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We have a newborn and marital problems

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  November 1, 2010 09:10 AM

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Q: I've been a huge LL fan from the beginning. I'm sad to join the ranks of those needing your sage advice, Meredith, but here goes.

My husband and I are going through a rough patch. Really rough. We've been together for over a decade. He told me (while I was seven months pregnant with our second child!) that he didn't love me anymore. I was floored. My husband has a history of freak-outs before major life changes (getting married, having our first child, etc.), so I asked him to wait on it, and to at least pretend to love me (yes, I did debase myself this much) until the baby was born, for the sake of the baby.

I sensed this freak-out was different. Normally he just withdraws into his little "man cave" and is really quiet and freaked -- but he never says he doesn't love me. He slept on the couch by his choice. I waited it out.

Baby is here and things are not better. He hates all the extra work the new baby entails and makes little comments all the time about how unhappy he is with his life. Ouch, ouch, ouch. We start couples therapy next week. But life has been excruciating -- the desire for separation is not mutual. Two weeks ago, he finally admitted (during a tearful breakdown, after I told him I was taking the kids to live with my mother) that he is profoundly depressed and can't imagine ever being happy again -- and even said that this wasn't about me, that it was about him. I've never seen him so vulnerable. I promised to help him be happy again. I want to keep that promise and hope to heal my trampled heart. He has slipped back into being pretty nasty to me, but we start therapy soon so I have hope.

My question for you, then, since we are starting therapy soon ...

Should I stop saying "I love you"?

He never says it back and it's like a dagger to my heart every time. Part of me thinks no -- if the depression did this to him, maybe consistently showing my love will help. However, the other part of me can't take the (almost) daily rejection and wonders if I'm just smothering him. I've always said "I love you" with a kiss as he left for work. Now, even if I lean in for the kiss, he turns his head so I kiss his cheek -- and it takes everything in me to keep a straight face and not cry in front of the kids.

What do you think I should do?

– Heartbroken New Mom, Boston

A: There's a lot going on here, HNM, so I'm going to focus on your specific question: Should I stop saying "I love you"?

My advice is to stop saying it if you're trying to provoke a specific response. Stop pretending. Stop trying to get him to fake it. All you're doing is stressing everybody out. Showering him with love means that you have to deal with constant rejection, and that he has to choose between disappointing you and giving you an answer he's not sure about. Don't push the disingenuous sweet talk.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know that you need to start using your energy to support yourself. "I promised to help him be happy again." You said it yourself -- this isn't about you. He's in charge of his own happiness.

Instead of telling your husband that you'll work to make him happy, ask him practical questions. Does he have any plan for coping as a family while this is all being figured out? As him how he wants to get through the next few days/weeks/months. Ask him if he can refrain from being a jerk during this process -- it's not good for anyone.

I was at a wedding over the weekend (my third this month), and the couple had that famous quote in their program about falling in love with the same person more than once. I think it goes, "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." The quote implies that at some point, you'll fall out of love, maybe more than once. You have to want to fall back in, and I hope he does. But if he doesn't, you're going to be OK. Every time you have the urge to say an insecure "I love you" to your husband, say it in the mirror.

And good luck.

Readers? She's got a lot going on here, but should she be professing her love? Can they figure this out? How can they be honest without hurting each other? Help.

– Meredith

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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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