Marriage Crisis

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

18 months ago we gave birth to a two-pound baby girl, 14 weeks early. While the baby is doing very well, the trauma is having profound effects on me and my relationship. While we had issues before, I believe it has lead to the climax of our problems. I feel I didn’t get the needed support from him. I’ve tried to talk to my Husband, now that the baby is better but he insists we need to move ahead and forget it. I, however, can not move pass the feeling of disloyalty and abandonment.

His mother attacked me and my family emotionally and verbally for months after the birth, when I needed the strength and calm to care for a special needs infant. She created problems that he needed to fix for her, when his baby and I needed him. He refused to stand up for me.

Now things are worse. (not with the mother) I waited to address it because I knew that the baby’s condition was stressful to him too and he may not be acting rationally. When he does speak to me, he tells me he doesn’t believe I should be a priority. He tells me that he honestly believes that his baby, mom, and even friends, are more significant to him than I.

Now, we have discovered the baby has immune issues and I will have to be a SHM longer than I intended and need his support and friendship more than ever. I am fearful additional stress and feelings of indifference and disloyalty will permanently affect our relationship and my self-esteem. He is a devoted father. However, he doesn’t understand the need to have (nuclear) family events or go anywhere together.

The time spent with the baby is exclusively at the house. He shows no interest in exposing her to new experiences, such as the zoo or other things to enrich or socialize her. It’s not just my needs being neglected. He claims they never went anywhere as children. His mother is a self-proclaimed abusive alcoholic. I can’t make him understand she is not an example I will follow. I would sacrifice almost anything for my daughter and want a loving and intact family for her; I don’t know I can continue a relationship lacking feelings of love, intimacy, and devotion, without losing self-worth. He refuses counseling or to even talk to me about it.

A: I’m so, so sorry that you have had such a hard time. I don’t believe that having a spcial needs child is the cause of the break-down in your relationship. The cause is the fact that you and your husband were faced with a major crisis. When the individuals in a relationship and the relationship itself are strong, the couple pulls together and copes. When there is weakness, a crisis puts the problems in stark relief. As it happens, it was the baby’s needs that made those problems obvious. But it could have been anything else that required your husband to to step up and be a husband and partner.

I do suspect that he is experiencing enormous grief over the child. Rather than facing his sadness and anger that he has a baby whose needs are continuous and challenging, he is retreating to his pre-adult life; repeating the relationship he had with his mother with his daughter and acting as if his friends and mother are more central to his life than you are. Although this is in some ways understandable, it isn’t at all comfortable or helpful to you or to your relationship with each other. For now, your daughter will adore him just because he is daddy but at some point she will make more complicated demands on him too. At that point he may take more distance from her as well.

I’m very sorry he won’t consider counseling. For your relationship to survive, something needs to happen. I suggest you start counseling even if he won’t go — not because I think you are the problem but because you need and deserve some support. Your counselor can hear the whole story and may have some suggestions for getting your husband to join you in treatment. I also hope you will consider joining a parent support group for parents of kids with special needs. People often find it comforting to talk wiith other parents who are going through the same kinds of things and to exchange ideas and experiences that help your children.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Feb 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Marriage Crisis. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/02/23/marriage-crisis/