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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

We fight all the time since our twins were born. Should we get divorced? | Family

I have been with my wife for 10 years. Two years ago, after fertility treatment, I became pregnant with twins, now 18 months old. Although overjoyed, I feel our marriage has suffered.

We love our children dearly. But time and finances are seriously affecting our marriage, to the extent that divorce has come up.

The childcare costs are so much, and we’ve both had to make huge sacrifices. I’ve had to cut a day from my work week – it doesn’t sound like much, but I’m an academic and have given up my one research day to take care of the twins. I feel sad and frustrated. I went into this career mainly to do research, not correct endless essays and then spend the rest of the time with the kids. I feel robbed, like I did a PhD for nothing.

All of my wages go to pay for childcare, so I feel trapped between scraping my pennies together, never getting enough work done, and feeling bitter that all my time/money is going to the children. Don’t get me wrong – I know what is involved in being a parent, and I understand that sacrifice is part of it. I’m just left with nothing in the engine.

My wife, meanwhile, gets to work her five-day-a-week job (her job isn’t as flexible as mine), but she is exhausted as she has to work shifts. We fight about cleaning, childcare time, what we do with our individual free time, and money. She has said she feels trapped in our marriage because we have the kids and the house.

I still love her, she’s a great mother and generally a good person, but I’m getting to a point where I resent her. I don’t think she loves me any more and wonder: should we get divorced?

Not yet. It all sounds very tough. You’ve both had such a huge life change. Fertility treatment can be gruelling, and when you do get pregnant and have children the pressure to feel happy and grateful is immense.

You sound like you had a fulfilled (and ordered) life before you had children, and the change from autonomous adult to parenthood can take time to get used to. You say you “know what’s involved” in being a parent, but I’m not sure anyone really does until they get there. The constant alertness, being available 24/7, being interrupted all the time, the sleep deprivation, the competitive tiredness with one’s partner. They can challenge a person’s sanity.

I wonder if your wife sees the children as more “your” responsibility – and that you feel this, as you gave birth to them? I wanted to know why the childcare come out of your wages alone?

I consulted UKCP psychotherapist Fe Robinson: “When we’re under a lot of pressure we lose that generosity of being able to see things from another person’s point of view.”

We both think that’s happening with you and your wife. “Also,” says Robinson, “when you’re tired and overstretched, everything feels like a job – even the joyful stuff.”

Robinson wondered what your support network was. When we feel resentful, we often want our partners to recognise this and “save” us. This might not happen as you both sound incredibly stretched.

It’s useful to remember that this hyper-dependent stage – where childcare sucks all your finances – isn’t for ever. “Remember, from the term after they turn three you’ll get some free childcare,” says Robinson. But before you know it, they will be in school. Things will shift again.

Robinson also sensed a “struggle with identity; you’re an academic with a PhD – maybe you feel you’ve given up who you are, yet are not feeling rewarded in your experience of mothering”. Try to remember: these things take time.

Robinson recommended an exercise she does with couples: “I get them to imagine various different futures, eg, ‘What would your life be like if you stay as you are in six months/a year/five years?’ and you then compare that to other scenarios such as ‘What would it be like if we split?’”

You probably feel you can’t afford couples therapy, but it can be transformative – and splitting up is expensive. Also, the childcare won’t get easier, just more complicated. Divorcing won’t make you richer either. Splitting up may feel like the only answer but, from what you’ve said, your relationship is still worth saving.

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Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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