Don’t tell my husband, but I was pissed he didn’t have to live off saltines for three months, didn’t have an always-aching groin, and didn’t have to do the whole push-a-baby-out thing. Pissed. I felt enraged by the injustice of his simply having to contribute sperm. Beyond that, just about every- thing else he did irritated me. Left a drop of pee on the toilet seat . . . Aargh! Didn’t shut the silverware drawer all the way…Why, I oughta! Didn’t get the right kind of ice cream…I won’t even go there. There was a lot of rage. But I never talked about it. I didn’t want to be seen as the irrational pregnant woman who stirred up conflict for no reason. But it turns out there was a reason.
When we’re pregnant, our bodies flood with a confused cocktail of estrogen and progesterone that can make our emotions range from crying over a Hallmark card to wanting to pop the tires of that guy who cut in front of us at the grocery store — all within a sixty-second span. It’s a lot. And we shouldn’t feel wrong, or out of control, for having this cacophony of feels — it’s all part of the journey.
Because your partner is likely the person you feel emotionally safest with, they get the brunt of the more unpleasant emotions stirred up by those hormones. But those emotions aren’t always the hormones talking — sometimes our partners are just really freaking irritating.
A potential cause for this irritating behavior is the changes your partner is going through. Both of you are navigating a massive shift — a rite of passage our culture doesn’t appropriately acknowledge or support. Men are often especially inept at processing this change because most of them were raised to believe they should manage their emotions on their own. And then society tells them they shouldn’t complain because they’re not the one growing a baby (something I’ve been guilty of saying to my husband). Sometimes men aren’t even aware of how impending fatherhood is molding their behavior — they don’t see how their fears over losing their autonomy or masculinity are making them extra selfish and annoying. Their subconscious mind might be saying, “I will not bend to parenthood. I will still be me. Here look, I’ll show you!” (Cue the annoying behavior.)
I speak from experience when I tell you that this mix of hormones in us and aggravating behavior in our partners can make us feel rage…
and fear…and sadness…and more rage. While you have every right to feel these feelings, I’ll also take a wild guess and bet it doesn’t feel great to always feel like you and your significant other are on opposing teams. During this time, more than any other phase of life, we crave companion- ship and harmony. So it can be frustrating when our emotions offer up the recipe for the total opposite.
What to do
First off, let yourself feel the emotions. When irritation pops up, resist the urge to talk yourself out of it or ignore it. Go to a private space where you won’t be tempted to unleash that irritation on your partner, then let your- self go. Talk smack about them in the mirror, stomp your feet, do a silent scream. Then count to ninety. People much smarter than me have found it takes any emotion ninety seconds to pass through the mind and body… if we do nothing to shut it down. So let it flow. Then…
- Take a few moments to examine what just happened. Look at what triggered you. In the case of your partner pissing you off, determine whether the offending action is something they do repeatedly that you would really like them to stop doing — like if they said something that was offensive and that warrants an apology — or is something that really wasn’t a big deal and can be let go of. Because you’ve re- leased the emotions around the event, you’re able to make a more logical, objective decision about how to move forward. The gist: give yourself alone time when your partner makes you steam.
- Check in with your partner once a week. When you’re both well rested, not distracted, and in a good head space, sit down for a talk about how you’re both feeling. Before you begin, lay some communication ground rules — for example, avoid name calling, don’t cut off the other mid-sentence, and be dedicated to finding solutions and common ground instead of trying to prove that you’re right. Airing your feelings on a regular basis can keep you from feeling like a pow- der keg, and it will help you feel more heard and connected — all things that will make your partner seem way less irritating.
- Assign parenting tasks. During one of those weekly check-ins, break down the impending parenting responsibilities and decide who will tackle what. Because a hunk of the stress you and your partner are feeling probably stems from all the unknowns of parenthood, this planning session can be a surprisingly effective salve, helping you get clear on what to expect from parent-life.
To start, make a list of everything that needs to be done when you have a baby (e.g., diaper changes, feeding, cooking meals, taking out the trash, washing dishes, doing laundry, setting up health insurance for baby, paying the bills, researching childcare, etc.).
Then, go through each item and discuss who will take responsibility for it. If you decide to share responsibility for a certain task, break down what that will look like. Make sure to write down your decisions so there’s no confusion when your brains are eventually possessed by parenthood and no sleep.
In addition, make sure your name isn’t next to 75 percent of the tasks. Women often have to put in double the work to be seen as an equal contributor. That’s a BS social dynamic we need to change. Split the tasks evenly because you deserve equality in your home just as much as you deserve it at work…and everywhere.