In a recent interview in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, recalled the moment she finally “erupted.” Exhausted by the endless housework and lack of sleep, she lost control and began “calling him every profane name under the sun,” a way of life she and her husband settled into for some time. Assuming her experience was abnormal, she kept quiet. When she finally did discuss it with a friend, however, the friend just laughed and replied that she literally hated her husband until their son started school! Having a child places enormous pressure on a couple, and such anger is common.
The Basic Problem
As every family doctor and marriage guidance counsellor knows, people usually underestimate how demanding a child will be. For a start, there is the sheer exhaustion. And exhausted people quickly become irritable people. Then there is the lack of time and space. Unfortunately, this also means less time for one another. So you have two tired, nerve-wracked people without the time or energy to kiss, hug, and make love. Their emotional bond thus weakens just when they need it most.
After the birth of a child, romantic lovers can begin to seem more like bickering housemates. The constant crying, lack of sleep, and bad odors quickly break the romantic spell, and people begin to see a new side of one another – a side they often dislike.
Work and Exhaustion
In general, one partner, usually the mother, remains at home while the other earns the money. Stuck indoors all day, with no adult conversation, she can then develop a sort of cabin fever. And for someone skilled and educated, such as a doctor, nurse, or University lecturer, this can be intensely frustrating. When she does meet up with friends, however, she finds that they only ever ask about her child.
As for her partner, when he returns each evening, she wants to hear about the outside world, about work colleagues, office gossip, even the commute home – anything to lift her out of these four walls. But he has had another stressful day in a hateful job and just wants to hear about his child. And so the anger begins to build. Women often say that they feel patronised or ignored. Others complain that they’ve lost their identity and no longer know who they are. Instead of Sarah or Jane, they’ve disappeared into the role of “Mother.”
And she may also detect a change in her partner’s voice: a patronising or dismissive way of speaking to her. Before the child was born, he listened to her views on politics or current affairs. Now, he seems to steer every conversation back to feeding time or sleeping patterns, as if she has no business discussing anything else. If the husband appears to be enjoying his career as well, staying behind for a drink, etc., the resentment only intensifies.
Whoever remains at home will usually expect more practical help from their partner. Their partner, on the other hand, may feel that this is unreasonable. They earn the money, and their partner looks after the child; that, they think, was the deal. After a hard day at the office, they do not see why they should then have to wash dishes and change diapers. How can they be expected to get through another working day if they literally have no chance to rest and unwind? They just want to read a book and go to bed. And so, once again, resentment builds.
Family and Friends
Family can be another major flashpoint. Mother-in-laws, for example, can be particularly intrusive. If this is her first grandchild and she lives around the corner, she may find it impossible to stay away. Worse still, she may interfere, advising her daughter-in-law not to feed the baby like that, not to hold him that way, not to let him sleep all afternoon, and so on.
A young woman’s father, on the other hand, may feel extra protective now that his daughter has given birth. If he feels his son-in-law does not show her enough respect, or doesn’t do enough to help, he may feel duty bound to interfere. The husband, who has spent the whole day lugging bricks up and down a ladder, or driving a cab through congested streets, naturally resents this.
But parents aren’t the only problem. In normal circumstances, a wife can make excuses when her husband’s irritating younger brother drops in, or when his bitchy sister calls round, and slip away to the shops or the park. Now, with a demanding and restless baby to care for, she cannot. And the same is true when your partner’s friends drop by. Children tie you to the home and make it impossible to get away.
Tips to Help Lessen the Anger
When a baby is born, day to day life is turned upside down. The parents are terrified of making a mistake and they are sleep-deprived, both at the same time. Comments or actions that would once have seemed trivial now assume epic proportions. Indeed, everyone is in a heightened emotional state. To stick with an example used above, the woman’s father, who had always been protective of his daughter, now finds this protective instinct goes into overdrive, and he convinces himself that his son-in-law is ill-treating her.
The first rule is to keep things in proportion. Before losing your temper, reason things out. OK, so he is slouched on the sofa watching football while you struggle past under a mountain of washing. He doesn’t even look at you. But is that done on purpose? Does he really have nothing but contempt for you? That is how it feels at this precise moment, as you look at him there, in his vest and underpants, beer in hand. And yet you know, deep down, that this isn’t true. When you do confront him, make sure the child is asleep and you are in a relatively calm state. If you row at the height of emotion, you will say unforgivable things.
Above all, avoid stress. Stress makes even the mildest person fractious and intolerant. And the best way to avoid this is by being organised. Before the arrival of their first child, couples lose themselves in mawkish, slushy nonsense, convincing themselves that love will get them through anything. Of course love matters – but so does organization! Be clear who does what, and when. Humor is another way of keeping stress under control (though it goes without saying that there is a time and a place for this).
And don’t whine or nag. When you do, this becomes the norm, and when you then have grounds for complaint, your partner will just ignore you. And the more you feel ignored, the more likely you are to lose your temper, and so it goes on. If you do constantly whine and nag, your partner is going to become irritated and lose their temper in turn, setting up a vicious cycle of simmering irritation, flare ups, then back to simmering irritation.
It is also important never to look for arguments. If you do argue, make it about something specific, rather than just vague accusations like, “you never do anything to help.” How can someone reply to that? And make the focus on you and how you feel rather than going on the offensive and accusing your partner. It isn’t fair to use them as a punching bag.
A certain amount of anger is natural, but be sure to make the period in between these bouts of anger as civil and pleasant as possible. Never underestimate the difference a simple smile or “thank you” can make. And be sure to compliment your partner. As well as making day to day life more pleasant, it shows that you still respect and care about them.
Never forget that you are a couple. Men often complain that they feel pushed out, that the baby is now the center of everything and they have been reduced to a mere source of income. Women often reply that one baby is enough, that they are not his mummy, and that he needs to grow up. When an argument later erupts, let’s say over whose turn it is to mow the lawn, he takes his wife’s anger as evidence of her loss of love and affection. Women, on the other hand, often say that they no longer feel attractive to their partner – that they no longer feel he sees them in that way. She also takes his anger as evidence to support this view.
Though it may be easier said than done, try to keep things romantic. If possible, have a regular date night. Go for a meal or a drink somewhere, and act silly. And make a pact not to talk about work or the children while you are out. Instead, tell one another stupid jokes, go and see a new movie and discuss it afterwards, or just go for a walk in the snow and hold hands. This way, you remind yourselves that your partnership is its own separate thing. Many parents, enraptured by their new baby, slip into the roles of mum and dad and forget that one day the child will want a family of his own.
Finally, get to know your triggers. Most people find a certain trait or habit unbearable, from the mundane, like the way someone chews their food, to the major, like their impatience with your eldest child. When people first move in together, they tend to lead separate lives. For example, if they live in a big city like London or New York, pursue their own careers, and have their own friends and hobbies, life settles into a hectic but pleasant rhythm. Later, when they move to the countryside and start a family each wants to spend more time at home with the children. But this means seeing much more of one another as well – a lot more. And that often means irritation.
Again it must be stressed that such anger is normal. It is also very common. That does not mean you should allow it free reign, however. Children put relationships under enormous strain, and if yours is to survive you will need to bite your tongue occasionally.