Managing Pregnant Wife’s Neediness

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Reader’s Question

How do I convince my wife to see a psychologist or psychiatrist? She has very low self-esteem. She cannot accept a compliment or make even simple decisions, and she is extremely sensitive. For example, if I do not call her from work to say “hi” a few times a day, she says she feels neglected and becomes upset. When she becomes upset, it lasts typically at least a week, if not longer.

We have tried marital counseling under the guise that I am the root of all problems but she quickly stops her individual sessions after only a short few visits.

We have a child on the way and I want for her to seek help so she doesn’t suffer so much and so we can welcome the baby in a healthy mental state.

How can I convince her to seek help?

Psychologist’s Reply

It can be very frustrating to watch someone we love engage in behaviors that are difficult for us to understand. However, just as they may be unaware of how difficult their behavior feels to others, we may also be unaware of how our behaviors and actions may be affecting them. In that vein, we cannot change another’s behaviors; we can only change our own behaviors and responses.

You mentioned that you have already tried couples’ counseling, but it sounds like your intent was to “get help” for your wife rather than trying to untangle how your interactions may be impacting some of the behaviors you describe. She may not want to continue individual sessions (although it is not clear how these started in the first place after you presented as a couple), because she doesn’t view what she’s doing as problematic -– only you do.

Every individual has different needs for communication from a partner. Since you mention that you two are expecting a baby, I wonder whether her insecurity and need for more reassurance via contact from you have increased since she became pregnant. Perhaps she is feeling insecure and unsure of herself as she experiences significant emotional and physical changes that are new to her. It may be worth exploring with her and asking how you can support her better as she deals with so many life changes. If this has been a longstanding pattern, then the likelihood of the behaviors changing during pregnancy are probably slim.

If it feels like you are giving her as much support as you can, but you are feeling drained and/or unable to give her what she needs, perhaps you and she can visit with her obstetrician to discuss other supports for her if and when you may not be available. Your obstetrician may also be able to assess whether your wife may be experiencing other mood or anxiety symptoms that could be treated with therapy and/or medication. Determining her level of stress and effective ways to manage the stress is critical for her health as well as your developing baby’s health.

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I also wonder how expecting a baby has affected you and your behaviors with her –- perhaps she is concerned you may withdraw more if you feel overwhelmed, which may create more neediness from her to keep you connected.

I’m glad you are thinking about the environment in which you will welcome your baby as well as your wife’s mental health and well-being as she transitions into (and through) such a significant change in her life. While you can’t force someone to seek counseling, you can utilize your resources to get support for yourself, find ways to “unpack” the interactions between you and your wife, and change your own responses and behaviors to better support your evolving family. In the meantime, you may find two publications by John Gottman, Ph.D., helpful: “52 Questions Before Baby” may help facilitate more conversation about your worries, and the book “And Baby Makes Three” may also offer new ideas and promote more conversation.

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