Q. I’ve been with my partner 7 years; we have two daughters age 4 and nearly 6. Life has become a series of routines we perform every day, as if on autopilot – I take care of the children, house, cleaning, food shopping and cooking as well as a full time job; he works long hours and cuts the grass when I remind him. We don’t laugh or talk or do anything spontaneous like we used to before we had children.
We go for a walk as a family on Sundays and he plays with the girls but the minute we get back home he’s glued to his laptop. I’ve asked him to keep Sundays for us, like we used to, but he gets angry. He accuses me of not understanding his work demands and being selfish and unsupportive, and that I make it difficult for him to love me. He then storms out and disappears for several hours.
I’ve asked him if he’s having an affair and he explodes into a rage, saying how could I think he would do such a thing when we have 2 lovely daughters and when would he find the time.
Before the pandemic it was easier to manage because he worked away in the week so we only had two days together at the weekend. Sundays was always our family day. I made sure everything was done so he didn’t have to be burdened and I made allowances for him being tired, needing to recharge before heading off again early Monday morning.
He now works 3 days a week from home. I’m struggling with his lack of engagement, help or enthusiasm for our family unit. I’m also working from home as well as everything else. I feel I’m failing as a partner and a mother. I’m exhausted and at a loss as to what to do.
A. A couple of things spring to mind as I read your letter – your partner is either highly stressed or depressed due to work demands and fears about employment security amidst financial pressures, or he’s having an affair and has checked out of your relationship. This may seem blunt and whichever it may be, it needs addressing.
Let’s take the work situation – work pressures and highly demanding jobs, can cause stress and anxiety, and trigger fears of not-being-good-enough or being caught-out. I’ve seen many senior executives worrying about being ‘found-out’ or perceived to be incompetent and not up to the job they’ve ‘falsely’ acquired, known as the imposter syndrome. So the focus on their work becomes almost obsessive, working long hours, not delegating as much as they could and micro-managing their team. This is far more common than we realise or many care to admit.
Your partner may be feeling insecure in his current job amidst so much change (you mentioned he used to travel and is now working from home). He may be trying hard to do well to please his bosses and keep his job. This could be further exacerbated if his company have gone through a round of redundancies to manage the current financial crisis. His coping strategies may be stretched to their limit and stress may be at its peak.
When you ask him for help with the children or to spend time with you, he can’t handle the additional demands. He may be hearing your requests as accusations and is acting out like a tantrum teenager. He’s also not used to participating in family life in the week as he’s usually working away. If he’s into his routines the current situation could be causing a lot of stress.
It doesn’t make him exempt from taking responsibilities for home and family
Unfortunately if it’s left unchecked, it could easily lead to an affair. The longer you leave it before you call a stop and you both start exploring different ways of being together, the more you drift apart, creating opportunities for someone else to come into his life… or yours. It’s possible this has already happened and he’s unable to tell you the truth.
Whatever the reason for his behaviour, your first starting point is to talk. You need to talk to each other to sort out a more balanced way of living where you can both feel supported, appreciated and acknowledged. You need to talk as two adults and leave out the drama or parent-child dynamic.
Start by acknowledging how hard he’s working but be mindful not to come across as a ‘patronising parent’. Let him know you’re exhausted and could do with some help, but don’t go into victim. Tone of voice is important.
Suggest you find time to chat, either go for a walk together or after the girls have gone to bed. If he’s resistant, stay calm and let him know you’ve been unhappy and would like you both to create the space needed to talk.
Take turns to discuss what you’re not happy about, what you don’t like and how you want it to be instead. Keep it as statements rather accusatory comments – take out the blame. Chat about the positives too, what you like or have liked in the past and what you want more of. Explore what and how you could bring some changes that support you both. Agree on trying it out for one week and then review it.
Make time to do something together – coffee and toast in the morning once the children have gone to school, or grab a bite to eat at lunch time, or walk the dog together. Catching snippets of time where you can share a cuppa and a positive chat doesn’t have to take hours and goes a long way to rekindle the relationship.
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