Spouse, like children, needs attention


September 25, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"It's hard to believe that after 28 years we'd be talking about divorce," says Maureen, 48, a tiny, soft-spoken woman. For most of those years, Maureen devoted herself to her family: She and Nat have eight biological children and four adopted, though only the youngest two are at home now. "I've always had tremendous energy, I don't need a lot of sleep and, more than anything, I love -- and am very good at -- being a mother."

Maureen can't put her finger on when the problems first started: Over the years, she got more and more engrossed in the children, Nat got engrossed in his job as vice president of a large metallurgy company, and they grew further apart. A few years ago, Nat rented a small apartment in the city to break up his two-hour commute to the office. Because he often stays there during the week, by the time he comes home on weekends, so much has happened it's hard for him to catch up.

"I know that some days I don't take the time to explain things," Maureen admits. But many of his comments rub her the wrong way: "When Nat says, 'How could you let Nat Jr. do that?' or 'Why did you give that to Marie?' my back goes up," she states. "I've been handling everything and everybody for so long, who is he to criticize and second-guess me?"

She has no patience for his complaint that he's last on her list of people to pay attention to. "What does he expect?" she snaps. "He's a grown man. He can't always be No. 1."

vTC Nat, 50, groans when he hears that. "No. 1? Who is she kidding?" he says in a booming voice. "No. 17 is more like it."

Nat is angry: "I'm a stranger in my own home," he says. Just because he works long hours and often has to stay in the city to entertain clients doesn't mean he doesn't care about his family and want to know what they're up to, he says. "I'm not interrogating her," Nat explains. "I'm the father, remember?"

But that's not his only complaint. At home they have no privacy, he says, because Maureen makes it clear that the kids can march right into their bedroom any time of the day or night. "What can I say?" he sighs. "I have a wife and 12 kids, and I'm lonely. Maureen is a wonderful mother, but it would be nice to hear her say,'I love you,' once in a while. She can do it for the kids -- why not for me?"

Put the marriage first

"What Maureen doesn't realize is that the greatest gift she can give her children is her own happy marriage," notes marriage counselor Paul Moschetta. Maureen has been so busy doing for her children, she's put her marriage on the back burner. As a result, these two people share a home and little else.

Like Maureen and Nat, couples who focus completely on their children soon discover that the children are the only glue that holds them together. It doesn't have to be that way. The following five rules can help you strike a balance between the demands of your family and your growth as a couple:

* Pay attention to each other. While parents often shower attention on the kids, as Maureen does, they may unwittingly stop being affectionate toward each other. Remember to flirt: a whisper in the ear, a hug, a note tucked into a briefcase or a kiss for no reason at all help you stay connected.

* Go away together -- just the two of you. This is especially tough for two-career parents who, at work all day, already feel swamped with guilt. But therapists insist that couple time away (a night or a weekend is ideal, but lunch or dinner out is good start) is not only good for you, it's good for the kids.

* Nurture gratitude. Instead of thinking about all the things your partner doesn't do, think about the things he does do. Compliment each other, be gracious and polite. Too often, couples forget the importance of simply being nice.

* Remember that you have a right to your privacy as a couple. Make sure children respect your private time. If that means closing the bedroom door and locking it or putting up a sign that says "Don't knock unless you're bleeding," do it.

* Give yourselves permission to play. When both parents are overworked and highly stressed, the needs of a spouse can feel like one more too-heavy burden. Try to recapture the fun you used to have. Being able to laugh eases the tension and takes the edge out of anger.

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