Seeking Support from Your Partner

Psychologist Marion Bilich, PhD, answers the question, What's the right way to ask him for support?

Question

My husband and I are not getting along right now. He doesn't help out with caring for our new baby, and I'm exhausted. What's the right way to ask him for support without making him defensive?

    Answer

    People get defensive when they feel they have to defend themselves -- when they feel attacked. Obviously if the two of you have been arguing, both of you have been feeling attacked and unheard. You each have to listen to the other's side. Once each partner feels heard and understood then compromise is possible.

    Your husband could be uninvolved for different reasons. Knowing where he is coming from will help you figure out how to approach the problem. Ask yourself a few questions: "Is my husband suddenly feeling more pressure to earn money to support our child?" If so, he may be so wrapped up in his work that he has little time or energy left over. "Does he feel angry or resentful about the time and attention the baby is getting?" If so, he may be withholding his participation in the house as a way of expressing his anger. "Is he feeling trapped now that the baby is born, thinking that now he has to become a responsible adult?" If so, he might be trying to escape household responsibilities by hanging out with his buddies instead. "Was he ever involved in household chores?" If not, maybe he doesn't believe it's his role to do household chores or pitch in with the baby.

    What has he been telling you about why he is not helping out at home? Once you have some idea of what may be motivating his behavior, you are ready to talk. Tell him about the problem and your desire to work it out. You might use the information you gained when reviewing the above questions to start out. For instance, "I was wondering if you are not doing household chores anymore because you feel you are working so hard at your job while I'm home." Listen to what he has to say about it. Try not to interrupt or judge. (This is the hard part!) Then repeat what you have heard him say, asking if you heard it correctly. Make sure he knows you heard what he has to say.

    Now it's your turn. Ask him to just listen to what you have to say about the situation. Tell him about your exhaustion, your feeling of being overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for the baby. You can tell him about your anger and resentment about having to do this all alone, as long as you don't present it in an accusing way -- just a statement of your feelings.

    Finally, having both listened to each other's complaints and feelings, it's time to solve the problem together. Try to generate solutions that take into account both of your viewpoints.

    The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.