I Want to Raise Our Children Together

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Reader’s Question

My boyfriend and I have a 19-month-old boy and soon we’ll be having a little girl. He says I changed after I had my son. I did, but mostly for the better, except that I became really insecure and I developed major trust issues — but he gave me reason for that. I know I wasn’t fair to question him constantly; and I’ve been super hormonal.

Before he left he told me I didn’t love him and he was unhappy. He’s left before and has usually come home and said sorry. He goes to his parent’s house every time and locks himself up there. He has blocked my number, and this isn’t the first time.

He was so excited when we planned this baby.

He says he’s done this time. He’s said that before, but I want to raise our children together. Do you think he’s done? Is he scared all of a sudden?

Psychologist’s Reply

My first reaction when I read your post was to empathize with you, as you have a lot on your plate. Expecting a baby, parenting a toddler, and managing relationship problems with your partner. Each of these can be very difficult on its own! I hope you have good support around you, both emotional and practical, as you manage all this.

You asked if your boyfriend is “just scared.” It would not be surprising to me if he were. Moving from a couple to being parents is one of the biggest adjustments a couple can make. Adding another child to the family is tremendously stressful (and joyful) as well. I am sure both you and your boyfriend have had moments of stress, worry, and even fear around what it will look like to be a family of four. Sharing your worries together could be one way that you can find common ground right now. It is absolutely normal to feel both scared and excited about these kinds of milestones.

I hear that your main concern right now is what to do about your relationship. It seems as if there is a pattern in how your boyfriend handles conflict. Namely, he retreats from you (and his son), becomes unavailable for a period of time, and indicates that the relationship is over until he cools off and returns, apologizing. This must be difficult to cope with as his partner and as a mother. I imagine that if this were to continue your children would at some point begin to wonder where their father went. At that point, it is not just you who is affected by his choices.

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If you do decide to work things out together, it might be worth identifying some ground rules about how you will each handle disagreements. Some couples decide on ‘fair fighting’ rules, which create a shared understanding of ways that each of you can be true to your feelings (e.g. hurt, angry) during conflict, without causing undue pain to each other. Some examples could be as follows:

  • Do not leave for more than X number of hours
  • No violence
  • No name-calling
  • No threats of divorce/breaking up
  • No bringing up past problems or concerns; stick with the current complaint

In terms of whether he will return, you would probably be the person who would be most able to predict that outcome. If he does return and is willing to try to work things out, you have an opportunity to each attempt to understand the other’s point of view and move forward in a positive way.

For many couples, couples’ counseling is a good place to work through problems that keep recurring, such as trust issues or negative patterns of interacting (e.g. leaving for an extended period of time). Often, when couples return again and again to the same patterns or disagreements, they become extremely polarized, or stuck, in their own perspectives. When each partner is trying to get the other to change or admit that he or she is ‘wrong,’ it can feel impossible to move toward resolution. A couples’ counselor can often help couples become less stuck in these kinds of conflicts.

If counseling is not a step you can or want to take at this time, you and your boyfriend could take on the challenge of working through some of the problems you face on your own. There are some good self-help books out there with exercises and homework ‘assignments’ that can help you and your boyfriend understand each other and yourselves in a new or different way. For example, John M. Gottman, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has studied couples and conflict for many years. His website offers lots of information about relationships. His book, Seven Principles for Making Your Marriage Work [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] is just one example of a self-help book that can take you and your boyfriend through some self-reflection exercises that can lead you to new ways of thinking and feeling about your relationship.

You have identified that you would like to work through things with your boyfriend in order to parent your two children together. If he is as committed as you are, I believe it can work. Whatever the case, I hope that you find the path that enables you to best take care of yourself and your children.

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