting married off the table for the time being?
Maybe it will cost too much, emotionally and literally. Maybe he’s all “Marriage or NOTHING” and he’ll be super hurt about how he tried to ‘do the right thing’ and you cruelly rejected him. Or maybe he’ll be relieved because it’s stressing him the hell out, too, and things would be much better if you had the “Hey, let’s do our best to make this all work, I love you and I’m not breaking up with you, but I think the idea of marriage is raising my anxiety levels, so, let’s take the pressure all the way off ourselves right now when everything else is so hard?” conversation.
It’s risky to open that can of worms, to start asking questions like “What does happiness look like to you?” and “What does ‘happy enough’ look like to you?” and “Are we close, or getting there?”
It’s also risky to stay stuck. And risky to marry someone because you think you should want to. As risky as it is for him to marry a lady who is doing the emotional equivalent of chewing her own leg off to avoid marrying him.
If you truly want to make things work with Rob, if you want to stay with him and be in love with only each other while you coparent your kid, then you both need cheesy stuff like “date nights” and the odd weekend away from kids together where you focus on each other and on making each other feel good be that climbing rocks or hiking or doing giant jigsaw puzzles by the fire or rubbing each other’s feet at night. It means that sometimes you put down your phone and give him all your attention and sometimes you zone out and read your phone and he understands that you need those little breaks and it’s not a competition. (If thinking “I love you, but shhhhhh, I’m trying to read The Internet” at one’s partner sometimes is wrong then nobody in my house is right). It means making the effort to find a movie you both want to watch or saying “Fuck it, we’re going to take turns picking the movie. I’ll be a good sport about your picks if you’ll be a good sport about mine” because doing something together is the most important thing. It means deciding to stop distancing yourself and looking for ways to connect.
Note: I don’t think you want to do any of this and I’m not saying you should do this. I don’t think you and Rob would be together at all if you didn’t have Lila. But this is what really committing to be together would look like.
I do recommend that you go to couples’ therapy and hashing out some of this stuff with a neutral party who can guide you through your “I want to start having sex again but I don’t know where to start and also I need a lot more physical affection in the day-to-day in order to feel connected to you” talk and his “Hey, I need you to talk to your doctors about treating your depression more aggressively. I’m really sorry about what I said before about medications. If you don’t want to take meds, that’s up to you, but what other therapies are there that can help you function better? I know you’re drowning but I’m drowning a little too, and I need you at full Yeah strength, or at least to know that you’re trying your hardest to get there” talk. A good couples’ counselor can help you articulate that scary stuff and help you both decide together if the relationship is worth salvaging and how to end it gently if it’s not.
Good news: Maybe there’s a version of “maybe pretty darn happy?” where y’all sell your current house and buy a duplex or a two-flat and Mommy lives upstairs and Daddy lives downstairs* and you aren’t a couple anymore but you’re great friends to each other and great parents to Lila. If you want to see your friends or go on a date or lose yourself over a weekend to write, you can do it when she’s with her dad, and he can do the same when she’s with you. You can have togetherness and stability and space and free time where you watch only the movies you like. You can make an awesome family that doesn’t necessarily look like other families, and you can write the rules yourselves. Down the road, maybe you’ll each meet someone who makes marriage sound delightful and relaxing and like an easy “Fuck yes!” decision and then Lila will have more adults who love her in her picture and she’ll hate it like all kids hate change on some level but as long as she’s loved and safe she’ll be just fine.
Also good news: If Lila spent some time in childcare while y’all figured out your career stuff and living arrangements, that would be normal, too. She’d come to love her carers and teachers, she’d be psyched to see Mama and/or Papa at the end of the day, the routine there would become an anchor while things changed at home. She wouldn’t feel deprived as long as she’s loved and safe. Great parents use day care all the time and everyone is just fine.
Even more good news: If you and Rob broke up now, 99% of what Lila remembers will be whatever happens after you broke up. She might have some more separation anxiety than usual and temporarily regress a little (with sleep, with the potty, etc.) but it will be a fog when she’s older and whatever your new arrangement ended up looking like it would become her normal. The older she is when and if you do do it, the more disruptive the disruption and the more she’ll remember.
There is so much in your letter, so many interlocking decisions here and everything seems to be on hold until you figure out the relationship. Here are some other thoughts that are coming up for me about self-care:
- Do you have a social outlet that is just yours? Old friends? Family? A group of new moms near you who get together for low-key stuff with kids? Put some love & time into your social and emotional life.
- It sounds to me like Rob is asking (badly) for you to treat your depression more aggressively. While badly (not goodly) expressed, does he have a point? You say you’re not feeling great right now, so what non-medication stuff could you do? Something like Mood Gym? Go back to therapy? Get a physical exam and check for other causes of lethargy (those old culprits iron & Vitamin D deficiency)? Your “old self” might not come back, but if you’re consistently feeling low there might be a way to mitigate that.
- You want to change careers and maybe become a writer. Are you writing now? I think maybe you are not writing now. What if you tried the good old Julia Cameron “The Artist’s Way” method and cranked out 3 pages of whatever comes to mind longhand (or 750 digital words) every morning? If 3 pages is too much, what about 1 page? What about setting a timer for 15 minutes a day and whatever comes out comes out? 10? 5? Or, if that’s even too much, what about using the voice recorder app on your phone? Could taking some baby steps around the act of writing help you get back some joy and agency, without immediately thinking “MY CAREER” (career….career….career…) or the pressure of crafting something that you can sell?
- Can you disengage emotionally from your part-time job? Remind yourself each day “This isn’t forever, but right now it’s paying some bills and it’s the Devil I know. I need to do & care the minimum amount to preserve options for myself and take care of my kid. I can handle that, for now.“
You don’t have to stay stuck forever. You don’t have to marry someone you don’t want to marry just ’cause you said you would and now you’re scared not to. You can be a great parent who is not married to your kid’s father. You can work together to find a housing and parenting solution that keeps everyone close and safe and involved without having to build a romance and sexual relationship on top of it, too. You can work on treating your depression and feeling more at home in your life. You can even solve your job/career stuff eventually.
When I broke up with an ex of 5 years, a good and wise friend said “I know you loved _______, but for a long time you’ve been in that ‘should I stay or should I go?‘ place, and every time I talked to you The Problem of _______ was hanging over your life and coloring all your decisions. I know you’re sad, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing who you’ll be without The Problem of ________.”
I was sad when it ended, but there was also this relief, this flooding giddy sense of relief. It was so much easier to be kind to each other once we stopped trying so hard to make it work.
So, what happens if you say “I am not going to marry Rob” out loud to yourself or write it down in a notebook tonight? What else falls into place once you’ve made that decision? What do you grieve for? What becomes newly possible?
*With a written lease so he lives legally where he lives and a written agreement between you about how you handle finances and custody. Maybe his rent is $1 and he puts $XXXX into a joint account “for Lila” every month, whatever, but if you go this route, write it allllll down. ❤
92 thoughts on “#994: “Feeling stuck and indecisive in every aspect of my life.””
“Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way.”
Yeah, that sounds familiar, though for me it was our wedding night when I was “uh oh, no bueno…”
Ultimately I got a divorce. She’s a good person, just not a good person for me.
Not saying your situation will be the same, just a datapoint.
Oh, LW. I just want to buy you a beer, or a slice of cake, or something you’d find delicious, and I’d like to give you a big hug and take you on a long walk and tell you that I get it and you’re not a villain and you’re clearly trying very hard to navigate a tough situation with grace and integrity. And I’m guessing no one in your life is in a position to give you props for that, so you’ll have to accept props from a random on the Internet instead.
You thought you were having a longish-term fling with Mr. Maybe, and then you wound up having a kid and acquiring two new roommates (both of whom depend on you for shelter, and one of whom isn’t yet housebroken) and you’re understandably having some trouble processing it all and figuring out how to proceed. Who the hell wouldn’t? Seriously?
I’m glad you’re pursuing talk therapy as at least a partial solution; having an impartial human being listen to you and ask thoughtful questions is going to be key right now. Keep doing that. And, as the wise captain recommends, kick the getting-married can waaaaay down the road, so far you can’t hear it rattling anymore. I’d go further and say avoid all permanent and long-term commitments right now. Keep things temporary and portable and ad hoc until you feel surer of yourself and your decisions.
We hear a lot about what I consider the floofy kind of self-care: bubble baths and manicures and day trips to the beach–all of which are lovely. But you need the tough-love kind of self-care, the what-do-I-really-want kind of self-care, the staging-an-intervention-on-my-own-behalf kind of self-care. The place you’re in now isn’t working. To quote the Captain quoting Mary Oliver, what ARE you going to do with your wild and precious life? Make it good. You deserve good.
(An aside: my parents split and then reconciled when I was a child. I love them and am not angry at them for exploring and working to figure out what THEY needed as fully actualized humans, as opposed to mere parents. They had the right to make that journey and to put themselves first. Thirty years on, I admire their courage.)
Thank you for saying that about “floofy self-care.” Because that stuff has never worked for me longer than, say, an hour. I’ve been told by more than one counselor that I need to ask myself “what do I want my life to look like?” and that’s been such a scary scary question that I have avoided it. Knowing I’m not alone here is helpful.
LW, I broke up with my daughter’s father when she was a baby (we were teenagers whose parents forced us to marry), and while it wasn’t always easy, we’ve managed to successfully co-parent for 24 years.
I told myself that he and I would always be connected through our child, and that she deserved two involved parents, and keeping that first and foremost in my mind helped me get through the difficult parts.
The unknown is always scary — there’s no guarantee that you’d be happier without Rob as your partner… but forcing yourself to stay in an unhappy relationship “for the sake of your child” doesn’t often have a happy long-term ending.
The Captain has some great advice — investing in *you* is going to make your life better, regardless of how things go with Rob… but I wanted to share a story from the perspective of someone who chose not to stay in a bad marriage, and everyone wound up okay in the end 🙂
LW, I followed that visceral “no, no, this is wrong” feeling into a divorce from my husband when our kids were still very young (4 and 8 months). Now, 3 years later, we raise them together. He lives 2 blocks from me, with a serious girlfriend who I like very much and who genuinely loves our kids. Our son and daughter are happy. Life isn’t always easy, but they’re happy. They will never have to grow up listening to their parents argue and fight and yell hurtful things at each other, and that makes ME happy. You aren’t the villain.
Gods, I wish my parents would have done this. My dad thought “staying for the kids (while having a ton of affairs, drinking himself half to death, and emotionally abusing everyone)” was the best way to handle that situation when he realized he was unhappy with my mother, when I was about 10 years old. Spoiler alert: it was not, in fact, the best way to handle it.
When my mom found out about the affairs, during my senior year of high school, Dad proposed establishing the kind of blended household with Mom and him and his (primary) mistress that the Captain is talking about here – but because their marriage had gone on so long as a farce, and become so bitter, there was no hope for that idea. He moved out about a month after I left for college, and for a long time I struggled with blaming myself for how bad things got, because the only reason Dad had stayed that long was because of me and my brother. Long story short, neither my brother nor I has any contact with my father anymore, and while it’s more about his emotional abuse and alcoholism than the divorce, I can look back and see his actions a little differently knowing how unhappy he was and how trapped he felt. It doesn’t justify his behavior, but I can understand it a little better.
Don’t let your family be like mine, OP. Rip that bandaid off sooner rather than later. Staying “for the kids” causes more problems than it solves – kids are a lot more perceptive than you think, and adults are much less skilled at hiding their unhappiness/resentment/bitterness than we think.
This is going to be long…I’m wordy. Skip it if the number of words is overhwelming. 🙂
I had a difficult marriage with my now-ex-husband, because in the wake of “we have a baby together” and my post-partum depression (which lasted 18 months) I felt like we “should” get married; so we did, despite both our doubts.
It was a rough few years, it was a difficult divorce, but through it all we both knew we wanted what was best for the kids. Even if we thought what the other one thought was best for them was utterly wrong. 😛
The kids are now 14 and 11. We’ve been divorced 9 years. We have this weird schedule we’ve worked out over the years that allows time for the kids with both of us almost every day, with their in town grandma (his mom) every weekend, with my ex/co-mom (who lived with us after the divorce and is very close to the kids even though she lives on her own now) every week…. it’s weird, and people who hear about it question it constantly.
But the kids are happy. we love each other; we just can’t live together. he has a new wife, a new baby, the kids adore their younger sister. I have a boyfriend of 9 years now (met each other shortly after the divorce) that the kids and my ex very much like.
and everyone who knows the kids well has stopped questioning the unusual arrangement we’ve made; because they are so happy– so loved, so fun and stable, so funny and kind; despite this strange 5 way caregiver thing they have going on. Despite having rooms in three houses. despite how hard it was when we were figuring it out. despite a schedule that was years and multiple changes in the making until we found one that worked for us and for the kids; odd as it is.
or maybe because of the fact we were willing to poke at it until we found something that worked.
All this is to say: every situation is different, mine may in no way echo yours, but even if separating is hard, and often tumultuous, with work, with faith in each others best intentions, and in the resilience of kids, you can reach a point where everyone gets the time they need, where your daughter gets the love she needs, where everyone feels involved.
and if you do get married, as my mother (a child of a “we’ll stay together for the sake of the kids” marriage) told me when we were trying to decide if we could stay together; “if you decide you are in, be ALL IN”
But don’t feel like it’s all or nothing; marriage and two parents, or not married and two single parents. Don’t feel like anyone has a say in what works for your family, or what your family looks like, except those involved in it.
if I could go back? I don’t know what I’d change. I like to think I’d be more courageous and say no to the marriage when it felt wrong…but even if I hadn’t, we fought our way to a good place, so all those tears and angry words, they sucked…but our kids were 5 and 3 when it happened, and my eldest says she has no memory of us ever fighting, though I assure you were fought in front of her at times, even trying not o….so rest assured that while it’s hard on a little for you to fight in front of them, confusing when change happens, when they are that young, they wont’ remember; you have time to learn how to communicate in a more healthy way.
You’ll find what works for you, and for him, and for your little. and it’s ok if you don’t find it on the first try. As someone who routinely suffers from depression, I urge you to work on finding a way through that and out the other side; everything looks different from the dark, depression lies.
good luck and many well wishes to you and yours.
Thank you for this comment, Abigail. I needed to read something like this today. Your kids are so very lucky to have you all!
Thanks for sharing that Abigail. I love these anecdotes, and I shared mine, because we are so steeped in this cultural idea that divorce is always painful and bitter, that it hurts the kids, that it’s the path of last resort, that it’s the same as giving up. These things don’t HAVE to be true. We can write our own breakup stories. If both parties are willing to make it happen, a supportive and respectful coparenting relationship between couples who are no longer together is entirely possible.
Sometimes a mini break can be really helpful. Is there any way you can get a total change of scenery for four or five days? Three even? Just having a chance to remember what it’s like to feel okay for a minute and put all those big issues on hold while you laugh with an old friend or walk around without a phone or a diaper bag can be very healing.
I’m having a day away at least in a couple of weeks! I’m also fortunate that I have a good social connection locally (family and friends) so I do get to have adult social interactions pretty regularly.
Dear LW, have you allowed yourself to grieve for the alternate timeline that you thought you were going to live in before you became pregnant and everything changed? It sounds to me like maybe you haven’t let go of it yet. I chose to become a parent, planned extensively for it for years, and still had a real grieving process around accepting that I was no longer going to be living the double-income-no-kids life that I had very much become accustomed to. You had plans and expectations and that was all really disrupted for you, very unexpectedly and without your consent. You need to work through that in your own way and your own time, and ideally with the help of a kind, understanding therapist or counselor.
Postpartum depression can start anywhere in the first year (and can affect non-birthing parents as well—you don’t mention how Rob’s mental health is, but I’m guessing he’s pretty stressed out at the very least). That sudden descent into screaming fights when Lila was a few months old is a postpartum depression red flag for me, and if it went untreated, it may be persisting on top of the depression you already had. It’s also possible that self-blame for choosing parenthood or even for getting pregnant is contributing to your unkind thoughts about yourself. Again, a therapist or counselor can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings and set you on the path toward actively choosing and building a life that makes you happy.
As it happens, my child is 18 months old. My family is wonderful and stable and full of love, we prepared like whoa for this child, we have three adults to share the work of childcare and bring in money (our kid’s in daycare full time and LOVES it), we’re all in pretty decent mental and physical health, and right now we are still having a lot of challenges around having enough fun, getting enough grown-up time, and figuring out who needs what sorts of physical and emotional intimacy and how to make it happen. Many of our friends have gone through similar things. So at least part of where you are with Rob is a completely normal part of being the parent of an 18-month-old. I say this not to suggest that you shouldn’t work on your problems—you definitely should—but to reassure you that arguing with your co-parent and struggling with intimacy is normal at this stage of parenthood, it is to some extent naturally transient, and it isn’t your fault or Rob’s fault or Lila’s fault that you feel this way.
Also as it happens, my parents divorced when I was around a year old. They continued to live in the same neighborhood, walking distance from each other; I lived with my mother and saw my father once a week. I have only ever been glad and grateful that they recognized their incompatibility and split up rather than trying to raise me in a house full of arguments, resentment, and misery. The notion of staying together for the sake of the kids comes from religious propaganda against divorce and single parenting; kids are best off in happy homes, with happy parents, and if marriage or staying together won’t make you happy, they’re not what’s in your child’s best interests.
What would happen if you and Rob sat down and said, “Okay, clean slate. Everything in our lives starts from this moment. What choices would we make for ourselves if we got to choose with maximum selfishness? What living situations would we choose? What levels of parenting involvement would we choose? What work lives would we choose? What romantic and sexual lives would we choose? Where do our ideal visions overlap, and where do they conflict?” Have a bone-deep honest conversation about what you both want, and see where you end up.
I’m wishing you all the best of luck. It’s a challenging time, and you’re understandably struggling to find the best way to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Hang in there, seek help and support, advocate for yourself, and you’ll find a way through it to a life that you feel really good about.
Thanks for this – I definitely have not let go of all the ‘what-ifs’ from my pre-baby life and also am struggling to come to terms with some aspects of life now. I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my life thus far being scared to pursue what I actually want and having a baby feels like the door is a bit more firmly shut on some of these ambitions. This is not to say I regret Lila at all, because I don’t. I adore her. But yeah, I am still quite mixed up about it all. I like your suggestion about the ‘clean slate’ conversation. Thanks!
The Captain didn’t mention it, but I feel this is not a case of “two basically nice but not compatible people”. This is a case of a hurtful man yelling insults at his partner. You should leave him.
I recently realised my spouse is abusive (better late than never eh?) and maybe I’m just seeing Bees Everywhere but yeah… I see dark orange flags everywhere. I’ve recently realised that I f feel crazy sometimes because HE MANIPULATES ME INTO FEELING LIKE THAT. It’s horrible, but at the same time, such a relief to know I’m not actually mad.
-did he *really* not want kids? Or did he just want to look like the good guy? I know people change their minds but something feels off, here.
-do you each have separate money? Or is everything going into one joint account?
-do you have any agreement in place about your house and whether he has any claim on it if you were to split?
-he says he loves ‘the old you’. Hmm. I think my husband would say the same. Well, hey, I had a bereavement that broke my mental health and then a horrendous high-risk pregnancy and I’m just Not The Same Person, so he’s Shit Out Of Luck. You had a child. You’re a mother. You’ve changed. Does he love who you are now? Does he LIKE who you are now?
-sometimes when one partner is ill the other does more chores. Over a lifetime this balances out. Don’t feel bad about this.
-what you say about when you argue in front of your child… is he violent? Or mean? Is this when he says you’re pathetic? I feel like there’s something missing here.
There aren’t low level problems. This is your life.
My older small child is gonna be a whole world of gutted when we leave. He loves his dad but I can already see my DH’s toxicity leaking into him. I wish I’d left earlier but hey.
The whole “I liked the Old You better!” gets my shoulders up around my ears. Of course LW is not the same! She had a child! Their relationship is radically different!
I am not the same person I was at 21 (thank God) when I was horribly depressed and my life revolved around a toxic relationship and I am not the same person I was at 26 when I was institutionalized for treatment and my life revolved around a horrible job, and I am probably not going to be the same person at 35 than I am now. People don’t stay the same because life changes and it changes you. Anyone expecting you to stay exactly the same as you were when they met you is…I don’t know, incredibly immature? Unrealistic?
I read it as “I liked the idealized version of you I had in my head better than the real you that exists. Bring back the you I was infatuated with!”
So it’s likely the Old OP never really existed or could exist as a three-dimensional person. It was a fantasy. And there’s nothing wrong with not being Some Dude’s Fantasy of You Before He Gets to Know You. There *is* something wrong with pretending to be someone else’s fantasy version of you at the expense of your actual needs and wants and preferences and everything that makes you a real human being.
There’s really no good way to say “I liked the Old You better” in the context of the infatuation-to-deeper-relationship transition. It’s shorthand for “I don’t want to be with you but I’m making it YOUR problem to change yourself instead of my job to adjust my expectations and/or break up with you.”
Agreed. And I think he’s welcoming the baby because it locks V into the relationship. And it might have been deliberate.
It definitely wasn’t deliberate! And he is genuinely a devoted – and great! – dad.
I think it’s more complicated than that. Being the neurotypical one in a relationship where the other one hasn’t got a good handle on their depression is very, very hard, especially if you fell in love before the depression. It sounds like he is very badly trying to express his frustrations and is losing sight of how to do that while being respectful of the fact that depression is a disease (or maybe he never really learned that.) Especially with a very young child and from what the OP is saying he says, he’s probably picked up more than extra chores around the house. It might help him to take the pressure off the relationship – it sounds like he’s also struggling with how do I stay in love with OP? – and he might be able to give her space to deal with her depression without that pressure on him, to be coparent and romantic partner and depression support for her and their kid. That’s a lot to ask.
It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone with depression, but regardless, calling LW “useless,” and “pathetic,” is NOT okay.
I think getting angry at a depressive partner is not good but understandable, maybe even a fight in which one yells “get your goddamn fucking socks off the goddamn fucking floor that instant and fucking go into fucking therapy now!” but LW’s partner isn’t saying that. LW’s partner is using deliberately hurting words that make the depression more likely to talk (“pathetic”? “useless”? Seriously?! That’s exactly what makes the depression worse, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.)
I didn’t necessarily get that vibe, but I agree it’s likely. Maybe LW, try thinking through all the things you each contribute, in terms of time for childcare, money, housework, etc. And think, if someone else were in that situation, would you say, “whew, I’m sorry about the fighting, but at least he’s really pulling his weight” or “ugh, are you sure this guy is actually good for you”. (And hopefully, realise that you also are pulling your weight, or if not, that you’re not that far behind and what you can do better, *without* hating yourself.)
I agree. One thing that’s guaranteed to worsen depression is someone criticizing the depressed person for struggling with depression! It’s awful. I’ve been there. It means not even home is a safe place. I
They should leave each other. Having someone’s child when you know they did not want one is such a breach of trust. Yes, he should have used protection, and I’m glad he’s at least stepping up to be in the girl’s life…but he really shouldn’t pretend he loves OP.
I would be so angry every day if I had to look into the face of someone that betrayed me like that. (I’m glad I at least have a uterus and the final say in such a decision). Dad should go off and get his own life with someone that cares about him as a person, despite this really bad slip of judgement with OP.
Happy parents tend to produce happy kids. Don’t get married OP. Go your separate ways and model a happy life for your kid.
WAIT A MINUTE HOLD UP
The dude didn’t want to be a dad. There is an easy answer for how to never be a dad: DON’T HAVE PENETRATIVE SEX WITH LADIES.
You have no idea how the accidental pregnancy happened. It takes two people to make a baby!
Assuming it was down to some deceptive trick on the letter writer’s part is not only a low blow, it’s a total fantasy! Maybe their birth control method failed. Maybe he’s a “c’mon just the tip” man. You don’t know.
I am taking OP at her word when she said “he knew he didn’t want kids (I was undecided)”. I am definitely not accusing her of tricking anyone.
He should have used protection/abstained. But “shoulds” don’t always happen, and how people deal with the consequences of what they “should” have done, but didn’t, speaks volumes. It takes two to make a baby, but it takes one to decide to bring it into the world.
He seems to now want to be around for the child which is a relief, but I’m speaking to OP’s action of carrying a child from a man she knew didn’t want kids. If I were him, I wouldn’t trust her with anything regarding my feelings about how I would want “our” life to go. It’s just clear to me these two would be better off separate and co-parenting.
if he was that sure he absolutely didn’t want kids, he could have had a vasectomy.
or he could have said “sorry, not for me, let’s get a lawyer to sort out child support.” he chose to stay in LW’s life, and her home.
If he didn’t want kids that much, he could have gotten the snip–it’s an outpatient procedure, takes about an hour. She didn’t ‘betray him’. It takes two to tango, unless you want to talk about how he ‘betrayed’ her by not taking permanent steps to ensure he couldn’t contribute to what he didn’t want. (Of course, that would mean messing with The Sacred Penis, and we can’t have that…)
Or, when it became obvious that LW was going to continue the pregnancy AS IS HER RIGHT, he could have said, “Let’s talk about how I’m going to handle child support.” That is a valid thing too!
i feel like you’re projecting a lot here, assuming a lot of stuff that’s not in the letter. there are a lot of undisclosed conversations, which could have been anything from ‘hey even though we took every precaution i appear to be pregnant can we talk about this and how we want to proceed?’ to ‘i didn’t know if i wanted kids but now that i am pregnant i want it very much do you want to join me on this journey?’ i didn’t read anything in the letter to indicate he didn’t trust her. he instead made very deliberate choices to be a part of their child’s life.
i also can’t fully put my finger on it, but i sense some moralizing going on in your tone regarding accidental pregnancies and the CHOICE of the child-bearer to have or not bring a pregnancy to term.
all of that being said, i agree that these two seem to be excellent co-parents but not so great romantic partners.
So, it seems like you think that HIS wishes should violate HER bodily autonomy? That it was somehow disrespectful of her to not have an abortion?
That’s…a pretty ugly thing you’re implying, there.
So…forgive me my naivete, but can you please explain why you feel that his wishes re parenthood should *override* hers? That it’s somehow a “betrayal” for her to have made a choice that differed from what he originally wanted? Why should his not wanting children be more important than her wanting to have it once she was pregnant?
I mean honestly, push comes to shove, this is a situation that isn’t fair, will never be fair, CAN never be fair. And sure, that’s not ideal, but that’s the way it works when one person’s literal physical body is the subject under contention. That person gets the last word. Period. If someone isn’t okay with that, they can choose not to have sex, they can make sure they and their partner agree on the contingency plan before it happens (although people can and do change their minds once it happens, so be prepared for that just in case), they can get snipped, but that inherent unfairness of the situation is never a good enough reason to expect the pregnant person to prioritize the feelings and wishes of the other parent over their own feelings and wishes regarding carrying a pregnancy to term.
Are you lost? You seem lost.
We’d discussed the possibility of getting pregnant and I had made it clear that while I vehemently support the right to choose, I wouldn’t make that choice for myself. He was fully aware of that. Also, even if he hadn’t been, I agree with other commenters that his desire not to have a child doesn’t mean that if his actions lead to a child being conceived, his desire trumps all else.
“I’m speaking to OP’s action of carrying a child from a man she knew didn’t want kids.”
Mm, it’s just so easy for everyone to get an abortion, isn’t it. I really believe you aren’t accusing her of tricking this poor poor man into fathering a child, you know, like women do.
I am definitely not accusing her of tricking anyone.
No it’s worse, you’re arguing that a woman has a moral obligation to have an abortion if the guy doesn’t want to have kids. Not having an abortion is not a thing she did *to him*.
I don’t think you even realize number of assumptions you have to make to presume abortion was an option in the first place.
I don’t think that’s very fair or entirely realistic. My fiance knows that he doesn’t want kids. He also knows that if, despite our best precautions, I were to become pregnant anyway, he would want to got ahead and have the kid (and I know based on many experiences and observations that he would make a more than decent dad if such a thing were to happen). If Rob wanted to split and have no part in the kid’s life, he could have done so. I see no reason to disbelieve Rob’s genuine love and dedication to his child. And I definitely do not see any reason to scold the LW for having kept a pregnancy and the resulting child. The child is not the problem here. The problem is that a relationship is no longer working and at least one party (I suspect both) feels like there’s no way out. The solutions to that problem do not include criticism of the *joint* decision to keep and raise an unplanned baby.
Adding to that: I had several great, nice, really good female friends who, while they were in abusive relationships, told me about the not-nice things they had said to their abusive partners during arguments etc. They were feeling terrible etc. Both of them were never ever abusive or unfair to other people. When I talked to them about it, it quickly became clear that the were terribly unhappy in the (abusive) relationships, and being treated unfairly during the fight didn’t make it better, so they lashed out. (In one case it was even a case of “he won’t go away or let me alone, no matter how often I tell him I need some space – he only lets me be when I insult him really terrible, which makes him sulk but at least he backs of a bit.”) No, it wasn’t okay to insult your partner, but primarily the lashing out was a sign that something was *really really not okay* about their relationships.
So whenever I hear a woman say “I don’t know why I said this, I don’t want to be like this, the fight was so terrible but what I said was really not okay” and it’s a person who doesn’t have that kind of problem with others, I suspect her relationship probably is part of the problem.
I just thought about it because LW mentioned “acting out”.
I saw this, too, and was going to comment on it. I’ve been reading “Why Does He DO That?” by Lundy Bancroft, and it’s an eye-opener. There’s going through hard times (and having an unexpected baby is tough!). But IMHO, I think the guy who “sags” once he senses his partner feels “locked in” to him, is a red flag. And “Villain” feeling crazy is a red flag, too. Follow your gut, grrl. Think of your child–do you want her to grow up believing this is what a good marriage/partnership looks like? And think of YOU. You deserve better.
I’m not defending this guy’s words by any means, but good people can also say awful, hurtful things to someone they love. I’m not proud of some of the things I said to my now-ex when we were in the dying throes of our marriage, and he said some truly terrible things to me too. We were trying to hurt each other because we were hurting so much.
I believe we are responsible for the things we say, but I also think that lashing out at someone you love is not necessarily the mark of a bad person. An unhappy person, and angry person, a person who sorely needs to make a change in their life and their behaviors — yes.
This is exactly how it is. Some of the things he has said and done may be on a checklist for emotional abuse, but they are one-offs, not how he interacts with me normally. I do call him out on things like this if they happen, and once we’re both calm he will acknowledge it. And I can be critical or undermining sometimes too!
I’d suggest cutting both the LW and Rob some slack (not “excuse anything”, but some slack) on poor self-control in arguments with each other? Having an infant/toddler can use up a lot of your willpower even with a healthy relationship, and this situation sounds like it’s chewing up its fair share of willpower on its own.
My wife and I have an awesome, long-standing relationship with excellent communication, mutual trust, and respect; also a good support network… and during that period of parenting we *still* had a few arguments where one of us walked away because they were about to say deliberately hurtful things to the other. I can all-too-easily imagine folks in a more difficult situation under similar stressors having arguments more frequently, and not managing to walk away.
(This has little bearing on what course the LW should take… I don’t think I have any thoughts on that that haven’t already been expressed 10,000x better.)
LW, I think the reason you feel so stuck is that your fear is trying to find some “irrevocable” step to take that will cement everything securely forever and then you can quit “worrying” about this stuff because hey, married! so therefore we are Committed To This!
And in the meantime, your heart, soul and brain are crying out saying NO NO NO THIS IS BAD IDEA NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU WANT IT TO BE A GOOD ONE.
Rob is important. He’s the father of your child and he’s going to be in your life, so it would be great if he was The One For You, but he isn’t. He may be a good person and a good father but that can’t force your spirit to believe what isn’t true. That kind of false center simply will not hold, despite any and all amounts of frantic pasting and patching.
LW, you say a lot about you “using” Rob, but you’re paying your half of the house, you’re doing your half of the housecare and childcare – if anything, it sounds like he might have the better half of this deal. I don’t really see how you’re being an asshole or “the villain” at all.
I kinda disagree with the Captain, in that I don’t think there’s ever going to be a future where you and Rob are in a relationship and happy. It sounds like it just isn’t working out. I think you should try to move towards some kind of amicable breakup.
I could have written this a decade ago, except for the job part, I’m full-time and he’s part-time, and we’d been together for five years before we had our planned pregnancy.
You are not a villain. You know you’re unhappy and you’re trying to figure out why.
– Keep trying, but do the revocable things before you do the irrevocable ones.
– Be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. That sucks. Don’t beat yourself up for it, just keep trying.
– Learn to walk away from certain topics / conversations. You don’t have to be right. You don’t have to figure it out *right now*. It can wait.
– Do not accept the social stereotypes as your only options, figure out what works for *you*.
– In the end, you have to be happy yourself to be your best as a partner and a parent.
I recommend that you take marriage off the table in a kind way, then focus hard on your depression, and as the Captain says, do not neglect the purely physical possibilities. I have post-partum anxiety, made worse by post-partum hypothyroidism and D deficiency. It turns out that since your immune system is suppressed during pregnancy, it can come back more aggressive after. Treating the physical hormonal problems helped as much as the zoloft. Both of them together gave me the mental room for mindfulness strategies.
If you felt a connection before, it can come back. I am *deeply* grateful to my partner for hanging on through my worst months. He was able to do that because he saw me working hard to be better, and because he had his own therapist. Do stuff together that you did before, with and without your child. Don’t do just her stuff.
Cap is also right about child care – if you can afford a decent place, they are great and your daughter will love it, after the first couple of weeks. My son still remembers ‘Mr. Red’ and the college sports team he supports. Added bonus: they did the potty training! All I had to do was buy the pull-ups.
An example from my very non-stereotyped life: I dated a guy before I met my husband, 20ish years ago. He and my husband met 15ish years ago and became friends. We eventually had him as a room mate (non-romantic) for a year and it was good. He’s now our next-door neighbor, dating a good friend of ours, and we swap pet-sitting. If we had a house big enough, we would totally have him (and his gf) as roommates again. I’ve had a lot of people surprised at my (and my husband’s) friendships with our ex’s. His ex-gf was the Best Woman at our wedding, and I was pleased – I like her.
(((HUG))) if you want it.
I second getting your thyroid checked out, with a good doc (there are some websites like Stop the Thyroid Madness, Thyroid Info, etc. that have a lot of info — hypothyroid is OFTEN misdiagnosed). I had some serious intractable problems after the birth of child #2 that turned out to be Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but it took years to get a correct diagnosis. Early signs were depression, fatigue, insomnia, and low vitamin D — all of which started years before a doctor looked at the low D, frowned, and ran a massive comprehensive blood panel on me (not joking, 30 vials of blood, it was AMAZING).
LW, no advice, but some reminders, of the kind which always make *me* cry and then feel better: you deserve to be happy. You are doing your best. You have choices. It sounds like none of the choices on the table will end the world or permanently cement you into misery. If Lila is loved and supported and given adequate food and shelter, she’ll survive to be a reasonably healthy adult. It’s okay to make mistakes. There’s not a single person on this planet who always acts the way they think they should. You seem smart and kind and self-aware, and you’re going to be okay.
There’s a book that was incredibly helpful to me when I was trying to decide if I should leave my marriage. It’s called “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” and offers (but doesn’t answer) a lot of questions you can ask yourself to help you decide. It helped me find clarity.
There’s a pair of houses near the town I grew up in (I’m 37 now) where they’re neighbors and there’s a connecting hallway between them. Apparently Mommy and Daddy got divorced but kept it friendly so they bought houses next to each other and built the hallway. The kids go between the houses and share time with their parents. And local legend has it with some work they lived happily.
Now, I don’t think you have that kind of money, but just saying that if you wanted to implement The Captian’s suggestion, you certainly wouldn’t be the first. And better to have two caring parents that aren’t married to each other than two parents that fight all the time who are.
I just want to chip in as somebody whose parents split young (just before I turned two!): I am fine. It’s ok. We hear all this scary stuff about how two parents are best blah blah and want to avoid it at all costs but the alternative isn’t always better. And if Rob is an engaged father not a deadbeat, your daughter will have 2 great parents still. She will be ok, she will thrive, she will see characters like her on kids TV shows, so on. She’ll milk the double Christmas. You won’t be doing your child a disservice if your relationship fails.
Also, IME a lot of people want to stay together until things really go sour–you stay until you HATE each other because of inertia. You don’t feel like you can pull the trigger so instead you cowardly self-destruct the relationship with an affair. But this is what will turn the co-parenting relationship into a nightmare. Do you need a good enough reason to leave, or do you need a good reason to stay? There’s a lot to be said for sticking through tough times in a marriage but it’s important to know that you have options, to figure out a better path forward even if it means having a co-parenting relationship instead of a romantic one
I think your second paragraph is spot on. A lot of people want there to be a “good reason” to end a relationship, something big or dramatic or devastating like an affair, but it’s also perfectly acceptable (and typically a good thing for all involved, in the long run) to think in terms of deciding not to continue a relationship, rather than deciding to end it, if that makes sense.
Dear LW, I know you face a hard dilemma with a lot of competing pros and cons. I would say that Rob does need to take care of himself financially and it’s too bad if he can’t afford the standard of living you can provide on his own – I think it would still do him good to stand on his own two feet though. I have been in quite a similar situation to yours and I have raised two children almost entirely on my own. I know it seems deeply unsatisfactory to have them in childcare five days a week, but mine have been there and they turned out just fine.
It’s generally assumed that raising children as a single parent is never the ideal and invariably second best. Yes, there are strains – I have often been overwhelmed. In my case though I had no family close by and unfortunately no friends who truly came through at critical times. This situation was connected with my ex, who was the type of abuser who made concerted efforts to drive my friends away and unfortunately he was somewhat successful, especially as he’s a ready and convincing liar. I would hope that other single parents usually have a bit of a village or Team Them and get more respite than I did.
In any case, the family dynamics where there’s only one adult are different, but I would maintain that they can very well be different in a good way. My children are gifted and talented, and well behaved, compassionate, independent and mature. Not only did growing up with a single mother not prevent these outcomes; I suspect it may even have promoted them. (My ex has other children who grew up with only their mothers; they saw even less of him than mine did. And like mine they have turned out great).
I wish you much love and luck.
“Would it be a relief to admit that you don’t want to be married to him, out loud, at least to yourself?”
This is very much my question. To me, it still seems likely that she *does*, in which case she knows which thing to work on. But if she *doesn’t* that admitting that will hopefully help a lot. If you’d feel relieved if you admitted you didn’t want that, it doesn’t mean you need to break up immediately, you can still keep sharing house and childcare if that’s easier for you, but you can decide not to try to push the relationship forward to marriage, and think about where you want to go instead. Either, maybe don’t think about marriage *yet*.
First off: I’d like to mirror what the Captain and other commenters are saying about therapy, couples therapy, and figuring out how to fight productively. No matter how things end up, this is someone you’re going to be working with/disagreeing with sometimes until your daughter is grown, and both of you would be better served by learning how to disagree without yelling and aiming for sore spots.
If what the other commenter are saying rings more true, seriously, ignore this. (And, Um, make sure that the house is only in your name and that he doesn’t suddenly have a claim on it by paying some of the bills.)
But my personal experience? My husband and I almost split up when my daughter was right about the age your daughter is. It’s a ROUGH time – you’ve got a tiny human who is JUST independant enough to do herself some serious damage but not sensible enough to avoid it, so you’re always partially paying attention to that (and so never completely “off”). Meanwhile, it’s also a time with more household chores (if I don’t sweep, Child WILL eat 2-day-old meat off the floor. Oh gawd the LAUNDRY. Etc), and working part-time also usually means a job that has less inherent satisfaction/rewards/proof that I’m a competent adult who is GOOD at things. Add general exhaustion, lack of sex, less physical affection, projects to manage (pro tip: baby care, moving to a different city, starting a new job, baby starting daycare, and coordinating all that? In the same month? Don’t do it.) and no uninterrupted time alone and… yeah. I basically felt felt like a drained unattractive resentful lump. Add to that that my husband and I have different ways of dealing with being overwhelmed (me: make lists, prioritize, get it all done. Him: get overwhelmed, shut down, play video games) and I was overwhelmed and exhausted and basically resented his existance. It was… a not-good time. And if we hadn’t already been married? I would most certainly NOT have married him. I guess what im trying to say is: it’s a rough time no matter what. You can not want to marry him PERIOD, and that’s absolutely fine, but even if things had been great before it’s still a time of pressure and exhaustion and that’s probably not helping.
That said, though, continuing like that isn’t really tenable, and we’d have split up if it had continued. If you can’t fight productively then I’d SERIOUSLY recommend a therapist for this, but… I hit a wall where I was like “we gotta talk”, and got childcare for an evening, and we hashed it out. The chores, the feeling of emotional absence, impressions about sex, need for sleep, what we each felt about things, and (important) what we concretely needed for things to work (the difference between “I need more sleep” and “I about getting 6 hours of interrupted sleep every night. I need at least 2 nights a week of uninterrupted sleep. How are we going to manage that? *make plan*) – a plan is something to be referred to together (hey, we said we’d do this, so I’m assuming that tonight this is yours to deal with so that i can sleep, yeah? – vs omg we said I’d get more sleep and it’s been 3 weeks and nothing changed and I hate life!!!!)
Just being on the same page about what we were expecting/needing/doing was helpful. Discussing it productively (me not seething with resentment, him knowing things needed to change but also stepping up BEFORE I started seething and snapping at the flsngkdijf video games…again…) and coming up with shared plans and expectations (you need x so I will do y to let you have time for x. I need half an hour of time, 3 times a week, in which no one talks to me, and so x will be done so I can have that. Etc) basically gave us a framework to fit the basic needs into our daily pattern, which in turn gave us time to spend together, which then let us let go of resentment and arguing and remember that, yknow, we actually LIKE each other. Which in turn helped the sex and whatnot, which, after about 6 months, made me actually happy I’d married him rather than being 2 steps from the door.
So, if what other people are saying about general incompatibility and possible abusive behavior rings more of a bell? Ignore me. The best thing you can do then is to make things work as separate people parenting together, and a lot of people have great suggestions for that. But if you feel there’s something there with potential and you want it (key part), then articulating the issues together and figuring out articulating way to get past it can help. It’s a super rough time.
All excellent points. Many people have no idea just how much their lives will change when a baby comes along.
Yes, this was my experience as well. Certain periods of time in having kids just kind of suck (newborn and toddler years are particularly rough). In my case, setting up an agreed-upon time for me to go to the gym every day has done wonders — I get time alone away from the house, and the exercise has been a big help for me in managing my anxiety and depression.
Omg, yes! I can relate so much. Comments like this are reassuring me that this is normal after a baby (as does my therapist, I need a lot of reassurance).
Many excellent points here – I just want to boost the one about arguing productively. It isn’t easy to do, and it isn’t always satisfying in the moment, but it has definitely helped my relationship with my husband.
We’ve both learned when to walk away (to prevent saying awful hurtful things) and how to deal with our frustration on our own, so we can come back together to have a productive discussion and hash out things we can commit to doing going forward. Plus, we try to make sure we respect how the other person feels, rather than focusing on our intent, because emotions aren’t logical.
For us, it has really helped to lay out specific actions with visible results. As an example, I recently told my husband that when he is actively engaging with his phone while I’m talking to him, it makes me feel like he isn’t listening, even if he knows that he is. I’ve noticed he has made a real effort to put his phone down when I talk to him – it’s something small, but it demonstrates that he values how I feel.
LW, I’m kinda not sure how you were together even the ten months BEFORE you got pregnant??!
Don’t mean to sound harsh here, but all the pragmatic advice about shoring up your own situation is sort of pulling a curtain across how you think this man isn’t very smart or interesting and perceive yourself as the sole powerholder and decider of things in the relationship. It doesn’t sound healthy for either of you.
Eh, I’ve been in short relationships (under a year) with people I found not particularly smart or, in some ways, interesting because they were fun or very nice to look at or cuddly or good in bed or whatever else. Luckily, I did not catch pregnant and the relationships faded of their own accord because while we had a good time together, there was no *there* there. I could see myself being in a similar situation to LW if I had gotten pregnant and had a child with these guys.
Hey, LW, you sound like someone who cares a lot about other people. You are struggling because you want to make sure that what you do is best for, not just yourself, but the people around you. Just seeing the love and care you have for your daughter makes me happy for Lila that she has you for a mom, and I want to hug you both. Whatever you do, please try to be kind and forgiving to yourself.
LW mentions a toxic ex pre-Rob, and I just want to point out that “Better than Toxic ex” is NOT the same as “actually what LW wants and needs”.
The one bright spot in this situation is that this man really wants to be a full time parent in your child’s life. So many men have just checked out when they unexpectedly became fathers.
Perhaps the lack of sex is explained by his fear of becoming a parent unexpectedly a second time? Maybe the two of you need to sit down and discuss contraceptive options.
One solution that might work, if you aren’t very attached to your present home, is to move into separate dwellings that are just a short walking distance apart. You’d be leading separate lives but still easily being full time parents.
A couple I know split up when their child was about 4 and moved to separate parts of the same large city. It didn’t go well, she started acting out, so they rented 3 separate rooms in the same house and it calmed her down a lot to not have to constantly be travelling to a different house. When she was about 5 or 6, they rented separate apartments in the same complex so she just had to walk outside to a different building to be at the other parent’s place. Finally, when she was about 10, he remarried and eventually moved to a different city. By that time she was old enough to board a plane by herself to visit him in his new city. It was a hard thing for them to do, but I’ve always admired them for putting her needs first.
My ex and I talked about this briefly as well. It wouldn’t have worked for other reasons, but I still think it’s a great idea for lots of people.
I was sad when it ended, but there was also this relief, this flooding giddy sense of relief. It was so much easier to be kind to each other once we stopped trying so hard to make it work.
This, this, this. I felt exactly the same way when I finally pulled the plug on my marriage. I have a theory that the reason a lot of divorces end up so ugly is that the couple tries so hard to make it work, and they keep trying and trying and trying well past the point where it was time to stop, and of course they end up being angry at each other because the whole effort of being married to each other has exhausted them both.
I wonder how it would look if more people started saying “Okay, this marriage thing clearly isn’t working for us any more, so let’s end it while we’re still friends.” Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin got a lot of heat for their “conscious uncoupling” a few years ago, but I really think it’s a great way to go if you can do it. Find a way to end things before you’re perma-mad at each other, and while you still care about each other and can still work together to “uncouple” in a dignified and respectful manner.
You have a lot on your plate, LW – I hope you can find a way to work it all out.
FYI there seem to be a lot of names for what should be the same thing – “couples therapy” vs “relationship coach” – depending on your goals the relationship coach may or may not be more useful. Couples therapy seems to focus more on “discussing feelings and seeing the other person’s side” (which if your relationship is already rocky may not be as helpful as something more forward-facing) and “relationship coaches” seem to focus more on “ok, what do you want and how can we get there?” (which if you’re not sure if you really want to stay in the relationship may not be helpful). I haven’t actually been to either just when I’ve done some research that’s the impression I get; I’m sure individual therapists and coaches will vary.
No one is perfect and I think LW should try to come up with a vision of the future that is desirable and workable for everyone (Rob must be in that future in some capacity because of the tie with Lila but is it as a friend and coparent who lives separately? Or is it as a romantic partner + coparent and cohabitant?).
Little things; LW there should have times where you put down the phone and pay attention to your partner (same goes for your partner, but it didn’t sound like that was an issue?). Not sure from your letter what frequency is being asked for or how often you are doing this as is – obviously there are times you should be able to take a break for yourself and browse the internet/answer email/etc. On the other hand once a week 1hr date dinner is not the time to do that.
I just want to weigh in and say that my mother had NIGHTMARE divorces with both of her husbands (my bio dad and the dad that actually raised me). Like truly nightmare, dragged out in court, one party was definitely addicted to a few things, there was a suicide attempt, etc… Honestly just a mess. But it was also the best decision each time. With my bio dad, it was best to just get him out of the picture entirely. And with my actual father, they were much better people separately, and have over time rebuilt their relationship and lives, become really good friends, are great coparents, and oh yeah, are actually dating again after all this time. But they could never, ever live together again (I love that two houses with a hallway idea mentioned above!). So divorce really is more often than not the best decision for a child. It’s often way worse for a child to live in a home with two unhappy people constantly fighting.
I second this so much! As a child of divorced parents who should have gotten divorced years earlier, I think it’s about 1000% better for kids to learn that sometimes relationships end and that’s okay than it is for them to learn that marriage is when you live with someone you don’t like and yell at each other every night.
A million THIS!
(I have to comment because I wrote my Masters thesis on this, lol.)
It’s *conflict* that hurts kids, not divorce. Two amicably-divorced coparents (or even one good parent) are way better for a kid than two married parents constantly at war with each other.
This seems like a good place to leave my favorite Dear Sugar column, which she calls “The Truth that Lives There” but which I think of as “Wanting to Leave is Enough.” I really, really recommend it.
I immediately thought of this post as well: “But an ethical and evolved life also entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.”
LW, whatever your truth is, I hope you find and that you have the courage to live it.
I think Captain’s advice here is all extremely solid. All I could think while reading your letter was, “Well it sounds like you just don’t want to marry this guy but you feel like you have to. But you don’t have to. It’s totally okay not to!” You’ve tried to make it work through some hard times, but it sounds like this just isn’t what you want and I get the feeling that if your child had never come into the picture, you and Rob probably wouldn’t be together anymore. If you really want to keep trying to make this work, that’s fine. Or if you’d really rather try something new, that’s fine too. When it comes to romantic involvement, my philosophy has become that the right relationship is one of the most wonderful things in life, being single will always be better than being in the wrong relationship. It sounds like this relationship just isn’t working for you anymore. I suspect that while breaking up with someone you are engaged to, living with, and raising a child with will be hard and somewhat sad, it will be much easier than breaking up with the same person after you go through with marrying them. (And I also suspect that your only regret will be that you didn’t do it sooner.)
I also wanted to second Captain’s thoughts on child care. As long as Lila is with safe people who care for her, she will be totally fine. Once my mother expressed regret and some guilt that she had had to put me in daycare or babysitting with family friends back when she was working a full time job with occasionally strange hours. I was surprised and told her quite honestly that I had never felt that anything was wrong with it. It had all seemed perfectly fine and normal to me, and I thought she did just fine. I was taken care of, she was able to provide for me, and I always knew that she loved me very much. If you come to a place where daycare is the only solution for taking care of Lila and having adequate income/pursuing your career goals, then, well, it’s really not at all the end of the world. As long as she is safe and loved, all will be well with her.
“I get the feeling that if your child had never come into the picture, you and Rob probably wouldn’t be together anymore.”
Me too. LW, you have a kid with Rob and that means he’ll be some part of your life for the next 18 years (at least), but that doesn’t mean you have to marry or even live with him if you don’t want to. I know a woman who got pregnant accidentally after being with the father for only a few months, and “trying to work things out” resulted in child #2 and ended with them splitting up. I think you should ask yourself if you would be with Rob if Lilah hadn’t come along. Don’t make a list of his good and bad qualities to try and talk yourself into/out of staying with him. Ask your gut. Ask the part of you that went NOPE when he asked you to marry him.
I see tons of parallels in your letter to my own relationship with my son and husband. Having kids changes so much, and I can’t imagine how jarring it must have been to you to have one unplanned. Congrats to you both for doing such a great job.
I am not an emotional or talkative person, and my sex drive is much lower than my husband’s (partially due to pain disorders, but still). In a lot of ways, we are opposites. But your feelings, and your fights, sound like I could have written them, down to the visceral reaction about marriage. Now, I’m not you, so your feeling likely come from different places than mine (mine=said pain disorders, adult child of alcoholism and a legacy of divorces).
But all this is to say that you are still new parents (in a way, I think parents are always kind of “new” at some aspect). You are coming out of enormous physical and mental stress to your body. I’ve heard it takes at least 2 years to start to feel like the new is a new normal. Give yourselves a huge break, and maybe seek support/commiseration with other parents of little ones. And finally, for what it is worth, I’ve found a combination of Cymbalta and family therapy to be so enlightening and lightening that I’m beginning to feel happy. I hope you find the same, no matter what your decisions end up being.
LW here. First of all, thank you Captain and commentariat for such thoughtful and caring responses. It’s been really heartening to read of others in similar experiences and of positive outcomes in different ways. Secondly, I realise I didn’t make certain things clear in my original post. Although the original plan was to marry quickly (for the reasons cited) I did not pursue the planning because of my doubts and, when my ‘picking’ at things led to more arguments, we basically stopped talking about it. Since then we’ve come close to splitting up a couple of times and we’re both clear we won’t be getting married while we’re not happy. Also, financially, Rob could afford to rent, just not buy, and I feel bad for him especially as he’s put so much into the family home. We’d both struggle and not be able to give Lila some of the things we do now if we lived separately. I have thought before of the option of sharing a slightly larger house and continuing to co-parent without the romantic relationship, but I don’t think he’d be keen (I haven’t run this one past him).
Rob definitely isn’t abusive, although like most people (until they learn better and sometimes even then if you’re me!) he sometimes says/does things that might be on a checklist for emotional abuse (e.g. critical or undermining remarks). Mostly this would be in a big argument and it does come from a place of pain (which is not excusing it, and I have called this out to him and he has acknowledged it). I don’t tend to say really hurtful things but I can be hyper-critical and nit-picking which is equally destructive. And I can be very difficult to live with when depression hits – relentlessly negative in a way that makes me unpleasant to be around. I can understand how tiring it must have been for Rob.
Neither of us trapped the other with the pregnancy. We had a conversation about contraception when we got more serious. We discussed a vasectomy (I suggested it) but he wasn’t keen! I didn’t want to go on the pill as when I had before it affected my mental and physical health. We ended up using Persona, which is pretty effective but less so than other methods. We discussed what would happen if we got pregnant. I said that, while I vigorously support women’s right to choose, I personally wouldn’t want to end the pregnancy.
My part-time work is actually as a college teacher, and I had conflicted feelings about that before getting pregnant. I can be a great teacher, but I find some aspects of it difficult and it’s easy to feel both overworked and a failure a lot. I’d had a big promotion before Lila and it’s weird being back at a lower level. Like everything else, I obsessively look at pros and cons of various career moves!
Lila is already in childcare for 2 days a week and she loves it! I just don’t want to give up that extra precious time with her just yet. I’m very lucky to have it – and Rob is helping me do that, as well as encouraging me to pursue other career ideas and my writing. We both have social time to ourselves – I do a pub quiz and a writing group, he runs and plays pool once a week. A lot of this social time would actually be harder to manage were we not together. But then I start thinking that I’m being a total arse thinking of relationships in this transactional way.
Theydy & Gentlethem is completely right that I am still grieving for the ‘what-ifs’ and life that I had before becoming pregnant, even though I love Lila and wouldn’t change her for the world. I feel I wasted a lot of time being scared (and still am), not taking risks, not doing the things I wanted to. Right before I got pregnant, I felt more like I was starting to do that.
Thanks for the reminders to try MoodGym (have slipped on this!) and getting thyroid checked (am about to do that). Also to JustAnotherKat for the book recommendation – it sounds perfect. And it’s definitely the case that it’s learning how to argue productively that we need. We had some couples counselling but although we asked for that, the counsellor didn’t help on that front. In the end we opted to save the money and put it towards date nights, but we’ve only managed a couple. Some have been nice, but other times we just end up home early having had a fight.
Thank you again for your kind, wise words everyone. I’m going to go through again and try and take it all in. We have a vacation planned soon, so I want to really make an effort and see how we can get on/if we can reconnect. There have obviously been lots of big emotional stressors for both of us. But it has also been dragging on in this vein for a long time.
Generally, I’m terrified of either making a big mistake or not having the courage to do what would be best and then regretting it!
Sorry for mammoth comment!
Another book rec for you: The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. There’s a lot of good stuff there about productive arguing, including the brilliant advice to sit side by side so no one is towering over or staring down the other and you’re not forced to make eye contact while wrestling with big feelings.
Hang in there. You’ll find a way through.
LW here. I’d just penned a comment and it got eaten somehow so I’ll try and be briefer than that monster was. First off, thank you so much Captain and Awkward Army for such wise, thoughtful and kind responses. There is a lot for me to think about.
Second, I just wanted to clear up things I didn’t explain fully enough before. The wedding is definitely on hold! I didn’t pursue planning after feeling those doubts, and when the big arguments started, we were both clear that we’d not get married till things were better between us. Rob could afford to rent a place, just not buy on his own (I only could because of inheritance – again, I was fortunate).
Lila is already in childcare 4 days a week while I work, and she loves it! I’m lucky that Rob is supporting me to spend the extra time with her and we both want to continue this. My part-time job is as a college teacher – I had had a big promotion before getting pregnant so it’s also been weird going back at a lower level. I have a lot of mixed feelings here too as there are aspects I love about the job (and when I’m on form I’m very good), but I find the workload and feelings of failure (from not being on form and giving students what they deserve) difficult.
The situation we have now actually facilitates a lot of the self-care and social time the Captain mentions – he runs one evening a week and plays pool one night; I go to a writer’s group (quite a recent development but I am now writing and it is one thing I’m feeling really good about!) and a pub games night. If anything I get the better deal! Splitting up would in reality make some of this a lot harder (thought not impossible).
We tried couples counselling and specifically asked for training on productive arguing (as Ros suggested) but the counsellor didn’t ever do it. We ended up stopping and putting the money to date nights. We’ve had a few – a couple were nice, others we ended up home early after fights.
Thanks for the practical pointers for self care. I am about to get my thyroid checked but I do need to start being more pro-active about practising mindfulness etc. (I will look at MoodGym). I’ll also get the book JustAnotherKat recommended, it sounds perfect.
We’re going on vacation soon and I’ll see if, with real focused commitment, there is any hope for us to be properly happy together as a couple. I know relationships do take work, and where I’ve felt rejected in the past, I have checked out a bit on making the effort. But I do wonder if there are some fundamental incompatibilities that won’t go away, however right other things are, and which will lead to ongoing resentment.
I’m just terrified on the one hand of making a big mistake and making things worse for us all; on the other, of not having the courage to do what’s best and regretting it (which is what I feel about a lot of my life – I’ve avoided actively pursuing risky things, and end up being regretful and envious of others as a result – not great).
Thanks all again. It’s been so heartening and comforting to read your words of encouragement and of positive outcomes/solutions people have found in similar situations.
LW, I can really relate to your paragraph about “I’m just terrified on the one hand of making a big mistake and making things worse for us all; on the other, of not having the courage to do what’s best and regretting it.” This perfectly describes my mindset when I have a moderately-sized to big decision to make. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that there’s no possible way to live through both options and then pick the one with the best outcome, so I just have to make a decision with the information I have on hand. Sometimes I make that decision and then my feelings or the circumstances change; when that happens I try my best to remind myself that I made the best decision given the information I had at the time, and forgive myself for not being psychic and able to see into the future. Of course all of the above is easier said than done! Best of luck with everything and don’t worry too much about making the “wrong” or “right” decision….life has a funny way of working out in the end.
“If you and Rob broke up now, 99% of what Lila remembers will be whatever happens after you broke up. She might have some more separation anxiety than usual and temporarily regress a little (with sleep, with the potty, etc.) but it will be a fog when she’s older and whatever your new arrangement ended up looking like it would become her normal.”
My experience backs this up. I was about 2 and a half when my folks split. I don’t have any real memories of when they were together. The arrangements they worked out for splitting custody was my normal as a kid. All of the folks I know who grew up in dual household families who remember the time before the split were at least 3 and a half when the split happened.
LW, you’ve got a bit of a window here, if you decide to split, but keep in mind that splitting up takes time. It can sometimes take several months between when someone makes the decision to split until they are actually ready to make the split happen, and then, depending on how the initial split happens, it can take a couple of months to get temporary legal arrangements settled.
*im just blabbering here – silent reader and i couldnt help but to comment this time*
OP sounds like me, only that I’m married with no kids (yet). All those scenarios and what ifs in the head but in reality everything is still the same. You really start to loathe yourself after some time. I’ve been like this for years. People who know about my situation is asking me to decide asap… but how can you make such decisions asap?
I’m currently going through weekly therapy for my own issues. My husband has agreed to join me and we’re done with 1 session (that being said, he thinks that he is joining to HELP ME – not exactly wrong, but my therapist suggested he join in for a few sessions so that she can assess his personality and how we interact as our interactions contribute to my personal issues/self esteem.)
Sometimes I worry that the image of him in my head is different from what he portrays to the therapist and others – as in, maybe he is not so bad but I make him sound like a bad person to others.
Like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.
MAYBE I’m the bad person.
I’m not sure how things will turn out but I do hope that the upcoming sessions will help us gain more clarity.
So anyway, yes to counselling sessions as suggested by Captain.
Whenever I read about people saying they should stay together for the children, something deep, deep in my psyche wants to yell at them, to shake them, to cry.
Although they have tried very very hard to make it work, my parents are not happy together. I had a conversation with my mom about this, once, long ago when I was 15 and my sister was 9 and she said that they were staying together for the children. I love my mom so, so much and I want nothing more than for her to be the happiest she can be. I’m an adult now, and my sister is just finishing high school, and my parents are close to retirement, so hopefully “staying together for the children” will no longer bind them and my mom can go and live her dreams and sail around the world and be her happiest self. I never wanted to be the lock on a cage.
Maybe, when worrying about what you’re modelling for your daughter, you can think about how you’ll model self-care, and being genuine about your feelings, and being your happiest self.
Thank you for sharing, I really relate to this post. When you wrote ‘I never wanted to be the lock on a cage’, those beautiful words really hit home.
I used to beg my parents to divorce because they were so clearly wrong for each other (and their relationship was abusive), but nope, ‘staying together for the children’. I really wish they hadn’t, they did way more damage to me by staying together. These days I think ‘staying together for the children’ is code for ‘staying together because we’re afraid of change’.
I really agree on your comment about modelling. What does LW want to model to her daughter – staying in an unhappy relationship because of guilt and obligation? Or doing what’s right, even when it’s hard?
These days I think ‘staying together for the children’ is code for ‘staying together because we’re afraid of change’.
100%. My parents stayed married for far, far too long and all I learned from that is that marriage is when you live with someone you don’t like and scream at each other every night. There’s a pretty clear connection between that and me staying with my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend for five years because I thought it was normal to live with someone you didn’t like and fight all the time.
I wish we as a society judged relationships by how happy they make the people in them, not how long they last.
I never wanted to be the lock on a cage.
That is so well put.
One of the things that most offends me about the idea of “staying together for the kids” is the idea that “the kids” are so profoundly unobservant and self-centered that they can’t tell their parents are unhappy. I know parents don’t think of it that way but I wish they would.
THIS. I was too young to notice (3) but my sister noticed and asked my parents if they were getting a divorce. They were in the middle of the divorce at that time but you know what they told my sister? “No honey we would never do that we love eachother” ….No my sister doesn’t have deep-seated trust issues to this day…
Not sure if anybody said this already, but it sounds as if you could be maybe just good co-parenting room mates maybe? If neither of you is happy in the realtionship, but the living arrangement suits you fine, maybe that could be an option. This is actually easier to do if you’re not all that attracted to each other anymore. There is no law (even if a lot of common sense that may or may not apply to this particular situation) that says that co-parenting co-living parents have to be romantically involved as well.
I think this might be a great idea, especially until/if they can save up some money that would allow Rob to buy his own place and the LW to pay for more childcare, which would allow her to have more free time once she’s living alone. But of course, they’d both have to be totally, 100% on board and they would probably need some strict, clear boundaries in place.
Regarding the Captain’s suggestion of living together/apart:
I have a happy marriage in a too small apartment. So when another apartment opened up in the same building, I insisted that we take it. After some DISCUSSION, my partner agreed that this was the cheapest and easier way of expanding our space. And it has done wonders; for our little business, for our living space that was getting invaded by the business, and for both of us regarding our creative endeavors.
Maybe the best plan is to co-parent as a priority, and then see what other assumptions you are struggling under… that you don’t need to struggle under. It sounds like you are acting like this is a binary situation; either we get married and live together or we don’t.
But this is more like a 20 sided die than a coin flip 🙂
Oh man, honestly the stuff that stuck out to me was the banal “this guy isn’t probably right for me” stuff.
“I feel like we don’t have that much in common or interesting to talk about, and get frustrated with our conversations – if I’m 100 per cent honest, I don’t feel intellectually challenged by him”
I felt this SO SO HARD with my ex. I was with him for five. Years. And the whole time I was with him I felt in the back of my mind that I’d break up with him, just not today because of XYZ arbitrary reason. When the breakup came, I felt like I’d flushed all this time down the toilet just because I was too lazy to end something that I KNEW wasn’t right for me from the beginning. We didn’t have kids together or anything that would keep us bound, either, god knows what would have happened then.
The stupid thing was I turned thirty and that made me finally realize that hey, my life is finite and maybe I don’t want to waste time with this person I don’t like that much. You don’t have to leave him, but I had similar patterns of fighting and trying to push him away. Once we weren’t together anymore I didn’t feel like a villain anymore because I wasn’t trying to blow up my relationship to escape. It was completely shitty to try to get him to make the decision to break up for me, and once we finally were apart I realized that I’d been really unfair. Once I was with someone I actually enjoyed, it was so so much easier because I didn’t have to work to try to pretend things were working.
A long time ago, I wrote a letter like yours – minus the kid, but i wasn’t sure I wanted to get married and I had a tumultuous relationship and I though maybe we should break up – to another advice website. It was months before it was responded to, and the advice and the comments all generally said that i should recognise that I wasn’t happy and get out.
Because it was months though, by the time the letter got published I was in a very different place and I was quite sure I did want to stay together. That was roughly 15 years ago and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since. I am very happily married, so much so that many of my friends see my marriage as a model of teamwork and love and mutual support.
This is not to say that you should stay, just that you shouldn’t let anyone else talk you into leaving either. The advice is valuable, but only you know how to apply it
It sounds as if there are two different love languages at play here. The letter writer needs touch to feel close and connected. The husband needs quality time to feel close and connected. And until one of them gets their love language, it’s a bit of a stalemate.
They’re not the first couple to be in this kind of stalemate. It’s okay to not want to be the first one to reach out. For me, that’s usually a sign that I’m not that invested in the outcome of a relationship. And if LW doesn’t find her husband interesting to talk to, maybe they are not going to have the type of quality time he’s hoping for.
Although, on the flip side, if one of them can come through with the requested affection, perhaps the other one will feel the inspiration to reciprocate. But if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t seem worth holding on when neither is really happy. You can love somebody and coparent with them, without being their romantic partner.
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