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Dr. Clive's Blog

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Which Relationship is More Important?

Despite good intentions and the ceaseless efforts to be a good parent, when children come first, families often begin to disintegrate. With little awareness, a growing disconnection between Mum and Dad is set into action and the unforeseen consequences of this disconnection begin to arise. It’s extremely difficult to raise happy children in a home where mum and dad are disconnected. When Mum and Dad reconnect, everybody wins.

Many of the couples I see in therapy have disconnected. The distance between them is tangible. The unresolved conflicts numerous, the mutual hurt continuing and obvious. One of the more common reasons for this is the priority of children over spouse. When asked to consider when did things start to go wrong, often their initial response is a blank, but given time, often both retrace the change to the arrival of children.

The dynamic between a couple must change with the arrival of a child. This new person has a lot of needs, none of which s/he can meet her/himself. Time and energy shifts to the new arrival. Bodies have changed, tiredness creeps in as well as the anxiety of never being quite sure what to do or if indeed what you are doing is ‘right’. Time, which was in short supply before is now a scarcity. Many well-intentioned parents reason that I have to give my all now to my child/children, after all my spouse can take care of themselves.

This shift in focus tends to initiate marital discord. The person who had your back, is now less aware of your needs. You have fallen off their radar and down the pecking order.

Case 1*

Kristine and Trevor had not one but two premature babies. The fear and distress after the birth of their first child was only complicated by hospital stays, a mountain of medical information and an overload of conflicting advice from loved ones. This had been repeated with their second child. Kris and Trevor had never felt so tired and so at a loss. Time to rest, to spend with each other evaporated and when the crisis periods ended, they settled into a domestic/family/work routine that left them both shattered. Kris felt guilt over her continuing exhaustion. Trevor felt left out, and in an effort to support his wife kept his silence. Kris’s anxiety about leaving the children with family meant no couple time. Trevor’s job meant he was often not home till late, missing what was for Kris often the most stressful part of the day, food and bath-time and bed. They operated as two separate people with an endless list of -to-do’s. Both longed for some time together. Both kept quiet about this concern so as not to cause further burden to the other. Disconnect.

Case 2*

Ajeet managed the family company. After three girls with Theresa he considered himself blessed. About a year to two ago, he began to think that his wife was happier when she was with the children rather than with him. At first he had chastised himself, telling himself to ‘grow up’ and stop the jealousy. But the feeling had stayed. He had also started to watch her at social events. Here too she seemed most happy. As time progressed it seemed impossible that in a life where he was never alone, with either work or family commitments, he often felt completely isolated. For Theresa’s part, she recognised a growing distance between herself and Ajeet and reflected in those rare moments of reflection, her own growing isolation. Disconnect.

Making the marital relationship the priority, does not mean spending most of your time with your partner, nor does it mean neglecting the needs of your children. It does however mean a shift in focus. How does this happen?

Are there moments in your day when you connect with your partner? These may be the fleeting touches in the car, the kitchen, the hallway that communicate love. “I’m here. I love you”. They may be those last moments of the day before sleep to simply touch base with what has happened in each others’ day. These are the moments when you disagree with the parenting strategy your partner is using though you speak about it later not in front of the children.

Ideally there needs to be child-free moments. The drive to the parent-teacher meeting might include a coffee at the local cafe on the way. It’s incumbent on both partners to find small moments, small though significant behaviours that continue to communicate “You are my number one. I still love you. How are you?”

Children flourish in homes where Mum and Dad are openly loving. They are learning the most important skill known to humanity: how to connect. In time they will move on to initiate their own families and this one skill may make or break their own future relationships.

Cases are fictional accounts of common issues.

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