I first want to acknowledge that regardless of whether or not your partner actually leaves, the fact that you’re feeling this way must be so hard. Parenting a newborn is stressful enough when all is well between the parents, but when you’re worried about your baby-raising partner skipping town, you’re forced to grapple with a mess of emotions no new mother should have to deal with. For example, you might feel scared, angry, sad, and a range of other emotions that could come with the major uncertainty you’re facing. Some might tell you to “just try to be strong, push the concerns aside, and power forward,” but I think bottling these emotions and ignoring your concerns just delays resolution. One of the strongest things you can do is feel the emotions and express those concerns. And don’t worry about trying to be strong, because you already are — your strength is a bright light at your core that can never be extinguished, no matter who enters or exits your life.
Regarding the path of parenting alone, you can absolutely walk it if you must. While it might feel like your world would end if your partner left, it wouldn’t break you. You are just as capable as the millions of single mothers out there, and you would find your footing even if it feels like the hardest thing you could ever do. I’m hands-down more impressed with the single mothers of the world than the Olympians, Academy Award winners, and Nobel Laureates, because these women are constantly summoning their courage, resilience, and dedication. They don’t get to clock out or take a sabbatical. They’re all-in, all the time. That might sound overwhelming, but you can do it if that’s how life unfolds.
What to do
Take small steps to figure out what’s going on, and build up your confidence and autonomy, which will be valuable even if your partner stays. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Address your fear. Instead of stewing in fear over whether your partner is planning to leave, tell them what you’re thinking. You’ll likely be met with one of two reactions. One: they’re shocked you’ve been thinking that and make moves to help you feel better. Two: they squirm because you’ve hit on something they’ve been considering. Either way, you’ve stepped out of the unknown and got the conversation started.
If they’re not planning on leaving but something about them is still making you uneasy, you can begin addressing their behavior and what you’d like them to change. If they are thinking of leaving, you can dive into why they’re feeling that way, if it’s something that can be resolved, and if you even want to resolve it.
As tempting as it can be to live in limbo, asking the question that’s probably been driving you crazy can untangle those knots in your stomach and give you something real to work with.
Consider whether you want them to stay. It might seem unfathomable that life could be better without your partner, but it’s worth considering. Once you move aside from the very natural fear of being alone, how do you feel about your relationship? Does your partner nurture your emotional, mental, and physical well-being? Or do they threaten or ignore it? Do you feel safe and cared-for when they’re with you? Or tense? Are you relieved when they’re out of the house for a few hours? Continue exploring your interpretations of the relation- ship until you get a hold on how you really feel about it. This deeper understanding can guide your feelings and actions moving forward.
Seek counseling. If you determine that you’re dedicated to keeping your partner in your life, and they’re willing to put in the work to mend the relationship, discuss the possibility of seeing a couple’s counselor. This objective support can give both of you an outlet for your emotions and healing strategies tailored to your unique situation. While some associate counseling with high costs, many mental health specialists accept insurance or provide pro bono services through family support centers.
Make a loose plan for what you’ll do if they leave. Many major changes seem insurmountable until we break them down into smaller steps. So to help yourself realize that you will make it through if your partner leaves, make a list of all the challenges that will erupt after they leave. For example, “Less income to pay rent. No one but me to watch the baby. A fear of being the only adult in the house at night. A loss of companionship.” Then start listing potential solutions to the changes. For example, “Find a new living situation. Ask friends and family members for help with childcare. Install a security system to enhance my sense of safety, or ask a family member to move in. Re- connect with my friends.” While this list won’t magically dissolve your challenges, it will at least show you that there’s a way forward.
Shift your focus to yourself. When we believe that much of our safety and happiness is based on our romantic partner, it’s easy to be terrified of the idea of them leaving. It can be crazy making to put so much stock in the actions of a person you can’t control.
Take back your sense of power and calm by shifting your focus from making sure your partner will stay to nurturing yourself — committing to actions that make you feel more whole and capable of caring for yourself and baby. Understandably, this is much easier when not navigating the fatigue, hormonal upheaval, and uncertainty of life with a newborn. But taking small actions like going on a morning walk with baby, drinking more water, making a list of career goals you’d like to pursue when you’ve gotten through the haze of early motherhood, calling a friend or family member who lifts you up, and doing anything else that makes you feel good, and isn’t based on your partner’s actions, can make a powerful difference.
The key to getting these small actions to actually help is that you’re doing them to support yourself, not to change into a person you think your partner will be more likely to stay with. Do it for you, the person you’ll always be in a relationship with.