Q. I’m concerned about my wife. For the last year or so, since the birth of our second child, she just hasn’t been the same. Her energy level is diminished; she’s continually quite irritable and on edge, and she doesn’t ever seem to have the time for me anymore. I know that children change relationships but this feels excessive. Any advice?
A. Indeed, children do change marital relationships and often quite dramatically. The priorities shift, and of necessity. Oftentimes the husband doesn’t feel as special or as central in the life of his wife as he is accustomed to feeling. He may not say anything for fear of appearing jealous of the affection that the new infant is receiving from his mom, or he simply may not have words for his feelings.
Overwhelmed and overworked by the responsibilities of parenthood, Couples often don’t leave any or enough special time for themselves. On top of this are the phenomena of clinical depression and in some cases, more particularly postpartum depression that some women experience following the birth of a child. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, hopelessness, indecisiveness, difficulties concentrating, significant changes in appetite or in weight, changes in sleep patterns, suicidal thoughts, sometimes homicidal thoughts, or a preoccupation with death.
In fact, one of the most difficult set of feelings that is not entirely uncommon for women to experience following childbirth is aggression, rage, and sometimes even homicidal impulses or thoughts regarding the newly-born infant. These feelings can be quite overwhelming and frightening and are often accompanied by an intense and overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. In any event, such thoughts and feelings should not be taken lightly; a mental health professional should be consulted immediately where such thoughts/feelings are experienced.
Such symptoms may be harbingers of a biological depression that requires clinical attention. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to have an assessment conducted by a qualified clinician. As noted above, even without a finding of clinical depression, the excitement of a new family member is inevitably accompanied by stress and a dramatic change in the family’s interpersonal dynamics.
Talk these feelings out with your spouse knowing there is no such thing as a right or a wrong feeling. If appropriate, consult a therapist or counselor for intervention. It should also be noted that many couples still unconsciously have children for the wrong reasons — to try to “fix”as well as to apply glue to their relationships or distract themselves from their partnerships altogether using the greatest distractions we have in this world: our children.
The truth is that a remarkably high percentage of couples that I have treated dated the beginning of very challenging periods in their relationships to the birth of one of their children.
If you’re experiencing any of the above, ask yourself whether your new addition is the chicken or the egg, or both. And knowing that these feelings are normal, try not to be hard on yourselves.