It quickly became apparent that my partner viewed shared parenting differently from me, she makes all the decisions about the child without consulting me
PROBLEM: I have been in a relationship with my lesbian partner for more than five years. Early on in the relationship we decided that we wanted to have a family and I went through several rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) and then IVF (in vitro fertilisation) at a fertility clinic, all of which were unsuccessful.
My partner then decided that she would undergo IUI and on the first cycle was successful. We were both very excited and started to make plans for our family. We had always agreed we would take a two-mum approach to parenting. I work full time and my partner is a freelance worker. So, when our beautiful baby boy was born she took time off work to look after him and I took on extra overtime to ensure that we were financially secure.
It quickly became apparent that my partner viewed shared parenting differently from me, she makes all the decisions about the child without consulting me. I have started to feel like the third wheel in the family and feel very lonely and isolated. She has now decided that she doesn’t want to take on any work until he goes to school. This will mean that I will have to take on a lot of extra work to pay the mortgage and all of the bills. This is not what we had agreed, and it is certainly not how I had seen things working out.
My friends think that I should just get on with it and accept my role as the main breadwinner. I am anxious that, now that I have got the family I so wanted, I am being phased out of it.
ADVICE: What you are experiencing is what many couples go through when their first child is born – one person takes on the caretaking role and the other takes on the burden of providing. While this is divided usually along gender lines in heterosexual relationships, you are in the position of having this role foisted on you without your consent or agreement. As you were the one originally designated to become pregnant it seems that you had expectations of motherhood that might have included carrying and delivering the baby and thus perhaps taking on more of the bonding role.
The wonderful thing is that your partner successfully got pregnant and now you have the family that you so wanted. It might be that your partner had not expected to feel so strongly about mothering and is now so enamoured with the experience she is unaware that she is somewhat excluding you from the circle of care.
However, if this is to be a successful family, all member’s needs have to be catered for and one of the core elements of a successful relationship is fairness.
If we feel that there is an unfairness or injustice in our relationships, it seeps into every part of our lives and we become resentful and bitter over time. Fairness does not mean 50/50, but it does mean that if one person sacrifices for the family at one point in the relationship, then at a later stage the other person’s needs take precedence. We can put up with an unequal position for a time if we feel appreciated for it and our sacrifice is understood. Your first step is to seek and indeed, require robust discussion on the needs of all members of the family and what principles underlie your lives together.
Your son is deeply loved and cared for and this is the first competency of parenting. But the second and third competencies (See What makes a good parent, Scientific American Mind, Nov 2010) are:
2) the parents stress management competencies and
3) how the parents communicate or their relationship skills.
If you are to be great parents, you will need to take on your stress levels and this currently requires that you express and are heard about your feeling of unfairness and exclusion. Then you will need to communicate well and the first obligation of this is that you listen and understand where your partner is coming from. Love allows you to challenge your partner and it is in the interest of your family’s happiness that you are willing to take on this confrontation.
If you both felt that the other person really got why this is such an important issue for each of you, you could begin to move towards resolution. The research (see John Gottman’s work) suggests that almost 70 per cent or all couple disagreements are never resolved, but that does not matter in terms of the longevity of the relationship. What matters is that the couple engage with the issue and fight or tussle with whatever is concerning them. One of the main causes of relationship breakdown is stonewalling and you might be guilty of moving into this position where you are present physically but keep your emotions held silently in check.
While this indicates feeling overwhelmed, the way out is to engage fully, trust that love will allow for difficult conversations and do not step back until you feel fully heard and acknowledged.