Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A Marriage Unravelling

Before we got married and, therefore, long before we had children of our own, my Husband and I would discuss our feelings about their upbringing. I thought we had agreed on a strategy. I was very wrong.

Whenever I hear people say 'We're going through a bit of a rough patch, so we're going to have a baby...' I look at them in horror. Our already rocky relationship was pretty much torn apart by the advent of our children. Not to say that it was their fault in any way whatsoever. But raising them and the quandaries with which we were faced because of the differences in our views about the best way to bring them up exposed the cracks in the foundations of our relationship as surely as any of the other challenges of married life.

After the arrival of our second child, my Husband and I really started to grow apart. We had been together for fourteen fairly uneventful years but it turned out that we had completely different views about the upbringing of our children. I firmly believe in giving them boundaries but reasonable ones, which will encourage their confidence and independence without pushing them too far too fast or holding them back unnecessarily. I also believe in discipline and that it should be delivered firmly and instantaneously so that there is no confusion over what infringement has occurred and what the punishment is for.

My Husband's father was incredibly strict with his children when they were young and kept them confined in a technical backwater without a telephone, a television or a car for many years after their peers had such things. I believe this is why my Husband is the archetypal gadgetman but also what made him want to be 'friends' with his own children.

In addition, he has a habit of letting people do things they shouldn't - even to his own detriment - because it is easier for him to go with the flow than to say no. He has to argue the toss all day at work and so, at home, he likes a quiet life.

Now, this would be all well and good if we could find a way to work together but, sadly, my Husband is also not a believer in the 'United Front of Parents until such time as they can discuss a problem sensibly together'. If he disagrees with something I have said or done in relation to the children, he will say so immediately, in front of them. He also doesn't believe in backing the other parent up even if he does agree with them. His view is that it is too intimidating for a child to have two parents shouting. So, if one of our offspring spoke rudely to me, even in his hearing, he would not say 'Don't speak to your mother like that!' It would be down to me to deal with that issue - as well as the argument in contention.

Needless to say, my children are not stupid and the upshot is that they both know that they can run to Daddy to get the go-ahead that Mummy will not give but also that there is every chance that Daddy will not support Mummy if she institutes a grounding or other punishment and if she is not there to enforce it, they will be able to subvert things because Daddy is too soft/lazy/stupid to carry it through.

I have tried very hard through all this not to criticise my Husband in front of his children. I think it is poor form and directly contradicts the United Front of Parents. Sadly, he doesn't agree with this ethos either and so I have been the butt of his humour and mockery ad nauseum.

Eventually, sick to the back teeth of always being the bad guy, I explained to both my children that it might seem as if I was deliberately trying to thwart their attempts to have a good time but, in fact, every decision I made was to try to do the best thing for them, to keep them safe and still having fun, whereas their father would do what was best/easiest for him whether it put them in danger or not. I still feel guilty about this now but I felt it needed to be said.

Coupled with this was the fact that my son did not sleep through the night until he was five years old... unless I was in bed with him. I tried all those 'put him in his cot and let him cry for a few minutes, reassure him but don't pick him up' things. After he had been crying for an hour, my Husband would storm past me, tearful and half-asleep outside his door, and pick him up, undoing anything I had managed to achieve in those painful 60 minutes. It was not until my Husband had to go into hospital for a week that I managed to make my lovely boy understand that he had to stay in his bed and go to sleep on his own. It was hard but we at least got him to sleep for several hours on his own before coming in to our bed.

Sometimes it seemed as if my Husband would get out of the bed, only for my son to get in. On occasions, I would be sandwiched between the two of them. There was always someone wedging me into the furthest corner of our kingsize bed, trying to grope me but no one ever seemed to want to tell me that they loved me or that I looked nice.

Every couple of years, it would all get too much and I would explode in pain and a 'straw that broke the camel's back' pointless rage. I would explain to my Husband how much I needed to feel loved. How much I wanted him to hold me and reassure me that we could get through this. But it seemed that every attempt at affection on his part took place within the confines of the marital bed and became some kind of definitive precursor to sex.

I'm a woman. I need to feel loved and desired before I can enjoy sex. Looking back I recognise that he was trying to feel cherished too but for him that could only be achieved through sex. For a few days after one of our 'conversations', he might try to be more demonstrative around the house. All I needed was an unasked-for peck on the cheek when he came in from work or his arms around me spontaneously as I did the washing up. It wasn't rocket science but it appeared to be impossible. My anorexia peaked and troughed throughout this time but he never said anything, not even when the weight had fallen off me so that I was almost skeletal. He just never made the connection, or if he did, had no idea how to deal with it, despite my repeated requests for physical and verbal affection.

Again, in retrospect, I can see that his way of showing that he cared was by cooking and trying to feed me. Anyone with half a brain should be able to see that that is probably going to be a bit of a double-edged sword when the receiver has an eating disorder but that fact just seemed to elude him.

I think the crunch came for me when we went out for dinner with some friends. It was hard for us to get babysitters. This is partly my fault because I wouldn't leave my kids with the local 15-year olds, mainly because my son was so difficult about going to bed without me. I was really only happy for my parents to do it but, around this time, my stepmother developed Alzheimers so it wasn't fair to ask my dad to come over or to have them there very often and my mum was looking after her own elderly mother who needed constant care. So we probably went out as a couple once or twice a year. On this day, I made an effort, as I usually did if we were actually going out, although I lived in big tshirts and leggings the rest of the time. On our arrival, one of our friends kissed my cheek and told me I looked lovely. I felt as if I was positively glowing at his approbation. If I asked my Husband for a view on my outfit or appearance, his reply would be: 'You look fine'. He always said that.

You have to remember that we had been together for nearly 25 confidence-eroding years, the drip, drip, drip of his sarcasm sapping away at my self-esteem, and that this emotional void had been in existence for over ten years before I met The Catalyst.

Suddenly, a gorgeous young man found me attractive. A man with a beautiful wife who was half my age was ignoring her to pay me compliments. I was like a bee round a honey pot, I just couldn't get enough of all these wonderful endorphins that were flooding through me.

Of course, it couldn't last...


2 Dollar Productions said...

I imagine there's a "to be continued" on this post. Or maybe this topic has been explored in back posts that I missed.

Regardless, I completely agree about setting reasonable boundaries with children as well as the fact that having a kid is never a good idea to smooth over a rough patch. Whoever thought of that in the first place should be beated with a stick.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Oh Cake, have some hugs. I'm so sorry. That was very like reading large parts of my childhood. My father was very similar to your husband, it's probably of no help, but you are absolutely right about all that you say BG x x

Lazy Philosopher said...

Yes, I thought there should be such a thing as the "United Front of Parents" also.

But it seems not. In my house there seems to be a "United Front of Children" instead.

One of the children is 40-years old. She never takes my side, always agreeing with the views of the youngest two children.


Mr. DNA said...

$2 took the words right out of my mouth (or fingers? cuz, I'm typing).
If I had the time I'd spend a few hours combing through your archives to see what I've missed.

It sounds like you are in a good place now, and I hope it stays that way.

Allie said...

Hi Cake! I found you on ALF's blog. I have read several of your blogs today and it is amazing the way you express yourself. I will definitely be back in the future.

Jackie Adshead said...

And why don't men ever learn from women's wise words? Why can't they listen when a woman TELLS them what is wrong? Are they that stupid that STILL they carry on and nothing happens to change anything to stop the womans hurt in the relationship. Or do they just believe that their way is the ONLY way and then show great surprise when they find that the woman stops loving them, that their kids don't respect them, and that eventually they don't have any substance in their emotional lives? Why don't they listen?

bittersweet me said...

i feel like i am on a knife's edge when i read your posts, just because you are articulating my life.


I think you are spot-on in your attitude towards the children, but, like you, i am being pushed into the role of the only disciplinarian.

ALF said...

wow - so well written! For what it's worth, I agree with you when it comes to raising children and the United Parent Front. Granted, I have no children of my own but one day I might...

Marcelle Manhattan said...

Cake, thank you for sharing that memoir. It honestly sounds like you are a good mother, you just didn't have the support you needed from your partner.

Redhead Editor said...

If arms could reach across the ocean, they would be wrapped around you in an international hug. And even though I just got out of my marriage, this makes my ex look like a prince. Consider yourself hugged, Cake.

Anonymous Boxer said...

Having been in a relationship equal in time to yours, I can tell tell that even without children, they start showing their wear after that many years. How any couple keeps the romance after children is amazing. Top that off with a spouse who isn't willing to do the "work" (and that includes nuturing the relationship) and you got.... problems.

Classic Cake Post.

Native Minnow said...

When people ask me why I don't ever want to get married again, I may just direct them to this post. You nailed it.

Old Knudsen said...

I have always been the one that does the discipline thing, mainly because my parents showed great apathy to my upbringing and left me to it. I learned from that and realised that kids need boundaries and need to know what is expected of them so they can feel safe and secure and will always have a consistent parent that does things like removes video games when they don't do homework and explains how their actions have repercussions in the future so they will take responsibility for their actions and know its for their good.

Its tough without back up and makes you want to give up but you know that would only harm the child's development. Yer husband sounds like one of those selfish fellas that never wanted to grow up. He needs to take responsibility for his actions, you have kids you can't wish them away because they cramp yer lifestyle you have to man up and be a dad and if yer married it should be a partnership with give and take.

Ach I think my willy is shrinking and I'm growing a twat, being self aware sucks.

having my cake said...

First of all, in his defence,I should point out that my Husband is not a bad parent. He has and does spend a lot of time with his children in the areas that he enjoys - he helps them with their music practice tirelessly and supported them both when they were dinghy sailors. He does try very hard to be a good parent. However, he has made the mistake of wanting to be their friend and not wanting to curb their natural spirit, rather than their parent and now that they are teenagers, his inattention to holding their rudeness in check is suddenly coming home to roost... And with my son he seems to want to prevent him from making the mistakes from which he will learn - and, as a result, my son keeps half-making the same mistakes before being bailed out by his father.

2$ - This is to be continued :)

BG - Tbh, it's like a repeat of my own childhood because my father also took all the good stuff and left all the discipline to my mother

LP - Hello and Welcome. Interesting to see that this problem crosses the gender divide.

Mr DNA - Emotionally I am now stronger because of Ruf but it doesnt eradicate the problem

Allie - Thanks for the nice words and for stopping by.

Jackie - I know, I know. I even wrote it down once because I couldnt say it any more without crying incoherently but it still didnt change anything.

Me - It's so hard because I just want to sit and cuddle but I spend so much time being angry! Im so afraid that, just as I remember my own mother as a harpy and my dad smiling, that's how my kids will see their childhood

Alf - Im sure one day you will have your own children and I hope that you and your hubby will manage things in a more civilised way than I have.

Marcelle - That's exactly it. No support... just opposition, until the shit hits the fan and then something needs to be done... by which time it's so much harder because you have to undo and retrain them as teenagers rather than instilling good habits at an early age when they are most susceptible and all those neural pathways are forming

RHE - Thank you. Honestly, he really isnt a complete git. Im sure living with me must be very hard work but he can be extremely trying...

AB - Thanks. It's somehow comforting to know that childless couples also struggle to maintain their closeness after a lengthy period together.

NM - I must say it's made me think twice about stepping out of the frying pan...

Bitter Balls - Your secret is safe with us! As I said earlier, he's not a bad dad. In terms of time spent, he does put in the hours, just not in the way most conducive to producing responsible adults. I guess Little Sis and I turned out ok in the end but she went through a very wild stage and I have the emotional scars from my parents efforts which now seem almost identical to my own and I fear that I have just repeated my mother's mistakes :(

DamagedNoMore said...

Just found you...through Lazy Philosopher (love him!) and just wanted to comment...I am intrigued by your words and your style of writing..

Guilty Secret said...

Wow, this was really interesting and very well-written. I am looking forward to the continuation too...

JetPass said...

I agree with $2 dollar completly as well.

You have to have a united front otherwise you have nothing.

I knew it as well as my son knows that if I were to go to the other parent after I'd already gotten a no--I'd be one dead child.

I'll be back to read more.

Loving Annie said...

No wonder you were starved for love and attention, and Mr UD could come in.

Having children because you are having problems in your marriage is a disaster.

Different parenting styles can totally rip a marriage apart.
Your husband not defending you or presenting a united front would be frustrating, enraging and condifence eroding all at once.

Unfortunately, women are vulnerable, and most (not all but most) of the time, when a man cheats it leads to heartbreak for the other woman in the end.

Men have dalliances - women fall in love. The difference leads to tears.

Gypsy said...

My husband is an excellent father and in many ways a more "fun" parent than me. However, we have also had problems where he will undermine me in front of the kids and make me look like an idiot. That is damaging enough to our relationship but what's worse is that the kids then realise there is a crack they can wriggle through when things don't go their way and like most kids they milk it for all its worth.

The United front is critically important if the heirarchy is to remain intact. Otherwise you'll have the lunatics running the asylum and then what? Complete anarchy and I'm not joking.

Isabella Snow said...

I was raised similarly to your husband - and worse, really - but I share your philosophy. I have experienced something similar with an ex and I couldnt take it. I could not take it. I could not. I felt myself feeling that again as I read your experiences with him. Why are you still there?? All due respect, "for the sake of the kids" surely cant be it, if they see you undermined all the time?? That cant be any better for them than it is for you?? Hugs!!

Peach said...

blimey I'm confused, so are you still with Hubby and what about Gruff or Guff, sorry no-one's called Guff are they ? lol, erm, blimey, I have a lot to catch up with - buggar BT and now ORANGE and not having the internet at home til boxing day aaaaaaagh

Walker said...

A united front is the only way to keep order in the house and to teach the kids whats right without confusing them by having one parent underminding the other.

Being the bad guy sucks to unless you have back up proving you were right when dispensing a punishment.

As for your husband's skills of affection, he doesn't seem to have any.
Maybe he never had them or just plain forgot what they are.