Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I don't even know where to start or how to say this.
My wife is lying to me about using birth control.
We're pregnant with our fourth child even though my wife said she had an IUD placed after the birth of our third child. We've had a baby a year for the last four years, give or take, and I can't catch my breath.
We discussed and had agreed after our third child that our family was complete, and I was very willing, still am, to schedule a vasectomy. She was hesitant and blew up at me when I brought it up again and said she'd get an IUD instead.
I believe very strongly that only she has the right to make choices about her body, but IUD family planning was her idea, something she researched and said she was comfortable with and that she preferred to other methods. Even so, our third and fourth children have been "surprises" from failed birth control. I feel manipulated, depressed, and exhausted. This is the first time I've ever really admitted this, even though I think I've always known.
Since it's tax season, I needed to get our insurance paperwork together for my reimbursement plan, and there is no record of my wife getting an IUD. When I asked her about getting the office visit and pharmacy record for reimbursement, she told me it "fell out" and that she was pregnant with our 4th child. If it fell out, there should still be reimbursement documentation from the pharmacy and the doctor's office.
I'm making a lot of sacrifices while my wife's life hasn't changed much.
I took a job with better pay but a terrible commute and an awful culture to bring in more money. I do pre-school runs, and my parents provide child care for free. I make breakfast, do bath time, storytime, bedtime, and all the in-betweens, doctor's appointments, and working with our firstborn's occupational therapists. My wife has never even met with our son's OT and learning assistance team. I pick the kids up from my parent's house after work even though my wife gets out of work three hours before I do, goes in later than I do, and works ten minutes from home while I have a very long commute.
She gets frustrated having to parent while I try to get dinner started and then furious with me that I don't "pitch in enough.” I do the dishes, the laundry, the lunch packing, the playdates, the birthday parties, and holiday plans. I’m up at night feeding, I'm potty training, changing sheets, diapers, PJs. I'm doing all of it. I'm the picture-perfect modern woke dad.
My wife doesn't even have car seats in her car. I can't remember the last time she spent any time with the kids without me, and she sleeps with earbuds in.
I love my kids, but my wife is not being honest with me about family planning and has just checked out of being a parent. I mentioned getting a vasectomy again, and she got furious, saying that she has the right to decide when we're done having kids.
I feel like she just likes the attention of being pregnant but doesn't like being a parent.
She didn't speak to me for a week when I said I didn't want to participate in a big social media pregnancy photoshoot and reveal. The only time she spends with our kids is when she's posing them for pictures on Instagram or Facebook.
I haven't had an hour to myself in years. I don't know the last time I had a full night's sleep. I work, and I parent, that's all I do. My wife has hobbies and girls trips with her friends, movie nights with her sisters, "mom only" spa days.
This whole thing makes me feel gross and lost and manipulated, and I don't know what to do.
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I have two kids—a toddler and a teenager. My husband and I both work and share kid duties. And I am EXHAUSTED. It is not surprising to me that you feel that way too. Adding to this, an unequal partnership and lack of transparency from your wife, and your feelings seem quite valid to me.
Lying about contraception and reproductive decisions in a partnership is not okay; it’s reproductive coercion.
Reproductive coercion, as defined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “involves behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent. This behavior includes explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against her will, control outcomes of a pregnancy, coerce a partner to have unprotected sex, and interfere with contraceptive methods.”
The term is often used to describe ways in which cishet men perpetrate this type of abuse against cishet women. But this is not gender-exclusive behavior.
While your wife may not be physically coercing you into sex, she is eliminating you from reproductive decision making.
Based on everything you wrote in your email, I would feel depressed and manipulated, too.
With three kids and another on the way, it is imperative that you get some outside help here. And by outside help, I don’t mean a nanny. I mean a therapist. This level of dishonesty speaks to a more significant issue within your marriage. Marriage counseling seems like a must. And, I suggest you seek individual therapy as well. This is very tricky territory, with boundaries and honesty, and I think this is best unraveled with the help of a professional.
In the meantime, in a neutral moment, sit your wife down and write out a plan for dividing the childcare duties.
Be direct and calm about how much you are struggling. Maybe by writing it all down, it will become clearer on just where the bulk of the workload has been falling. Perhaps she really feels that you’re not pitching in as much as you are. By getting things down on paper, it will feel less personal and more objective.
Please, please, please, get some professional guidance from a therapist. If this marriage is going to survive, this dynamic has to change.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, what I’m listening to, Amblygonite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden.
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