New moms are expected to be wrapped up in their child. But is there a point when it goes too far?Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr
In a letter to Slate’s Dear Prudence advice column, one man claimed his wife is so absorbed in their son that it’s hurting their marriage. At first, her concern was reasonable. The pregnancy and delivery had been difficult, and their son spent a week at the hospital. But now, their baby is nearly 3 years old and little has changed:
Since then, he has been the focus of her every waking moment despite the fact that he is a very happy, active toddler now. I love my son, I love his mother, but I desperately miss my wife. My son co-sleeps with us and every conversation revolves around him.
The husband says he has tried to find help for his wife. He suggested bringing in a housekeeper twice a week, or getting relatives to babysit so they can get a night out. But his wife rejected those efforts:
My wife doesn’t want it. She didn’t like having a stranger cleaning our home and hates letting our son out of her sight. We end up getting the meal to-go and are home before 7:30.
Shockingly, he told Prudie that he and his wife haven’t been intimate since before their son was born, which is more than two-and-a-half years ago. He wrote:
Porn meets the physical needs but makes me feel worse when I climb into bed with my wife and son.
I miss sex but even more I miss having actual adult conversations with her. Art, history, world events: I fell in love with a woman who had wit to spare, and now our only conversations are about the Wiggles.
Efforts to address the issue have only compounded the problem. Though they tried counseling through their church, they stopped after just a few sessions because counseling made his partner “feel like a failure as a wife and a mother.” Conversations just lead to more disagreement.
She says I am pressuring her and we end up going in circles. I am tired. I am lonely. […] I just don’t know what to do.
Advice columnist Mallory Ortberg (the writer behind “Dear Prudence”) responded to the husband’s plea with the suggestion they give therapy another try. She points out that a few sessions with a church counselor does not constitute a real commitment to therapy.
Moreover, if the therapist made his wife feel like a failure, they need a different therapist. However, if the concept of therapy brought on those feelings, then the couple needs to talk about how therapy can help their relationship. Knowing what they want from those sessions is also important. Ortberg wrote:
Be honest about what you want — is it to stop co-sleeping with your toddler? To have regular date nights? To change the division of labor in your home? — and listen to what your wife says she wants.
She also suggested the unhappy husband take some time to honestly consider his own role in the problem. He mentioned trying to bring in outside help, but was that a way to ease the burden on both of them or was it meant to be a replacement for his contribution? Is he helping with the housework and spending time with his son?
Ortberg explained that his wife might feel like she’s shouldering the whole burden of housekeeping and childcare:
If you’re already doing those things and simply attempting to hire a bit of part-time help on top of it, that’s fantastic, but if you’re not, that might explain a great deal of your wife’s stressed-out behavior.
Of course, it’s possible that the husband is really doing everything he can to help and his wife is just not interested in anything other than their son. If that’s the case, then he does have a problem worthy of serious conversation and therapy — even if his wife is resistant. Ortberg concluded:
If your wife considers it “pressure'” to offer to pay for a weekly housecleaning so you two can go out to dinner, then she has an unreasonable definition of what “pressure” is.
She added: “… and you need to have an honest conversation about what you want out of marriage.”