Still, about three weeks into parenthood, it finally dawned on me: This problem wasn’t one to wait out. It wasn’t going to go away. It wasn’t going to fix itself. I’d have to find a way to get rid of it. So, I did what any other self-respecting self-help junkie would do: I started collecting advice.
I searched the Internet, of course, as well as the library. This was a lot harder than it sounds. Most of the relationship advice online was generic, to say the least. And the books I found didn’t seem to address parenting. What I need, I decided, is real stories, real experiences. I need to call a few friends.
My first choice: calm, collected mother of four, Marianne.
Marianne was one of the happiest people I knew, and for good reason: She had the whole Zen thing figured out. While my habit was to analyze a problem from every angle, suffocating it with my prolonged attention, Mare knew how to just finesse things away. She knew how to let things be until they weren’t—until they either died of boredom or left.
“Is this normal?” I asked after briefly explaining the situation. “Is this just the way new dads are?” What I really wanted to ask, though, was more personal, more probing: What had Marianne’s own husband been like when their kids were born? But I didn’t dare.
“I don’t know if it’s normal,” Marianne replied. “But is that really the question you should be asking? Or should you just ask if it’s something you can live with? If you’re okay with what he’s doing, or if you’re not?”
Sensible advice, I thought, taking a deep breath. Balanced, like Marianne herself. Maybe I should call Emily and ask her what she thinks.
Maybe I asked the wrong person.
“Yeah, sure, I get it,” I said. “There are no right answers, and all that. But what would you do if you were me? If you had this situation to deal with?”
“I know you want advice. All I can say is, think it over. Take a long walk. Pray about it a little. I know you’re not religious, but try it, anyway. Then get really quiet and ask yourself what the answer is.”
“That’s all you got?”
“Okay. And let me know what happens.”
Yeah, I thought as I hung up the phone. I definitely asked the wrong person. I don’t need philosophy. What I need is help. I know. I’ll call Gen instead.
“I need to fix this,” I whispered to Genevieve later that evening after I’d moved out of the office and away from Matthew. “I’m hormonal, and I’m miserable, when I should be the happiest I’ve ever been. This sucks. There must be something I can do.”
“I know. There should be. There’s got to be,” said Gen. “It’s almost impossible that nothing you can do will make a difference.”
“Exactly,” I said. “You get it. My fellow control freak. So, let’s come up with some ideas.”
“Have you read any marriage books yet?”
“Of course I have.”
“Of course you have. So? What did they say?”
“Meh. The usual stuff. They were pretty bland. Nothing I haven’t heard before.”
“Maybe you read the wrong ones. Or maybe you need to branch out a bit. You know what I would do? I’d look for relationship advice in other kinds of books.”
“Like spiritual books. And parenting books. And psychology books—happiness research, that kind of thing.”
“Woah. Hold on there. You lost me at parenting books. I’m not going to have time for all that reading.”
“So skim it. Do what you can. I’ll give you my notes, too. You can keep a journal of everything you learn that might help. What I’ve noticed is that when it comes to self-improvement stuff, if I don’t write it down somewhere and keep a checklist, I forget it.”
“Hmmm. All right. That does make sense. If nothing else, it’ll make me feel like I’m doing something.”
“No, it’ll work, Rachel. The answers are out there somewhere. You’re not the first person to have these problems.”
“No, I’m not. But that doesn’t mean they’re solvable.”
“Rachel. Snap out of it. Matthew is great. He’s not perfect, but he’s … basically normal. It’s hard to see it when you’re mad, but trust me. He’s fixable. If anybody is fixable, he is.”
“So what you’re saying is I should try to change my partner? Isn’t that supposed to be the worst relationship advice ever?”
“They only bad advice is the advice that doesn’t work. And if you never try, you’ll never know.”
“That is true.”
I hung up. I put Poppy in her swing, then, while making dinner, considered both my friends’ advice.
I love Gen’s practicality, I thought. But Marianne’s advice is easier. I think a long walk is in order.
After a short dinner, I told Matt I’d be back in an hour. I put Poppy in the stroller and headed to a well-lit park. As I walked, I spoke out loud about my feelings, about my anger, about each and every perceived relationship problem. Then, I did as Marianne instructed: I got very quiet, and imagined my higher self giving me advice. It took just a few minutes for a small miracle to occur.
For the first time, I clearly heard her inner voice.
It was just a sentence—just a handful of words—and I heard it only in her thoughts, silently. But it came with a knowing, with a rightness, with a force. And the words were definitely not my own. They were: “Change your story about Matthew.”
What the hell was that? That was my first reaction. It was followed by, Where did it come from?
Was it an angel? Or did I make it up myself? Naw. That’s the last thing I’d come up with. Denial? Can’t be good. Especially about my marriage.
My subconscious is smarter than that.
I took a deep breath. Then another, and another. “It’s time to head back,” I said to Poppy.
On the way home, something strange happened. The sentence I heard changed shape in my mind. I found myself remembering the early days of my relationship with Matthew, when things were so simple, so easy. Rare were the times when I questioned Matthew’s character or motives, even when I disagreed with his choice. When he didn’t bring me flowers on her birthday, for instance, he just wasn’t into romantic displays. When he lost his temper over a tricky repair job, he was just tired or hungry.
Change your story about Matthew, I repeated to myself. Yeah, there is some truth there. Matthew isn’t without flaws. But he’s who he is. He’s doing the best he can.
Like all of us, he’s learning. He’s trying. And when I remember that, our disagreements don’t feel quite so horrible.
When I got home, I gave Matthew the baby and started getting ready for bed. As I did, she noticed something: she felt better. Lighter. Less angry, more hopeful that things would work out.
So this is what all those religious people feel, I thought, adjusting my blankets.
I felt a little transformed.
“Change your story.” It just might work. But can I actually do it?
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.