He was the most important person in her life. Until he wasn’t. As soon as her daughter was born, author Jancee Dunn was overcome with a fiery furnace of anger toward her husband Tom, who had been her devoted partner for over 16 years.
So what happened? How did a tiny, cherubic baby transform her feelings for Tom into this hell-and-brimstone-level wrath? Fast-forward six years (and countless arguments) later as Jancee actually figured out how to reduce her rage and recapture her affection for the guy that shared her bed.
She spells out the secrets to her rekindled wedded bliss in a hilarious and insightful new book, “How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids”—hint: it took visits to sex therapists, couples counselors, and an FBI hostage negotiator. If you want to skip the chat with government agents and get right to the good stuff, here’s her advice for keeping your husband hatred to a minimum once the wee one arrives.
TRY, FAIL, REPEAT
“We tried Harville Hendrix’s “30 Day No Negativity challenge” where you’re not supposed to say anything negative to your partner for 30 days. We failed on the first day. You have to put frowny face stickers on the calendar for every day that you snapped at your spouse, and we ran out of frowny stickers. That was a spectacular failure. Also, conflict resolution models where Tom really had to talk about his feelings did not work for us. He’s not a sharer. He liked behavioral models more than the “spilling your guts” models of working things out. Tell him what to do, and he’ll do it. But asking him to share his innermost feelings was not going to work.”
CLAIRVOYANT ISN’T A THING
“My failing was hoping that Tom would instinctively help me out. No. It didn’t occur to me to say, ‘Hey, please get off the couch. I need help doing X, Y, and Z.’ Men respond better to direct language, so you have to be very specific and ask for what you need.”
PLAN SOME UNPLANNED TIME
“Block out time for yourself in advance—book coffee with a friend or sign-up for a pre-paid yoga class. Put it on the calendar, and tell your husband that he needs to watch your child during the allotted time. [Editor’s note: when the man does this it’s not referred to as “babysitting,” but rather called “parenting,” in case there was any doubt!] The same goes for his leisure time. I learned, belatedly, that if I gave myself some time for me, I came back a better mother. I could either be there all the time and be burnt out or take 30 minutes and come back happier and less reactive.”
FIGHT LIKE GROWN-UPS
“One of the relationship therapists we met with uses the term ‘Full Respect Living.’ It means that your interactions with your spouse should never drop below simple respect. It’s hard to uphold, but I always keep it in the back of my mind. It’s good for kids to see you resolve disagreements in a respectful manner.”
“We divvy up chores according to preference. I love food so I do the grocery shopping. We used to spend a lot of time on weekend mornings arguing about who deserved to sleep in more. This wasting time on starting everything anew each day/week/month is ridiculous. Now we take turns sleeping in—we each get one morning per weekend—and we’re no longer wasting time arguing over who works harder or is the bigger martyr.”
DITCH THE DOUBLE STANDARD
“You can’t tell your husband to go play soccer with his friends and then be resentful later. Give freely. Part of this is letting him do things his way; I would fix everything that Tom did with our baby and then complain that he wasn’t helping. You can’t have it both ways. There’s a term called Maternal Gatekeeping—it’s when you never leave your spouse alone with the baby to do things his way—and it puts off a hesitant father.”
TWO WORDS EVERY MAN WANTS TO HEAR
“I hated thanking Tom for every little thing he did, and he was slow to take to it. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more they pick up on it. Sometimes the bar is so low for what you want—most women just want to be heard and appreciated—but it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of daily life with kids. You have to think of your marriage as a third entity: there are your needs, your partner’s needs, and your marriage’s needs. All are important.”