My Complaining Husband

Dr. Coleman,
My question to you is how do I help my husband develop patience with our children? We have three boys: a two and half year old and one-year-old twins. I cut my job down to part-time to take away some of the stress for him. Right now, I try to do all and be all around the house so our children won’t see him lose it. (hard to hide) But, he tells me that he feels like he’s a prisoner in his own home when he comes home from work. I don’t know why.

I am going as hard and fast as I can to care for them because he does not have patience. In fact, he hasn’t bonded with the twins and everything he does for them (changing diapers) is so matter-of-fact. No talking, playing, ect. For over a year now, I’ve been saying to myself this too shall pass. It will get better once we get out of the infant stage. Well, the twins were a year old in November and nothing has changed. We’ve been married for 7 years, we were high school sweethearts. He tells me now.. maybe he just wasn’t cut out for children. Other than that.. he says his love for me hasn’t changed but he can’t handle the children. He refuses to talk to anyone about this. I have suggested some type of counseling. What’s my next step if he’s not willing.
Sincerely,

Dear Reader,
You have enough work on your hands with a two and a half-year old and one year old twins without taking on the responsibility of taking away the stress from your husband. Who’s taking care of you while you’re taking on so much?

I don’t think that you should become overly responsible so your husband doesn’t lose it. If “losing it” means occasionally yelling or raising his voice, that’s not great, but it may be unavoidable. It is hard on children when they’re exposed to regular ongoing fighting in a home. However, in the long run, your goal should be to get your husband to stop acting like the fourth child. If you dance too fast around his tantrums you’ll reinforce his behavior, not end it.

When the two of you are both calm, tell him that you’d like him to work on his temper. Tell him that you have been trying to do too much in order not to upset him but that you can’t keep it up because you’re going to have a nervous breakdown and he won’t like that very much. Ask him if there are changes that need to be made in both of your lives that will help him stay in better control of his temper. While you should be open and interested in these, don’t agree to tasks that will add to your already overburdened work load without trading off some of the other things you’re doing. If he starts yelling in front of the children, you can either remove the children from the room or clearly and forcefully tell him to knock it off! If he refuses couple’s therapy, go alone and tell him that you’re going to therapy because you’re concerned about the state of your marriage.

It’s okay if he feels like he’s a “prisoner in his own home” as he puts it. It’s not your job to prevent that. If you act or feel guilty, he’ll get the wrong idea that it’s your job to make that up to him. Many parents of twins feel like they’re prisoners in their own homes during the early years. And if you have a two and a half year old on top of it, well, that’s just more to add to the jailhouse party. If he says he feels imprisoned, just empathize. Say, sincerely, “I’m sorry, honey. It is hard isn’t it?” And leave it at that. Don’t act like you’re the one who put him in prison. It’s bad for you and it sends him the wrong message.

However, while we’re on the subject of empathy, how about expecting some empathy and understanding from him? When he complains to you or suggests that you’re not doing enough to make him happy, say that you’re more than willing to sit down and look at each of your “want lists.” Your list should have on it more help from him with all of the things that you’re doing for the family, more appreciation, and maybe less complaining out of him. Many mothers worry that their husbands aren’t bonding with their kids at this age. Dads are very different in this regard. We don’t tend to get as excited about our kids until we can actually do stuff with them. I wasn’t terribly excited about my boys at one either and now I can’t get enough of them. Kyle Pruett’s research shows that dads are more likely to show their involvement at this age by being providers sometimes more than in direct involvement. However, this would be a good thing to talk over in more detail with the therapist when you meet with him or her.

Sometimes fathers act less interested and involved with their children when they’re mad at their wives. Are there other things that your husband is upset about in the marriage? If you’re like many mothers, you may have had a decrease in sexual interest since the birth of your twins and he may be mad at you for that and displacing his anger or disappointment onto the children. Are there other gripes he has with you that you haven’t addressed or don’t know how to address? These are also good topics for therapy, whether he goes with you or you go alone.

So, while I wouldn’t necessarily worry about his low involvement, I do worry about how this affects you. He doesn’t have to be thrilled to be a dad right now, but he should help you when he’s home. You should point out to him that when he’s at work, you’re working extremely hard, not goofing around. In my practice, I find that mothers often need help being more assertive with their husbands in these areas. Since you’re not allowed to clock out at 5:00 on the parenting/household employment so he shouldn’t expect to clock out when he leaves his job either

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3 Comments

  1. Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:41 am | Permalink

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  2. Posted May 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I have dealt with my husband’s temper and impatient behavior for years. When our son was diagnosed with adhd, it has gotten worst. Our son is 12. He’s constantly complaining about our child’s behavior to me. I would try to be patient with him because I know he’s frustrated, but his complaining will go on what seems like forever. How do I tell him that I have had enough with his complaining without hurting his feelings? He feels I’m the only one he can talk to and wants my support, even though he’s seeing a counselor. He makes me frustrated because I’m not getting his support. I’ve been trying to get him out and have some fun but for some reason he won’t. I just want him to be happy.

  3. angy bishara
    Posted August 23, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    we are married since oct 24,2011
    my husband always complain about anything and he does nt
    see anything good most of the times and he is so moody
    we would be in our best moment and he would suddenly complain
    he always criticise people
    pls, tell me what to do with him

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