When my son was born, I was prepared for a host of challenges: exhaustion, sore nipples, not fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans for a solid six months postpartum.
What I wasn’t ready for was how much I would start fighting with my husband. I mean, sure, we reveled in how lucky we were to have a beautiful boy, blar de blar, but mostly we bickered. And it was stupid bickering borne of extreme sleep deprivation, the kind where you’d start making what seemed like an important point and forget what you were saying halfway through and just start crying. As Jancee Dunn described it to me during our conversation: “The things you fight to the death about, if you were lucid, you’d think, oh my God, why are we doing this?”
I could have really used Jancee Dunn’s new book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. Part memoir, part self-help book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids is a bracingly honest look at the disturbing levels of rage you can feel toward your beloved and a helpful guidebook as you find your way out of that morass.
I recommend you pick up this book if you currently hate your partner or you don’t yet hate your partner but anything could happen. While you’re waiting for your book to arrive, I gathered some tips from Dunn to get you through the next few days.
1. Know that it’s partly nature’s fault
When Dunn’s daughter was born, she couldn’t help but notice that when the baby woke up in the middle of the night, it was her getting up every time — not her husband. He just… wasn’t waking up. “I really felt my husband Tom had it in for me and he had this evil agenda where he’d think, ‘ha ha, I’m going to pretend I’m sleeping and she can pop up and get the baby when the baby’s crying,’” Dunn said. “I really thought he was faking snoring — he has this cartoonish snore.”
But then Dunn researched the matter and found out that, in fact, he probably wasn’t faking it. Blame evolution. Men, it turns out, aren’t as sensitive to the sound of a baby crying. “For men, the sound of a baby crying is below a car alarm or even a strong wind,” she said. “Had I known he wasn’t consciously oppressing me, it would have been a lot easier." Not only is our hearing more keen, we also see better in the dark. Thanks for nothing, nature.
2. Get ready to negotiate
One therapist Dunn and her husband went to told them that “when a baby comes, you barely have the same relationship.” Everything, therefore, is up for negotiation. And negotiation, while not being sexy, means you’re clearly communicating your wants and needs, and that’s key at this point in your partnership. “Now we negotiate everything,” Dunn told me, “and it is dry and lawyerly and no fun. You think things are going to happen organically and they just don’t.” Get ready for this to be difficult — as women, we’re not trained to stand up for what we need. “I’m a feminist, but this was surprisingly hard for me. I had to get behind claiming my own time.”
The difficulty is what makes this so important. “Resentment comes when there is ambiguity. I had it drilled into my head by so many experts: Clarity, clarity, clarity. Clarity is dull and transactional, but it really made things so much better.”
3. Lower your standards
Let yourself off the hook, Dunn advises, as well as your partner. “The house doesn’t need to be perfect, your kid doesn’t need to look perfect when he or she goes to school. Tom would make our kid dinner and it would be peanut butter on toast. I had to bite my tongue and not say, 'you know, she really needs a vegetable.' I learned to just be grateful that he made her dinner. And you know what? Peanut butter toast is great for dinner. I’d eat that.”
Lowering your standards doesn’t just decrease the tension between you and your partner — it benefits your kid too. “I think being a more easygoing parent is a real gift that you give your child. You don’t want a kid who’s horrified that you’re going to flip out if they spill their milk. You don’t want to be that mom.”
4. Demand your own time
Dunn began this book under the impression that men need more alone time. “I don’t know where I got that idea. But when I investigated, I found there was really no basis for that. Humans need alone time, really.”
Moms can find alone time especially hard to ask for — but it’s especially important.
“One psychiatrist told me, ‘Tell yourself that when you return, you’ll be a better mother.’ And it really is true. And I don’t do contaminated time” — where women feel like they have to do something ‘useful’ with their private time, like running errands or folding laundry. “Do you ever just lounge around in bed and read or binge-watch something? It’s hard to do but it does make you a better mother. It was one of the toughest lessons I learned.”
5. Look for the good
In her research for the book, Dunn consulted with the “king and queen of couples research,” John and Julie Gottman. (What makes them king and queen? “After over four decades of studies,” Dunn writes, “the Gottmans can assess five minutes of a marital argument and predict with over 90 percent accuracy who will stay married and who will divorce within a few years.” Pretty impressive, Your Highnesses.) The Gottmans, she told me, advised her to look for the good. “When resentment becomes your primary setting, you’re just resentful all the time, you look for the bad, you find it, it’s self-reinforcing.”
Looking for the good sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult. (Seeing a pattern here?) “When I was in resentment mode, so much of the good was blowing by me. I was focusing on what my husband was not doing to help me and I really wasn’t seeing what a good father he is in so many ways, how patient he is with our kid and how he’s always running around outside with her.”
And while you’re noticing the good, don’t be shy about sharing what you’ve noticed with your partner.
Most of all, Dunn advises, know that getting along with your partner (or just not hating them) is an ongoing process. “We’re still negotiating,” she said. “I still have to control my temper. He’s still going to leave his stuff around. But don’t have these heated fights anymore and our kid is much happier. Life is messy and I don’t have all the answers, but to have some tools in place really helps things. And I don’t dread being an empty nester because I have my ally back. “