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I Have Awesome Kids and a Loveless Marriage. Should I Just Suck It Up for the Kids?

A dad with "perfect" kids and a loveless marriage asks the Goodfather how the hell he can get the love back.

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Dear Goodfather,  

I want you to know my kids are insanely awesome. I have a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a 6-year-old and I couldn’t be happier. We’ve got a system worked out, all five of us, that works like clockwork. The kids dance and sing and play and take care of each other. My wife and I cook, read, clean, teach, play, and provide like champions. These kids are getting everything they need. My wife says, all the time, she has everything she ever wanted. But this makes me feel like shit because I don’t think I love her anymore. I’m not sure she loves me. We might still love each other, but you wouldn’t know it. 

Fact is, we put our love on hold for the kids. Every last ounce of passion and emotion and effort is put into the kids and there is nothing left for us. When we hang out, one of us is always preparing something for the kids. When we talk about anything in the outside world like my mom being super sick recently, it’s an entirely logistical discussion. We talked about how to get a sitter to make sure I had the time to see my mom and help her. We made the time. 

My wife made the effort, but she didn’t ask me how I felt. She didn’t say, “I’m sorry,” or hug me, or do any of those things that someone who loves you should. I fear to bring this up because it is likely to blow up the perfect family we have. Do I bear with it and bury it down and wait until the kids are a bit less of a logistical handful?

Loveless in Louisiana

 

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First off, good job on raising your kids as a team. That’s super cool and not really something a lot of families are able to accomplish. You should be proud. 

Of course, that pride probably won’t do much to relieve the stress your hard work is contributing to your life and marriage. So that’s what we need to work on. And I’m going to suggest you work on it by focusing on communicating more and maybe doing a bit less for your kids.

Wait. Did I just say do less for your kids? I did. Do not interpret this as me saying “abandon your kids to the wolves.” That is certainly not what I’m suggesting. I’m simply saying it might be time to be a bit less hands-on. Because while it is important to put effort into your kids, parents have been sold a story that they have to put all of the effort into their kids. That’s not true. The fact is that you can probably do less for your kids and enjoy better outcomes for everyone.

Here’s what I mean by that: Your kids look to your relationship with your wife as a model of healthy emotional interaction. If all they’re seeing is stoic teamwork between the two of you, then what are they learning? It’s important to have healthy models of love and affection and right now you and your wife do not sound like you’re providing that. 

Now, the solution isn’t to fake love and affection. Kids are wonderful bullshit detectors and they are always watching and listening. Eventually, they’d figure out the falsehood. The better option is to nurture genuine love and affection. Right now it sounds as if you and your wife are both too exhausted and overworked to let the love bloom. Therefore, you need to open up room in your life to work on your relationship.

Look, nothing good ever came of gritting your teeth and suffering through the pain. That’s dumb. Pain and hurt feelings are important signals that something is amiss, When you don’t listen to those signals, you allow the problem to get worse. People can literally die from ignoring physical pain. Your marriage could die from ignoring your emotional pain. That won’t help your kids, and it certainly won’t help you. 

You say that your afraid of addressing the issue because it will “blow up the perfect family.” Couple things: you are a part of your family. If you feel like shit, your family isn’t “perfect.”  Frankly, it’s quite possible that your perfect family, or at least your perception of it, should be blown up. Nobody has a perfect family. The sooner you accept that, the better you’ll be. Because when you free yourself from the tyranny of perfection, you allow good to thrive. And in all honesty, good is far more healthy than perfect. So, let’s light that fuse.

You’ve got to take some time and talk to your wife, man. But you also need to have time and space to do that. So please look at your daily parenting life and think critically about what you can let go of. Is there a time during the week where the kids can be left to play on their own for a bit? Can you let the weekend go without scheduling the crap out of it? Can you skip a sports practice or a lesson? Is there a chore or two you can let slide? Is there a night when you can order out instead of cook? The point here is to free up some time and release some of the constant stress. Your kids will be alright. I promise. Even if you let them watch TV for a couple hours on Saturday morning while you and your wife have a chat over a cup of coffee. 

Those chats are crucial. Part of the reason you don’t talk about anything but your kids is because it sounds like your always with your kids and probably feel like there are administrative family tasks you can’t talk about in front of them. I say, make those discussions kid facing. It’s good for your children to understand that running your household takes a certain amount of management. And the more you discuss that management in front of them, the less you have to discuss it when you’re alone with your wife. 

The idea is that all of this will free you up to have the really important conversation about how you are feeling. And you need to discuss how you are feeling. It’s not fair to your wife if you’re hiding those emotions because you are not offering her the opportunity to change, if indeed change needs to occur.

When you bring your feelings to her, however, the import part is that you do not come with blame. Approach the conversation by making “I feel …” statements. Center the discussion in your own experience, not what you assume is happening with her. Make sure you ask questions so that you truly understand where she’s coming from. 

Is it possible that you’ve grown apart over the years as parents? Absolutely. Parenting is a super hard gig. But it’s unlikely that you’ve grown so far apart that you can’t find a way back to each other. It’ll just take some good talk and a little time. And if all else fails, go find a professional counselor who can help you decide where to go from here. 

It’s clear that you two can act as a team when it comes to your kids. That is truly rare and amazing. But it’s also proof that you can probably act as a team when it comes to nurturing your relationship too. You got this.