I recently overheard some heated conversations about a book called How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids. I didn’t think too much of it until I met the author Jancee Dunn and realized she was normal, cool, and didn’t seem like the type of self-help writer I would have guessed. So I decided to read the book and ask her some of the questions that I knew would come to me while reading it.
In fact, in turns out Jancee was a classic cool girl and former reporter with Rolling Stone. And I was supposed to interview the experienced celebrity interviewer. I wasn’t sure I was up to that, but Jancee was super nice.
Me: I found myself reading and thinking about how my husband didn’t do this awful thing or that awful thing your husband was doing at the start of the book. He and I both do our own things of course, but it is easy not to think about that when reading someone else’s specific experience.
Did you possibly exaggerate your husband’s behavior just a tad..? So that people would feel better about their own husbands?
Jancee: No, I did not! Sometimes I even downplayed his behavior a little. I definitely wanted to get across that he certainly wasn’t a bad guy—he was just a little clueless. When our baby was born, we quickly locked into a pattern that I see again and again, particularly if you’re breastfeeding: the woman wakes up at night to feed the baby, is, in fact, the food, and is up early feeding the baby. So right away, you’re starting off on unequal footing—and in our case, it snowballed. And particularly during the first year, you both are on such a steep learning curve that you really have no time or energy to analyze who is doing what. And little by little, I started doing virtually all of the childcare and housework, even though we were both writers who worked from home.
But then, after my daughter was around two, I kind of caught my breath and looked around. Not only was my husband well-slept and bright-eyed, but he was in the best shape of his life because he had taken up long distance cycling. He would go on cycling trips for the weekend (and sometimes for a week.) He took up running, and surfing, too. He would literally run away. In the meantime, I was haggard. We were like the two sides of Dorian Gray’s mirror.
So that’s when I realized that things had to change. And he wasn’t actively trying to oppress me, or laughing maniacally while I did all the work or anything. He was just doing what he always did. Things didn’t change much for him when our daughter arrived.
But I have talked to so many women who have a second baby, right about that time that I started looking around and saying, ‘wait a minute.’ So then they are in the whirlwind of caring for another baby, and the pattern really gets locked in.
Me: Do you think the screaming therapist from Boston helped your relationship? It seems like it did, yet you seemed reluctant to say so. Do you think everyone needs to be shaken up a bit?
Jancee: It helped tremendously, but I didn’t want to seem too credulous that one very long day could make a difference. But in fact, it really did—our session with him set our marriage on a completely different course. I do think everyone needs to be shaken up a bit, and for me, it was fascinating and weirdly exciting to have an outside party listen to your worst most private behavior and then in extremely blunt terms, tell you what you are doing wrong. He told me that when I got mad and called my husband nasty names, it was verbal abuse. “It stops today!” I remember him yelling, and by and large, it did.
Me: I was shocked by the woman who said “why bother” about your sex experiment that seems to have been successful in rekindling your sex life (a 10-day streak!). As a former anonymous sex columnist (yes, do your research folks), were you shocked by how many post-child couples are uninterested in sex?
Jancee: I wasn’t shocked because when I was the sex columnist at GQ, I heard this over and over. I hear from so many new mothers who are just ‘touched out’ by their children all day and exhausted. Sex is something they deprioritize. I know couples who have gone a few years without sex. But there is plenty of research that shows how important it is to maintain that connection and keep those bonding chemicals circulating. I cited a survey of over 30,000 sex therapists who said the ideal amount of sex, no matter how long you’ve been together, is once a week. Which is do-able, right? I had several sex therapists tell me that scheduling sex may not sound sexy, but it stops the cycle of rejection that straight couples who are new parents often get into, in which the man is the initiator, and the woman says, ‘wait, you’re grabbing my boobs now?’
Me: Now that you are known for this book, do strangers tell you personal relationship problems everywhere you go? How do you handle that?
Jancee: You can’t believe the things I’ve heard. I actually love hearing it all—not only because many women are in real pain and distress, and I am thrilled if my book can help, but also because it makes me feel less alone. Talking about it takes away some of the stigma. When my book came out, some of my friends confessed things to me about the terrible fights they had gotten into with their husbands, and I had no idea at the time—and these were really good friends. There’s a lot of shame around fighting with your spouse, especially during what’s supposed to be this blissful time. There’s enough pressure on people to be perfect parents.
Me: In that case, I have something I want to tell you [Redacted] xxxx Just kidding.. Next Question…
How has this book affected the dynamic of your relationship now that the initial crazy release promotion and high is over? Would you do it again–the book I mean?
Jancee: We now have systems in place, so we’re in maintenance mode. Which sounds like we’re on Weight Watchers or something, but it’s much easier now because we know what to do. One organizer and time management expert whom I interviewed in the book said, ‘systems work,’ and she’s right. So we have a blueprint for solving conflicts, for example, from the couples therapists John and Julie Gottman. And when you start dealing with each other like grownups, if you raise your voice or get nasty, it sounds strange and out of place. And we started over and split up every single thing around the house so now it feels more equitable. We check in regularly and don’t let anything fester, which is deadly.
And our child is much happier—it was amazing and upsetting to see how she was directly and immediately affected by our improved relationship. When Tom and I were fighting, we were doing that thing where we were terse with each other but unfailingly sweet to our daughter. Well, kids aren’t stupid, right? She picked up on everything. So things at home are lighter, and easier, and much more fun these days.
Thank you so much Jancee for answering my questions. I learned a lot.