I've not seen this concern addressed anywhere and am hoping you can help me to understand it. Ever since our daughter was born four years ago, I've felt my husband places our role as partners second to our role as parents. I'm proud of his love and care for our daughter, but I feel "jilted" in a way because his relationship with her is such a strong focus.
It's hard to talk about because it seems childish, and, in fact, when I first brought it up in my daughter's first months, he told me he thought it was immature to want more of his individual attention. But I still feel like a workhorse in this relationship --- appreciated for my work but not sought after as an individual.
I've brought the issue up several times over the years, and finally, within the last six months or so, we've been spending some time alone together. We've had lunch a few times during the workweek and we've gone out a few evenings too. He has even initiated a few of the meetings, and both of us agree it's improved our marriage.
But another family Valentine's Day celebration brought the issue back. While I was at work on Saturday, my daughter accompanied him on his Valentine shopping trip. I'm grateful for the gifts he shared -- really, I am. But my daughter handed me his card, saying she picked it out. And one of the gifts was from Victoria's Secret -- and they picked it out together! Now I know little girls like pretty things, and the item is fairly modest, and I'm sure she had a ball -- but, really, I don't think it's appropriate to take her there. And I'd like to think that lingerie is one gift exclusively from him.
We talked about it yesterday, and he seemed to feel that he had no choice but to take her since his weekdays were too busy to get to the mall. He seemed stumped that I would take offense. And I feel ashamed that I'm criticizing his gift giving.
So, while I don't think we're back to square one in our efforts to improve out marriage, I feel I've been duped into thinking we'd made more progress that we had. What I really think is that it's still my issue alone -- he's a great guy trying hard to please his wife, but is it just to get me off his back? And do I have a right to expect more?
I've written drafts to you before about other issues, but I haven't felt the need to send them afterwards -- explaining the issue to someone else helps resolve it. But I'm still at odds about this one, so any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. I really want to be able to put the resentment aside.
Husband More Interested in Baby
I can hear in your letter how frustrated you are by this situation. Although you do appreciate your husband's involvement with your child it's hard not to feel like it's "Mommy for maintenance, Daddy for fun." Let's take this a step at a time.
I'm glad that you and your husband have gotten into the habit of making dates with each other. It's also a good sign that he is initiating these contacts. It tells me that he enjoys this time that you spend together as a couple. Now take it a step further and get away together for a weekend. Your daughter could probably manage one night staying with a close friend or have a familiar sitter stay with her. Give it a try and see what happens when you have a chance to sleep late and be romantic. Try to keep your phone calls to your daughter to a minimum while you're away.
Of course you still want to feel that you're Number One in your husband's affections. That's normal. You are not unusual in this, you're just being honest with your feelings. You married this man because he made you feel special and you want some of that feeling back. Often it's the husband who feels that he takes second place when a baby is born.
My hunch is that there are more women out there who feel the way that you do but they're scared to admit it. They're afraid that people will judge them as not being good mothers and call them immature. I disagree with that viewpoint. I believe that a family is stronger when the parents have a strong connection to each other. It's possible to do that and totally love your children at the same time. Children grow up and make their own lives and it's important to make sure that you still have a good marriage when that time comes.
As for the Valentine's Day shopping excursion, I can understand your perspective and your wish that gifts of lingerie only come from him. Let's give your husband the benefit of the doubt and say that he really didn't think through how you might perceive this. My questions here would be the following: Did your daughter really pick out this item or did your husband coach her to say this as a way of making her feel involved? Some men do this because they're a little shy about expressing their emotions or it's a way of excusing an expensive gift. You've let your husband know that taking your daughter to Victoria's Secret made you uncomfortable so let it drop for now. If he does something similar to this in the future then you need to ask yourself why he's doing this or what he's trying to prove.
But I need to ask you, are there other ways that you feel that your husband's relationship with your daughter is crossing a line? It's unclear from your letter if there are deeper concerns for you, but if there are then you need to talk with a therapist right away. You should do this for your daughter's sake, to protect her from a potentially abusive situation, if there is a problem.
You sound like you feel isolated within your situation. Perhaps this is because you are hesitant to share your feelings with others, even close friends. I think that it would be helpful for you to join a women's group. Sometimes it's easier to talk to strangers about our situation than to a friend. The therapist running the group will insist on the rule of "what's said in the group, stays in the group." This might give you the opportunity to talk through your concerns and receive support.
It's important for you to work through this now as it appears that your husband's relationship with your daughter will always have some degree of devotion. If you don't, this situation will continue to bother you and color other aspects of your marriage. Down the road you may want to also consider couple's counseling, but for now, take care of yourself.
Dr. Louise Klein