"Being an At-Home Mom Is Ruining Our Marriage"

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The Counselor's Turn

Negotiating Work and Family

"Becoming an at-home mother can turn a working woman's world upside down. Suddenly, she's alone with a demanding baby. She may miss the camaraderie of her co-workers and the self-esteem that comes with earning a paycheck. She may feel incompetent as a mother, or even start to resent her husband for having a career. Kimberly's difficult transition was normal, but the fact that she didn't have friends or family close by was intensifying her unhappiness. 

"I believed this couple could stay together because they were willing to acknowledge their own shortcomings and to work at rebuilding their relationship. First, they had to improve their communication skills -- a challenge given the habits they'd learned as children. Growing up with an alcoholic father and emotionally remote mother, Kimberly never learned how to express her feelings or to ask for support and nurturing in a positive way. When she raised her voice or belittled Jeff in the heat of an argument, she was echoing behavior that passed for normal in her parents' house.

"Meanwhile, Jeff had his father's volatile temper -- though not his abusive streak -- so he, too, was prone to exploding. Accustomed to constant criticism from his parents, Jeff became overly sensitive to any perceived slight.

"I instructed the couple to set aside 15 minutes every night to discuss their daily frustrations and any sensitive issues requiring negotiation. No more yelling, name-calling, throwing objects, giving the silent treatment, or fighting in front of Andrew and Hayley. Over the course of many months, they practiced having respectful conversations until it came more naturally to them.

"Next, Kimberly and Jeff needed to split the child-care duties more equitably. Jeff had expected that his wife would be with the children around the clock, but I told him that it was his job to pitch in at night and on weekends and holidays to give her a break and so he could develop a closer relationship with his son and daughter. Simply being aware of his temper and knowing how to defuse it -- walking away for a few minutes when he felt too tense -- went a long way toward making Jeff feel in control. Over time, he overcame the fear that his anger would get the best of him.

"Kimberly had also been pushing Jeff away from the children by constantly criticizing his parenting abilities. If she wanted him to be a more active father, she had to accept his relaxed style and be more tolerant of his decisions. Gradually, Jeff became a more confident parent, and the children's behavior improved because they're now comfortable around him and they're not exposed to their parents' arguments.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued


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