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‘I’m pregnant, and for the first time my partner’s unpredictability is no longer attractive’

Tell Me About It: ‘What I liked about him when we first met is now a cause for concern’

Question

When I first met my partner he was wild: he did what he wanted to whenever he felt like it. At the start of our relationship I might call, expecting him to be in his office working, but instead he could be climbing a mountain in Kerry or trying to catch a wave in Clare or Donegal.

Fast-forward 17 years and his activity levels may have waned somewhat, but he is still just as impulsive. I might arrive home on an evening in early December to be informed that we’ll be spending Christmas on a cruise around southeast Asia or somewhere equally exotic.

It’s what attracted me to him, and the reason I still love him so much. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am comfortable with the unexpected, and life has never been boring.

The negative side is that he is also disorganised. He pays his bills but always at the last minute; he arrives hours late for important meetings and never plans his meals, constantly eating out at expensive restaurants. He is a kind person but will refer to those who are well prepared as obsessive. He runs his own small but successful business, and although he is chaotic he has a brilliant and loyal team who keep things running. His creativity, charisma and genuine personality have saved him from many potential downfalls.

I may be biased and possibly a little smug, but out of all our friends I would say we are the best-suited and happiest couple.

Having tried absolutely everything to have children for more than 15 years, we have had a lot of sadness. I know infertility can put a strain on a relationship, but in our case it has brought us closer. Through no small miracle a few months ago, I found out by surprise that, for the first time, I was pregnant. We had given up, so we were ecstatic. I was not at all surprised when he immediately suggested that we sell our small house and increase our mortgage to buy a larger family home in the suburbs. I was even less surprised when, two days later, our house was on the market and, within a short period of time, we were putting an offer on a large fixer-upper.

This was a joint exercise, but what I was not expecting was to find out that he had also secured a considerable loan to expand his business and treble the number of staff. It is his business, but he will need to work much harder at a time when he needs to be working smarter. Given that he is so busy, I have noticed that he is paying less attention to bills; he has also stopped exercising, and has put on a lot of weight. And who knows when he will be available to play his part in decorating our new home?

For the first time his unpredictability is no longer attractive. We have discussed having a family dozens of times, with the plan that we would both make sacrifices and that, where possible, we would share parenting duties. His actions would now suggest that he is not planning to follow through on his promises. This is not a situation where a smile and a trip to a five-star hotel will relieve him of his commitments.

Answer

Your partner is responding with what is called “provider pressure” to the imminent birth of his first child and, while this is normal, his impulsivity has magnified his response. His concern for providing for the future of your family has lots of his characteristic traits, instant and total immersion, but the worry is that he will crack under all this added pressure.

Some downtime is needed urgently for both of you to get to grips with the situation and to allow some knowledge and wisdom into the equation. For example, his (perhaps unquestioned) belief is that his role as a dad is to create a financially safe environment for his growing family; however you might both benefit from learning more about what children need from parents.

Attending a parenting course would be an excellent start for you both, this might then shape the conversations you will have about the life you want to create. Children thrive when parents are able to manage stress, when parents have a good relationship and of course when there is lots of love and lightness in the family home. While this sounds a bit “pie in the sky” it is worth aiming for, as it is also the foundation for a happy relationship. There is so much in your life that is great for you both and maybe you can rely on the years of success behind you to support the challenges that are coming.

A child needs consistency so your partner’s behaviour of taking off at a moment’s notice will need to be curtailed, at least for a while. However, you are both probably willing to give up old habits for the benefit of your expanding family. Almost all parents go through some version of what you are experiencing during this period of readjustment, and it usually comes with some strife and chafe. It is worth the pain, however, as you not only get to start a family but also to stretch yourself into a more evolved human being (hopefully). The conversation with your partner needs to be informed by your own self-awareness, so you might start by asking for some feedback from your partner on what he sees as your development needs. He might then be open to reflecting on how he is responding to the pregnancy and what might be the outcomes of his behaviour.

We are always willing to stretch ourselves for love, so be sure to check that this is where you are coming from when you broach the topic of change of behaviour. He might like to hear that you want him to have a healthy body and that you want him to keep his joie de vivre, and that you believe that this is a goal that is achievable for you both.

Setting this pattern for self-reflection and discussion combined with attending a parenting course should set you on course for your family to thrive.

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