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Dear Dr. Yael,

I am currently a stay at home mother, due to the coronavirus pandemic. I was working before this pandemic, but now am home full time. My husband is working from home, so my main job is to keep the kids away from him while he works (not an easy feat) and to keep the house in order (an even harder endeavor). I am trying hard to keep the kids occupied and virtual school helps for the older ones, but running between kids sometimes takes my attention away for a few minutes, allowing my toddler to make a run for it into “daddy’s office.” Of course this causes a lot of arguments as my husband can not understand how this keeps happening. He has never been the one juggling multiple zoom calls, a toddler, and a house, so he has no idea what this has been like for me. He is in banking, so his hours are even crazier than normal and I am losing it.

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Our relationship has never been amazing, but we make the best of it and do have good times together. He is critical of me, but I try to smile and not take it too much to heart. Lately, though, having him around to criticize everything I do and getting upset at me any time the kids somehow get into his “office” is really getting to me. I am more than the babysitter/maid and I am doing my best in this crazy time. Yes, the house is messier because the children are home all day and keep making messes and yes, there is more fighting and tension, but why can’t my husband see that I am doing what I can? Why can’t he offer to help instead of criticizing? Why is everything my fault? While I never thought about this before, the D word has entered my thoughts. I am not really interested in divorce, but I am not sure I can continue in this fashion.

A Struggling Wife

 

 

Dear Struggling Wife,

Being cooped up is trying for all families and having most of the household responsibility put upon you can be very difficult. I can see that you are suffering and hope that our ideas can give you some help and relief.

Firstly, you should give yourself kudos for doing everything you are doing in this trying time. As mothers, we are generally hard on ourselves and you need all the positivity you can get, so make sure to tell yourself at least twice a day that you are doing a great job!

Secondly, it sounds like you and your husband need some help communicating. You are obviously overwhelmed and frustrated and need his help, not his criticisms. As much as we hope our husbands can understand these types of things on their own, many cannot. Thus, you need to tell your husband what you want from him in a nice, non-defensive manner. This will not be easy for you, so make sure to treat yourself to something before you have this conversation.

Do you have older children who can help with the toddler at night? If yes, maybe you can take some alone time with your husband. Perhaps you can get ice cream (curbside delivery) and take a drive together or take a walk together. If your children are not old enough to babysit, maybe you can get them to bed and have an at-home date at night. You mentioned your husband is working even crazier hours, but maybe you can ask him to carve out an hour or so for you one night. Just having some alone time together can nourish your marriage, but it also seems like you have to have a conversation about what is bothering you in a non-threatening manner.

Try starting your conversation after you have had some positive time together and when your husband seems like he is in a better mood. Explain to your husband that this has been a very hard time for you and while you greatly appreciate that he is working, this has been very difficult for you because of everything you are juggling. Tell your husband that you feel overwhelmed and know he does also. Ask him if there is any way he can build in some time into his schedule to help you a little. Then tell him how much it would mean to you if he recognized how hard you’re working to keep the house together and if he would be able to pitch in instead of telling you how messy it is. Validate your husband’s feelings that you know it can get messy, but explain that it is harder to clean up when the children just mess it up again a few minutes later. You can even say that you wish you can have the house spotless for him when he comes out of his office, but that as much as you try, it is not working with everyone under foot. Perhaps you can come up with a secret, funny word that you can say when things seem to be stressful and you need the other one to help out emotionally or physically.

Being at home all day with everyone together can be a pressure cooker waiting to burst. Try as much as possible to have some sort of schedule and to get out every day for some fresh air. Perhaps if the older ones are mostly settled on their zooms, you can take a 15-20 min walk with your toddler. If you need to deal with the other kids, maybe you can stick your toddler in the crib with some toys, so he/she doesn’t run into the office. We know this is not always possible, but maybe it can work most of the time, which will show your husband that you are trying. Use the secret silly word when you feel your husband is criticizing you, so hopefully he will realize he is hurting you and will change.

Divorce talk is definitely rising since the coronavirus and China has seen a surge in divorce cases after their restrictions have been lifted. However, divorce is never the best option (unless there is abuse in the marriage). Your situation sounds very frustrating, but workable and we hope that you will try these ideas and seek professional help if they are not enough. Hatzlocha is getting through these trying times and kudos to you for reaching out for help!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.