‘I lost my wife years ago. My new partner has become distant during pregnancy’

Tell Me About It: ‘I’m terrified I will not play a part in my child’s life’

PROBLEM: My wife of 16 years died four years ago. I was, and continue to be, heartbroken. We met in our teens, bought a house together in our early 20s and started our own business. It wasn’t all smooth going, but we had a great life.

We spent 10 years trying to have children and explored every possible fertility option that was available to us. In fact, we had just started the foreign surrogacy process when my wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness. We, of course, abandoned this, and she sadly only survived for another six months.

In the last few months of her life my wife made me promise that I would live my very best life. Following her passing, I barely existed, I gained a lot of weight and started to drink quite a lot. After a short while, my parents, brother and sister-in-law took me to task and started to help me to get my life back together.

Around the time of the second anniversary of my wife’s passing, I started to become close with a female business associate in her early 40s, initially we started meeting for coffees, then dinner and after a short while we both acknowledged that we were dating. Perhaps it is strange, but I never felt guilty as I think this is what my wife would have wanted. I started to have feelings for this lady, I knew those feelings were different to how I felt about my wife, whom I shared a long and deep history with, but nonetheless I started to think that we could have a future together.

Five months ago, she announced that she was pregnant. I was surprised but delighted. I was also sad because this was something I waited to hear for a very long time. The issue is now that the expectant mother of my child has started to go cold on me. I only see her now about once per week. When I discuss us moving in together, she quickly changes the topic, and she has only told me about hospital visits at the very last minute. I am starting to wonder if she ever really wanted a relationship with me at all or if her purpose was to become pregnant.

She is a highly-driven, ambitious person and from what I can gather, I am the first person that she had dated in more than 10 years. I do not want to lose her and I am terrified that I will not play a part in the child’s life. I have tried to speak to her about my concerns, but she continually dismisses me and tells me that I am too needy.

I do not know what to do, another loss would be almost impossible to deal with.

ADVICE: What a difficult story – to have the possibility of being a father so close to you and to have the future mother keeping you at arm’s length. It is clear that you are a man who knows how to love well so I would not doubt that aspect of yourself. However, the future mother of your child has her own past and may have issues that are surfacing now, and these may be affecting how she copes with intimacy and commitment.

If one part of a couple no longer wants to be in a relationship it is almost impossible to keep it going and so you may have to accept this, but that does not apply to your role as the father. At some point you must have a conversation with your partner about this and it would be good to offer it initially in as much a positive manner as possible. Can you ask for a conversation about parenting (as opposed to being a family) and find out as much as you can about where your partner is coming from, what her expectations are and how she sees the future working out. It is only when you have this information that you can make your own plan and begin to see how you will be able to carry through on it.

Your partner has not had a committed relationship in 10 years (so you think) and she may be shocked and traumatised by not only finding herself in a real relationship but also to be facing the life-long commitment that is child-rearing

Of course, you have suffered huge loss, but you also have experienced great devotion, love and tenderness in your life, and this is what you have to offer to your future child, so do not back away due to fear that you are not strong enough to endure strife and break-up. Your extended family, and possibly that of your wife, can be involved in the life of this child and this would be an invaluable gift to everyone. Your wife’s family will need to be informed of the impending birth and maybe doing this early in the pregnancy might offer them time to process the news.

All this is by way of saying that you must engage firmly with your partner. Offer her the full opportunity of a united family but if this is rejected, she must know that you will not disappear but will be determined to be part of your child’s life. Mediation and the courts are options when all else is exhausted – but always keep the option open of returning to conversation even if these avenues are initiated.

Your partner has not had a committed relationship in 10 years (so you think) and she may be shocked and traumatised by not only finding herself in a real relationship but also to be facing the life-long commitment that is child-rearing. She may need time and space to come to terms with what has happened so try to be patient and allow her to come to rest with what she too is facing.

If you find yourself sinking again with perceived loss, you could well do with connecting with a therapist to help you untangle what is happening and they might assist you with planning your next steps. (See Irish Council for Psychotherapy or Psychological Society of Ireland for lists of accredited professionals).