After having a child, I want to feel like “us” again

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Hi Meredith,

Longtime reader. I've even written letters to you before, but they always remained unsent. I guess today is the day.

I'm feeling really stuck, sad, and overwhelmed. My husband and I have been married just over five years and we had our son about a year and a half ago, just after the start of the pandemic. About a year ago, the same day I went back to work after maternity leave, my husband also started a new job (both of us fully remote). His new role is extremely demanding; between conference calls with different time zones and client requests, he's often working from 7 a.m. to 8, 9, even 10 p.m. I also work full time, although I have a lot more flexibility. The lion's share of the housework and childcare fall to me.

Sure, there is some frustration there, some days are harder than others, but it's actually the pockets of time in between where I do see my husband that seem to be the bigger issue. We're always either speaking transactionally about upcoming family logistics and moving onto the next thing ... or fighting. I feel like the few times he is able to step in, he has such a short fuse, it's not worth it. He either makes me feel guilty for asking for help or can't do whatever the task may be (can't find our son's shoes, don't know which snacks he likes, etc.) and then needs me to step back in anyway. Our home feels so tense.

Now that we're feeling a little safer COVID-wise, we try getting out for date nights to feel like "us" again (pre-pandemic, pre-baby us), but that doesn't seem to make any difference. Recently, to celebrate our anniversary, we got a babysitter, went out, and as soon as we sat down to dinner, he had to leave because of a "work emergency." I was so upset. We went out again a few weeks later and had a nice time and it felt "normal" again. But by the next morning, nothing had changed. Short, tense interactions, both of us moving quickly to return back to the 100 other things that need our attention. It's just miserable and I don't want to live like this anymore.

I talk to a therapist and have a made a lot of progress in my own right – finding little ways to relieve stress, outsource where I can, staying calm and present with my son, focusing on one task a time, etc. My husband has no interest in talking to someone either on his own or together. He thinks marriage counseling would be "paying someone to side with me while I complain about him." I'd hate to think we're broken beyond repair. But I'm scared we're heading in that direction. We always talked about trying for a second child in the coming months, but I can't even imagine taking that step right now when things feel so off. I really appreciate any thoughts or advice you have.

Where do we go from here?

– Trying

"He thinks marriage counseling would be 'paying someone to side with me while I complain about him.'"

When people say this, I'm like, "Oh, so you fear accountability and you know you need to do better." How revealing.

Anyway, I'm so sorry life has become so tense for you. It sounds like the two of you have no tools to talk about the household labor and how it affects what you think of each other.

In his defense, he really can't do as much, and it is difficult to pinch hit when you don’t know where the toys, etc. On the flip side, he should be enjoying quality time with his own son – and paying attention. You're all remote! Your routines are right in front of him. It's not that difficult to figure out.

You can ask him to see your therapist with you and center yourself. As in, "I want to figure out how to better cope with our routine, and it might help if you talked it through with me with this third party." Maybe that would be a start. You can also ask open-ended questions about your plans. "What makes you want to try for a second child? How would that affect our relationship and happiness?" Ask him to be a friend and parter in decision making. This isn't an ambush, it’s a conversation about both of your feelings. What does he wish he could change right now? Maybe your therapist can explain how going to another professional for counseling might help, and what could happen there.

I know it can be expensive, but the babysitter idea is also key right now. One night doesn't create a routine. If childcare can be part of the weekly or monthly budget, it's worth it. You need constant reminders of how you can be when you’re thinking about each other, outside of the house.

The good news about this is that he also probably wishes life were more fun. Maybe if that's the question – "How can we make this more enjoyable?" – it'll feel less like another to-do list to consider.

– Meredith

Readers? How do you break out of this routine?