GROUP THERAPY: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’

Welcome to Group Therapy, where you get to share your wisdom and experience with someone who really needs it. Today’s question is a poignant one about a relationship breakdown and how to know whether you should stick it out or walk away, a decision made…

…even more difficult when there’s a baby involved.

Claire* writes….

My partner and I have been together for 3 years and have one child who is 10 months old. We currently have no money because he is pursuing a lucrative but scarce career in the entertainment industry and I am currently at home with the baby.

It’s really hard as the more time goes on the more I don’t really know how we got here. I don’t usually quit at things but no matter how many relationship books I read or try to emulate, I still can’t make it past getting in a fight and wonder how on earth it can get better. It’s a bit of a muddle i guess.

Currently the main things are: I feel overworked and under-supported. he feels overwhelmed and exhausted. I don’t think we have transitioned into family unity that well since the baby came along. Some people seem to have this glow of togetherness after becoming new parents and I don’t think we ever got that. We had a bumpy start and I think he was really freaked by the birth and all my demands on the day which I think he just keeps hearing. There is a fair amount of withdrawal from him and I feel like my needs are turning into neediness. I feel that our love has gone.

After 10 months of baby, I don’t think we can remember why we are together. When I asked, he couldn’t come up with one reason why he liked me. I felt this was a clear sign that things had become quite bad. I think he is very kind but juggling a family and a career that is a 1 in a million chance to ‘make’ it makes life harder than if we just had a baby.

Before the baby came along, I made a conscious decision that i would support his climb to the top but I was naive about how hellish the journey could be on his emotional life. I also had no idea how difficult it is to be a new mum, former woman (!) and to have no money for those things that make the first baby year bearable: fresh haircuts, lunches out instead of always making something, enough money to buy new shoes or clothes…..sometimes we don’t even have enough money to buy the food we need. It seems awfully tempting to simply call it quits; pass our child back and forth in a custody settlement and get on with our lives the way we feel comfortable. I guess I am interested in hearing from those on the path a bit further ahead and how their marriages/partnerships have panned out after a baby. Should I stick it out no matter what or just accept we’ve grown apart and try to split before things get ugly?

Oh….this email made me so sad for you, Claire. You sound lost and isolated and dispirited. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of a baby – it’s not just the baby itself but the sleep-deprivation, financial pressures, lifestyle changes with staying at home….so much changes when you go from two to three. Any cracks in your relationship that were there before are amplified massively by a baby. If your baby is almost one and you’ve been with your partner for 3 years, you only had 18 months together before you fell pregnant which is a big call.

My own advice would be couples counseling immediately. Even if you both come to the conclusion that the relationship can’t be saved, there is much to be gained from working out how you got to this point and navigating a path forward together (because as co-parents you can’t just walk away from one another) – even if that path ultimately takes you in separate directions. I’m sure there will be a lot of wisdom to be shared from Mamamia readers…..bring it on…….