Dear Ms. Peirano,

My wife and I have been married for eight years and have two children (daughter, 3 years, and son, 7 months). I work a lot, we decided that, and my wife is currently on parental leave.

She is someone who is very perfectionist and worries a lot about little things. She quickly becomes stressed and overwhelmed. An example: At our daughter’s birthday party, she bakes three cakes herself, cleans the whole house and also matches the color of the napkins to the plates. The family comes in the afternoon, the next day is the children’s birthday, everything is perfectly prepared and there is even food for the parents of the guest children.

I often tell her that she should be more relaxed about it, after all, it’s just a children’s birthday party for a three-year-old, and everyone would be better served if my wife wasn’t so tense. But she doesn’t want to know anything about it. On the contrary: it gets me hooked as soon as I enter the house. I would like to play with the children at the same time, put them to bed at the right time, make dinner, ask them about their day and then clean the kitchen perfectly according to their instructions.

When I want to go out, she always finds reasons why I can’t. I used to play handball and would like to do it regularly again, at least once a week and occasionally for a game on the weekend. But my wife doesn’t like that. She blames me for being alone with the children on weekends. She complains that I work so much and am there so little for the children. I finance our house and most of our living expenses!

Whenever I want to go out with friends or spend a weekend with my wife (e.g. because there’s a wedding coming up), my wife thinks first about the children and turns the fancy dinner with friends into a family afternoon with friends’ families and their children. Instead of going to a wedding in a castle as a couple and having time for us again, she booked a family apartment and took the children with her, even though children weren’t particularly welcome at this wedding.

The bottom line is that I feel like the dad and breadwinner, but I don’t feel like myself anymore. And my wife is just a mother and hardly has time for me. I notice that I’m becoming more and more dissatisfied, but I can’t talk to her. She quickly becomes reproachful or insulted.

One more thing: I don’t get any recognition from her at all, instead she always has something to complain about, demands even more from me and finds many reasons why I’m not doing something right. There are already the first separations in our circle of friends and I sometimes wonder whether that wouldn’t be a better path for me.

What is your assessment?

Best regards, Patrick P.

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on

Dear Patrick P.,

20 years ago, I often had women in therapy who were overwhelmed by the children, the household and their own jobs. Of course, this topic is still very common today. In recent years, however, men who have found themselves in a similar situation to you have often come to therapy. They had one or more children, took their role as fathers seriously, and at the same time had a demanding job and did not feel comfortable at home with their families.

On the one hand, they lacked time for themselves, on the other hand, there was hardly any time for togetherness and intimacy with their wife, and on top of that, they often felt criticized, patronized and not taken seriously by their wife.

It won’t surprise you if I tell you that most of these stories either ended in a breakup or an affair and then a breakup. In the years leading up to a separation there was a lot of frustration, sometimes aggression and arguments, sometimes quiet withdrawal and even inner termination. So everyone involved in these families suffered for a long time and didn’t get their money’s worth. I have great understanding for your situation! It sounds like your wife is alone in setting the rules for everyone to live by and is unwilling to work with you to consider how you want to live.

It also sounds as if your wife has excessive expectations of herself as a mother and of you as a father and wants to live out a kind of modern Bullerbü: perfect children’s birthdays, a constantly clean and presentable house, a good network of other families (with who may also have underlying competition for the gold medal as the best parents). Your wife seems to have somehow lost herself as an individual and independent person in the struggle with her role as a mother. It may be that she is underlyingly frustrated that she is not allowing herself to relax and live independently, and is compensating for this frustration by being an even better mother.

I can recommend two books to women who read this article and identify with your wife’s behavior:

The School of Women by Iris Radisch

The exhaustion of women: Against female availability by Franziska Schutzbach.

I think that it will hardly be possible to change anything in your family structure if your wife is not prepared to question herself and rethink things.

That’s why I would recommend that you seriously tell your wife how you feel and how dissatisfied you are. At this point it would also be legitimate to tell her about your thoughts about separation so that she understands the seriousness of the situation. Because it sounds as if your wife is also unreflectively projecting her own focus on the (supposed) well-being of the children and her own role as a mother onto you. She probably expects that you also have the same idea of ​​a perfect family and are happy to sacrifice everything for it.

Since there is resistance and conflict when talking to your wife alone, I would recommend that you go to couples counseling with your wife and work on your ideas about a successful family life. It is possible that your wife did not have the perfect family in her own childhood that she now wants to offer her children and is overcompensating for her childhood injuries with a perfect Bullerbü mother life.

It is important that you repeatedly emphasize that you do not want to live like this. You want to have time for yourself, i.e. for sport, relaxation and your friends, and as an adult couple you also want to have time with your wife for caresses, conversations and nice things to do.

Of course, the time each of you has in this phase is limited. You have very young children and you work a lot. And yet it is important to consciously make time for each other and to have your partner’s back so that you stay in touch with yourself, your needs and stay healthy.

You can make it clear to your wife that a family is not a prison, but a place where you feel comfortable and enjoy contributing. And where you can also relax. Because one thing becomes very clear from the stories of mothers and fathers of adult children: the workload NEVER gets easier or less on its own! One might hope that things will finally get better and more relaxed after Christmas or after the children start school, but that is a fallacy. There is always something broken, there are a lot of tasks to do, there are always conflicts in the family or at work.

It’s like a too short tablecloth that you pull to the left so that the table is covered there. But that leaves the right side of the table bare. And if you pull the cloth back to the right, the left is uncovered.

I would advise all families who feel overwhelmed to get a lot of help and thereby relieve themselves. A few suggestions: a cleaning assistant who comes several times a week or even a household helper who also cooks and irons or takes the children to the playground and then goes shopping. An organic box or an order from the supermarket with groceries to be delivered. An au pair might even be helpful during this time. If there are no grandparents, you can also find volunteer grandparents online who like to read to children or go to the theater with them. You could also hire a babysitter yourself and train him so that you can go to handball training regularly. In this way you would show your wife that you care for yourself without burdening her with the freedom you have gained.

I hope that you will use your dissatisfaction as an opportunity to work with your wife on a more relaxed and happier family model. You probably still have a good chance of using this crisis as an opportunity for growth and change. Many couples wait too long before getting help and working on their relationship. Then as a couples therapist you can usually only determine that the relationship has not been alive for a long time and therefore cannot be saved.

I wish you a lot of strength, courage and persistence in changing the rules of the game for living together!

Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano

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