Issue 45 –
The Top Ten Challenges to Relationship:
Keeping Your Love Alive Amid Life’s Routines
Challenge 5: Children
We devoted chapter 8 to the effect of children on relationships because it is so common for children to replace the partner as our primary linkage. They are a marvelous gift but, just because they are so fascinating and delicious, they are also an almost irresistible distraction from the primary relationship. For many of us, it is the easiest thing in the world to shift our primary linkage from our partners to our children.
Basically, when a baby is born, the mother must bond to the new infant so that it will flourish. This usually means that, at least for a while, she will shift her primary linkage from the relationship to the child. These days with the increasing involvement of fathers in child rearing, the father is likely to shift his primary linkage to the child as well, for the same reason the mothers have done so in the past. It feels good.
It is absolutely necessary for both parents to realize how important it is for themselves, their relationship, and the well-being of their children, to stay connected to one another. This means that they will do whatever is necessary to maintain their own linkage.
When the linkage between partners is broken because one partner shifts the primary linkage to the child, the other partner is left hanging out alone, like an atom with an unpaired electron commonly known as a free radical. This “free radical” will look for someone or something else to bond to. Then any of these other “challenges” we have been discussing may become the object of the primary linkage. Let’s see what this can look like.
John and Jane have just had a baby after eight years of marriage. Before the birth of the child, John and Jane were inseparable. Jane taught school full time and John worked in computer software development. Now that the baby, Nancy, has entered the scene, Jane has taken a leave of absence from teaching, she is busy all the time and her primary linkage shifts from John to the baby. John feels rejected and is a bit worried about money, but he does not like to feel vulnerable so he does the sensible thing. He spends more and more time at work. After all, there are more bills to be paid and Jane is no longer teaching full time. Now Jane is linked to the baby and John is linked to his work. But there is a problem, a big one, their connection is no longer primary.
Sometimes the primary connection remains within the family but instead of being between the parents, it shifts to the children. Each partner links to a different child. The mother’s primary connection may be to her son and the father’s to his daughter. One parent may connect to the most successful child while the other parent’s primary connection is to the most needy child. If there is a single child, it sometimes happens that both parents’ primary linkage is to the same child.
If you have children ask yourself these questions: Is your primary linkage to your partner or to your children? What about your partner’s primary connection, is it to you or to a child? When did you and your partner last take time to be alone and to reconnect in intimate ways that did not include your children?