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Since Yahoo Parenting launched on Oct. 23, the editors and writers have posted nearly 600 stories on the site. They chose this article – originally published on Nov. 3 – as a highlight of the pieces that offer trusted advice, inspire provocative conversations, and hopefully add a little fun to your life, every day.
I remember the exact moment that began the near unraveling of my marriage: My first daughter Olivia was three days old. I had just put her down in the bassinet when I heard the garage door open. “Where is she?” Michael asked my mother in the other room, and when he breezed into the living room I smiled, and started to stand up to greet him. But he blew right past me, making a beeline for the baby.
My heart sank. When Michael said “she,” he had meant her, not me. Something inside me knew this was the beginning of what was almost the end.
I couldn’t have predicted my strong reaction to his running to the baby over me. After all, just three years before, Michael and I had met with a pre-marriage counselor, and when he cautioned us that it was imperative to the family unit that we continue to put each other first — always, no exceptions — I had been the one to ask, “Even over the children?” And the counselor’s answer — “especially over the children” — had astounded me. He had explained that children were wise and could master the divide-and-conquer technique between parents quickly, and that our children would benefit from always seeing a united front. But still, as that counselor spoke, I could only wonder what kind of mother would actually put a man, even her husband, before her children. Not me, I thought. Not ever.
But the truth is, I never even got the chance.
The babies came fast —I found out I was pregnant with our son, Max, when Olivia was 10 weeks old, and 22 months later, we had Charlie. We had three children in less than three years and, as for most new parents, day-to-day life became a blur, with Michael and I two ships passing in the sleepless night. Our sex life had slowed to a trickle, and every conversation we had seemed to revolve around the kids. And while everyone I spoke to tried to convince me it was normal, all part of my new parent reality, my heart knew there was more to it.
Michael dove right into parenthood. He took to the kids quickly, mastering tasks like burping, diaper changing, and swaddling like a pro. I’ll be the first to admit he was the perfect father (and no one around us would let me forget it, either). Our marriage, meanwhile, took a backseat. I would go to bed alone at night while he rocked babies to sleep or stayed awake for the last feed, and then I would wake up alone while he watched the sun rise with Olivia. I appreciated the sleep, but couldn’t help but notice that our bed, like our relationship, felt so empty.
Photo courtesy of Jaime Primak Sullivan.
Friends and family were constantly praising his dedication and hands-on parenting, and I would smile and nod in agreement. But I was secretly dying inside, stuck in an emotional tug-of-war: I felt grateful that my children had such an amazing dad, but guilty that I wanted and needed more from him. I questioned what kind of mother I was to resent that my children were getting more of Michael than I was. And at the same time, I was battling insecurity about my post-baby body coupled with his lack of physical affection. Friends would complain that all their husbands wanted was sex — and I grappled with what was wrong with me because my husband didn’t.
I waited for things to change. But as the kids began sleeping through the night and became more self-sufficient, Michael just found more ways to further immerse himself in his role as a father. To add insult to injury, the children constantly preferred him. I was teaching manners, correcting behavior, and enforcing discipline, while he was Mr. Fun. I began to feel like an outsider in my own home. And the further apart we grew, the more resentment began to set in.
Emotionally I had checked out and spent most days just going through the motions. If Michael noticed, he never mentioned it.
I felt tired and underappreciated, but most of all I missed my husband, while at the same time struggling to remember why we married in the first place. I tried numerous times to talk to Michael, but somehow wound up feeling even worse each time. I explained to him over and over that my needs were not being met, and while he was always respectful and reassuring with his words, his actions never changed. Meanwhile, all of my girlfriends remained in awe of Michael, constantly comparing their husband’s efforts to his, telling me how lucky I was.
But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt ashamed. Because while many couples around us were actually dealing with some of the same issues, the struggle was always reversed, with the dads feeling cast aside by the moms. I felt completely alone.
Jaime and Michael. Photo courtesy of Jaime Primak Sullivan.
And I knew that something had to change, particularly after what felt like the last straw: It came one day when Michael and I were at home talking about work schedules, and Max came in and interrupted us. I corrected our son, reminding him to say “excuse me,” and that he’d have to wait until his father and I were finished talking. But before I could even finish my sentence, Michael turned to Max and asked him what he needed. In that moment, I’d had enough. This was not a marriage. We were not a team. We were, at best, co-parenting, and we weren’t even doing that well. It was bad enough that he had alienated me as a wife, as a parent Michael undermined every effort I made, and couldn’t take it anymore.
A few days later, I cried as I told Michael I wanted to separate. I explained that for years I had waved a red flag in hopes that he would see me, hear me. I told him I loved how much he loved our children, but that I too deserved to be loved. We sat there in silence. The reality was heartbreaking.
Later that day, Michael came to my office. He sat down across from me with tears in his eyes. He apologized with his whole heart. He explained that at some point, he had begun believing that his being a 100 percent father would make up for being a 10 percent husband, and that his identity as a father, somewhere along the way, had become most important in what defined him. He then validated every feeling I had, asking me for another chance to be the husband he had promised to be and the husband I deserved. I gave it to him.
We began to make small but effective changes in our marriage. We added one “kid free” date night a week. The other nights, after the kids are down, we spend thirty minutes catching up on our day and we make intimacy a priority. We also work daily on being a united front with our children.
The balance for us is a daily struggle. Sometimes in all the chaos, I still have to pull him back, but now we know what we are fighting for. We are a work in progress, but we are so worth the effort.
Jaime’s digital series #cawfeetawk can be seen daily on her Facebook page and YouTube channel.
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