The more understandably annoyed my wife becomes with my antics (“You’re almost 40, when are you going to stop with the prank emails?”), the more enamored she seems to become with her pint-size prince in diapers. And I can’t help but feel resentful of the attention he receives, even if I find him just as enamoring.
I’ve all but lost my ability to charm my way back into my wife’s good graces these days. Little boyfriend, on the other hand, can take a permanent marker to her favorite dress, and all he has to do is look at her with those dreamy eyes and say his trademark anger-defusing phrase: “I like ya hair.” Those words in that lispy, high-pitched voice get my wife every time. How could they not? In terms of cuteness, it’s the sonic equivalent of sleepy Boston terrier puppies.
Even though I can’t stop these little twinges of jealousy, I do appreciate the absurdity of it all. And according to experts, the ability to laugh at one’s self can be a wonderful coping mechanism. “Jealousy doesn’t feel good,” said Marissa Zwetow, L.M.F.T., a California-based family therapist who specializes in maternal mental health. “So to have the humor to be able to laugh at ourselves and come out of it and say, ‘This is common. This is normal’ — that allows us to connect with others and know we’re not alone in how we feel.”
If humor alone isn’t enough, just being open about how you’re feeling is a healthy approach. “I would recommend having open conversations, sharing how you feel and using ‘I’ statements to take responsibility for the feelings you’re having,” said Michelle Bell, Psy.D., a psychologist and owner of Inwood Family Guidance and Psychological Services in New York. And to prevent these nagging feelings from morphing into something more serious, Dr. Bell said, “The best thing you can do is tend to your partnership. That’s the foundation.”
When she talked about sharing my feelings using “I” statements, Dr. Bell probably meant with my spouse — not scores of strangers from all corners of the internet. But this is one of the most effective ways in which my wife and I communicate. My parenting-related essays — essays that tend to include incredibly personal details about life in the Bilski household — usually leave my wife laughing, sometimes spur further conversations about difficult subjects and almost always bring us closer together. When I showed her this essay for the first time, she not only loved the subject but also offered some significant copy editing help (“You’re sending it like this to The New York Times?!”).
It wasn’t easy to admit I’m jealous of my own son, so it’s good to know my wife wasn’t appalled and was even amused. That’s why I want to remember this feeling. I suspect it will help make me a more empathetic partner. I can even foresee the day my son starts dating. When he does and my wife feels that unfamiliar gut punch, she may ask, “This can’t be jealousy I’m feeling, can it?” I’ll be right there to say, “Yes, yes it can.”
[My marriage has a third wheel: our child.]
Jared Bilski is a writer and comedian who is raising two toddlers on a creek in Pennsylvania. He wants you to follow him on Twitter @JaredBilski, but he’s not going to beg.