When couples are struggling in their marriage, particularly in the dynamic where the woman is the emotional partner and her husband is the avoidant one, the woman’s parenting tends to suffer more than her husband’s does. Her patience levels towards her kids can drop more dramatically than her husband’s due to the relationship conflict. Understanding this can be a useful and transformative realization for couples.
First the macro variables. Women generally do more childcare, although not in every case or situation, I am aware. But women generally think about the kids a lot more than their husbands realize. There are also higher rates of anxiety and depression in women, including PMDD and PPD. Much of a woman’s identity is based on being a good mom, as our culture still has higher demands for women as parents than men. All of this means that women, who are depressed and anxious at higher rates, also have more societal and self-imposed demands in the parenting realm. When you enter a dysfunctional marriage, this pressure cooker tends to explode.
In my experience, men are better able to compartmentalize than women. For example, men can have a productive day of work after an argument at home but women may struggle to do the same thing. Marc Grungor hilariously paints this picture in men’s brains versus women’s brains.
Some men have avoidant attachment, and more women have preoccupied attachment. I see the same with parenting; women’s parenting seems to be more impacted by marital conflict than their husbands.
I believe that men need to love their wives as much as their wives love the kids for the marriage to be harmonious. Women parenting small kids or teenagers can often feel anxious as a default, and they need extra love and support to boost their confidence. In fact, more of a woman’s identity is bound up in parenting. It’s just the way some women are wired. Women are the heartbeat of every home. So if men love their wives through the storms, the heart will beat at a healthy rhythm.
If your wife doesn’t feel loved by you, it can be very hard for her to be patient, warm, and calm. Working with couples in therapy, I often see women become much warmer and more loving parents when their husbands learn to be more patient and loving toward them. Women who are the pursuer in a pursuer/distancer relationship do not have the bandwidth to be fully present for everyone. Someone, somewhere will feel sidelined.
If your wife has called you unsupportive or cold, you likely struggle with being an avoidant partner. Therapy can help you recognize that your wife isn’t the whole problem, and your avoidance is not bringing out the best in her, just as her anger makes you even more withdrawn.
I have personally seen family dynamics transformed by an avoidant man understanding and owning his part in the family dysfunction. If the avoidant husband begins to understand that he is making things worse by withdrawing from his wife, and her anger toward him and the kids likely comes from feeling alone and unsupported, this can be transformational.
Ironically, the woman has often expressed (probably with the wrong delivery) this exact thing, feeling unsupported and lonely to her her husband, but avoidant men tend to ignore because they want to thwart the perceived “attack.” Neuroscience says that ignoring someone activates the same area of the brain that processes physical pain.
I do recommend that the man in this dynamic work on himself BEFORE anything else. It can’t be conditional. The only person that can do any work on your marriage is YOU. Marriage doesn’t make you happy, you make your marriage happy. I am obviously a huge advocate of women being loving and supportive to their husbands. However, if there is ever a time for the man to step up and give more support than he gets, it is when she is a mother. She would benefit a thousand times more from a changed, supportive marriage than anything else. Including more therapy if she’s already tried it. If you are the man reading this: working on yourself may help ground her more than anything she can do on her own and keep the rhythm beating in your home.
My first response to parents who ask me about getting kids into therapy for anxiety is usually the same. Look in the mirror first. A parent working on their own anxiety and transforming the home is usually better for a kid’s anxiety than anything else and coupled with therapy if needed. The most powerful tool a parent has is modeling.
There is a lot to be said for not constantly feeling like you are begging someone to hear you, love you, and pay attention to you. A loving marriage can reparent you and allow you to grow into your best self. Do your best to work on your marriage for the sake of your children and yourselves. If you don’t transform it, you will transmit it.
Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.