The Balancing Act: ‘I’m Stuck in a Loveless Marriage’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to give advice to readers with questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
Unloved But Undecided: I’m stuck in a loveless marriage. I have often thought about divorce. But, when I look at my 5-year-old daughter, I choose to stay in the marriage. I can financially support myself. What would you suggest?
Sonali: When children are involved in a marriage, the decision whether to stay or to divorce can become a challenge. It is very important to remember that happy individuals make for a happy marriage. If both of you are unhappy together, as a couple, it will impact the whole family. The resulting stress and unhappiness may impact your ability to nurture your child; when people feel that they are sacrificing for their children’s sake, it can lead to resentment and anger. And research shows that background anger – as in, anger between two parents — can negatively impact children’s sense of stability and security.
Also, when couples decide to stay together for children’s sake, it creates a false understanding of healthy relationships. Children develop personal ideas of love and commitment based on their parent’s relationship; you may be setting the standard that it is all right to remain stuck in unhappy relationships.
Finally, it is important to consider your personal reasons – those unrelated to your daughter — for staying in a relationship. Your personal self-care should also be a factor in your choice.
Have you and your spouse have tried counselling to help repair your relationship? Sometimes, it is important to seek marital counselling to help resolve conflicts and work on redeveloping a personal connection. I would suggest you set a timeline for your decision, but seek counselling before making it.
Stranger Trouble: My 10-month-old daughter just doesn’t like strangers, even when she is in my lap; she will cry instantly. She is open to small children, but if their parents try to coochicoo at her, she cries. Recently, my inlaws were over, and she was cranky the whole time with fits of crying and shouting.
Sonali: This behaviour is normal for babies who are 9 or 10 months old. Around this time, babies begin to realize they are individuals, that is, separate from others, and also start developing strong attachment to parents. This specific behaviour, where a child likes to be around a parent and becomes clingy, stems from separation anxiety. When she cries, it is a sign of healthy attachment and also her way of communicating with you.
Read more about parent-baby bonding on The Swaddle.
Around this age, too, your daughter will start developing an understanding of object permanence. This is an understanding that objects (or people) that cannot be seen or heard by her still continue to exist. This means that even when she can’t see you, she knows you exist and will come back – an important part of allaying separation anxiety.
Read more about separation anxiety on The Swaddle.
However, the time before she develops this understanding can be trying for parents, who may feel helpless, guilty and even physically exhausted. You can help her develop an understanding of object permanence (and trust in the world around her), however, by using games like Peekaboo, which is all about objects continuing to exist out of view. Also, talk to your daughter when you’re in a different room, to help her understand that although she can’t see you, you are still around. Consider giving her a soft toy or blanket that can provide a sense of comfort when you’re not immediately by her. And when she is old enough to perceive when you are getting ready to leave, be sure to communicate that you are going and when you will be returning.
Remember, too, that guests and family create new scenarios that can be overwhelming for a baby and draw away parents’ attention. So this could also be your baby’s way of drawing attention to herself. Tell your friends or family members to give the baby some time and space to feel comfortable with them, rather than expect her to take to them immediately.