“I think I should move out for a while,” he said.
I knew we hadn’t been getting along, and despite seeing a counselor and psychologist together, it hadn’t had the desired impact and we’d remained unhappy and stuck in a rut.
We also had a nine month old son and I was back at work full-time – exhausted beyond any level of tiredness I’d ever experienced before.
And when you have a new baby, because you’re so darn tired, you often don’t have the energy to even contemplate the strength of your marriage – but this is why a majority of break-ups happen when children are under two years old. Parenting is hard work and I don’t think anybody is prepared for the shock of your first child.
Lack of sleep, stress, guilt, overwhelm… so much is happening, and both parents are going through quite different experiences of their own at the same time.
Being a mom is hard work
As a mom you’re already tired, but you’re also likely to be unhappy with your body (unless you’re a supermodel), you don’t feel particularly sexy, you have a new baby to worry about and likely feel constant guilt over your parenting, and you want your partner to anticipate your needs and give you the support you desperately need.
Being a dad is hard too. It’s just different.
At the same time, your partner is going through their own adjustment period. It’s not more or less valid – it’s just… different. For them, the connection with the baby is generally different. It’s not just the two of you anymore, he might be longing for the freedom you had pre-child, he may wish you weren’t so tired and grumpy, he probably misses the lazy morning cuddles, he still wants to see his friends and talk about something other than the baby…
We were going through all this and more. My husband is from Ecuador in South America and left his family only 18 months before to come home with me after I’d spent years abroad.
He was homesick and in a completely new career, and we were both under financial pressure and completely unprepared for parenthood!
Yes, it takes two to make a relationship work, and there is a lot he could have done better – but neither of us is perfect, and I just don’t think either of us knew how to be a better partner at that moment in time.
But at that time, I couldn’t see his side at all. I spent every day thinking about how I needed more support, and constantly told him how much he disappointed me.
I didn’t feel he was doing enough around the house (and when he did, it wasn’t soon enough, good enough or often enough) and started thinking of him as my ‘other’ son, who needed constant reminders. He’d also met some friends from Ecuador and had been spending time playing soccer and having BBQs, when I felt it was easier for me to stay home with our son.
Given our downhill spiral, it was really no surprise that separation was imminent – but I just didn’t want to accept that, and I knew he didn’t really want it either. We had just hit a dead end. So when he came to me to suggest trial separation, I said “No! You married me and now you’re stuck with me! We are not breaking up this family.”
What happened next?
He said “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want our son to grow up with divorced parents and I want to be an awesome father… but I don’t know how we can fix this.”
So we both had some time to think about it, and during one of our discussions, he said “Nothing I do is good enough in your eyes, and you’ll never be happy with me…”
That is the thing which finally struck a chord, because I knew he was right. I always wanted him to change.
I left the room and burst into tears. Then I sat on my bed and cried.
I accepted my part in the problem
I had been focusing so much on what he was doing and how he needed to change, that I hadn’t noticed how much I had changed too…
When did I become this nagging, judgemental, angry, unhappy woman? I knew that’s not who I wanted to be and I needed to do something about it.
I know that I was a tired working mom, but at the same time, I still had a husband to love. A husband who was going through his own stress, insecurities, problems, loneliness and exhaustion.
He wasn’t the enemy. We were both going through one of life’s battles, but we just didn’t realize we were supposed to be on the same side.
I went back to him and said “You’re right, I don’t blame you for wanting to go out with your friends all the time. I wouldn’t want to come home to me either.”
Then he immediately said “Well, maybe I should go out less.”
Just with making one admission that I could be contributing to our situation, he immediately gave up something we’d been arguing about for months!
In that moment, I vowed to be different.
I started studying love
I started reading blogs, articles, and books. I was a sponge and absorbing everything I could about how to create a happy, loving, respectful and passionate relationship.
There wasn’t one book or source of advice that I completely agreed with, but I liked bits and pieces of everything.
So I came up with a plan for myself which combined the best of everything I’d read.
I treated him like a man again
One of the books had a brilliant line something like “Stop treating your man like a child. Treat him like the man you want him to be, and that’s who he will become.” And quite honestly, I was acting like a mom. Full of advice, lectures, information and suggestions…
The first thing I did was focused on not being negative anymore… not telling him what to do… not treating him like a teenager. I gave him space, stopped nagging, stopped hassling him when he hadn’t done a chore I’d just asked within five minutes… and more.
Every day I did something small and thoughtful to show him my love. I admit there were a few days where I thought “Buggar you, you don’t deserve my love today.” But otherwise I pushed through and showed love regardless of how I was feeling.
I quickly discovered how easy it is to change things if you change your focus.
You. Can’t. Change. Them.
Around that time, my very wise sister said “The thing is, you can’t actually change him. It’s true that he might change in some ways, but it’s also entirely possible that he won’t, and you have to decide if you can love the man he is today… because that’s who you married.”
So instead of focusing on what I wanted HIM to change, I just focused on loving the person I married.
Then weirdly, he did change. Not a huge amount, like thunderbolts and lightning… but gradual, subtle changes. If I asked him to do something for me, he’d usually do it within a few minutes instead of the next day… he’d turn down invitations he would ordinarily accept so we could stay home and watch a DVD while our son slept… he cuddled me more and we took the time to enjoy each other’s company.
Surprisingly, within literally 20 days, our relationship barely resembled the one we’d had when we discussed separation.
And it was all down to an attitude shift, a change in focus, and small daily displays of love and respect.
Instead of only thinking “He needs to change”, I changed myself, and then everything changed! And the truth is – even if your partner isn’t doing a great job, a few small changes from you will change them by proxy… and this is true for men and women.
How are we today?
Over four years later, we’re still a ‘work in progress’, but we’re in it for the long haul.
When I had a career crisis recently, after 15 years of working in marketing, I did months of soul searching until one day it hit me. I wanted to help other people strengthen or save their relationship – just like I had done.
I decided to study to become a relationship coach and am currently completing a recognized diploma qualification at Queensland TAFE and am working towards accreditation by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
But now I want to help you
But I wanted to take it further and reach more people. I thought about texting my clients daily tasks which basically followed a plan similar to the one I’d created for myself years ago.
I wanted something that would basically work for everyone – male or female and in a male/female or same sex relationship.
I talked to a psychologist about the idea. She loved it and said she’d recommend it to all her clients… so I knew it could work!
I’ve done a huge amount of research and hired someone to help me build the technology. It was harder than I thought, but we didn’t give up! And one year after coming up with the idea – it’s finally ready. Please visit my LoveSparkME: STRENGTHEN page if you’d like to learn more and perhaps sign up to strengthen or save your own relationship, as I did.
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May the Love be With You!