Though more and more men are independently pursuing and seeking counseling for marital issues (which I respect, appreciate and encourage!), historically, it has begun with the wife scheduling an individual session with me, trying to understand why her husband seems to be so unhappy in their marriage and with his life-- and why it seems like he is not longer attracted to her. Countless times, I've heard the statement "He just seems so unhappy. I keep asking him what is wrong, and he just won't open up and talk to me. He just seems angry."
As a therapist, it is such a relief to me, to see the culture slowly changing in how we raise our boys. Unfortunately, being a man in today's world can be confusing, discouraging, and overwhelming. We are in a movement towards healthy identification and expression of feelings by both boys and men, but it can be an extremely difficult thing for many men to do-- especially if they weren't raised to talk about their feelings in their family growing up.
Many men did not learn healthy intimacy with verbally sharing feelings and emotions in relationships. Perhaps they never learned to words to express feelings, or perhaps they view it as "weak" or "needy". If your husband struggles with being emotionally vulnerable with you, the likelihood of him sharing the things he is truly unhappy about is slim. Or, perhaps he only gets silent and withdrawn/moody/angry. This, in turn, leaves you guessing what might be wrong.
Today, we finish up with the last two complaints that we commonly hear from husbands about why they are struggling with feeling attracted to their wife, and why they are unhappy in their marriage. If you haven't read this week's earlier blog series for parts 1-4, please go back and read them, so you don't miss out on something that might relate to your marriage!
Constant Criticism (over-criticism) vs. Healthy Complaints
How often have you found yourself exasperated with your husband for doing/not doing something that you have asked him to repeatedly do/not do? Perhaps you started off by being gentle, and over time, you dropped your gentleness, and are now just full-blown CRITICAL of him. "Honey, I really need you to let me know ahead of time if you are planning to go golfing over the weekend, so I know what to expect" (a healthy complaint), becomes "all you think about is yourself and golf! I am not important to you, and clearly I'm not a priority in your life! You are so selfish!" (a direct criticism of your husband as a person).
Perhaps you are a naturally critical person, with high expectations of yourself AND others, so criticism comes more naturally to you than compliments or affirmations? If this is you, and you can be honest with yourself that you tend to be overly critical, or if your spouse has told you that you tend to be critical, pay attention to this, and know that it is slowly eroding your husbands connection with you. After all, who wants to be around someone (especially your wife), who feels like you can't ever do anything right?
This doesn't mean that you never bring up what is bothering you. It only means that you would benefit from learning how to share a complaint in a healthy way, as opposed to sharing it in a way that tears down your husbands self-worth. It's important to find more balance with your ratio of affirmation to complaints that you share with him. Being critical only decreases your chances of your husband wanting to be vulnerable with you. And isn't that the very thing you are needing from him?
Controlling/over-limiting fun, hobbies, freedoms of your husband
I am a firm believer (in my therapeutic approach) that when each person in the marriage has appropriate freedoms outside of the marriage to fill their own "tank", it only provides more for that person to give back to the marital relationship IF DONE WITH BALANCE.
Does this mean you should be okay with your husband never being with you and your children, spending all of his time with his buddies or in extracurricular activities that take away from your family? Absolutely not.
Each couple system is different with what that balance looks like. But, finding what is realistic and sustainable for your marriage, and what each individual actually NEEDS, in order to feel like they are living a balanced life, is an important discussion to have. And, unfortunately, it's one that many couples never discuss before marriage and during the different transitional times in their relationship (for example, after the birth of the first child). Most couples run into trouble when they aren't directly and openly talking about what that balance looks like.
If one person is an introvert and needs very little time with friends and doing hobbies, but the other is an extrovert and needs a lot of social time/hobby time, this can be a problem. Often times, we put our own needs and expectations on another person of what we feel is the "right" way to be, but that might not actually be what helps your husband be the best version of himself. After all, you married your husband because of the individual he was-- would you want him to lose that individuality? Probably not. It's far more likely that you just need him to show the same commitment to your relationship as he does to his extracurricular activities, so that you feel valued, as well.
So, instead of just telling your husband "no" to every thing he wants to do that doesn't involve you, try to speak more vulnerably to him first. This might involve sharing with him that it's important to you that you reserve the weekends for couple/family time, with the exception of one day/afternoon (or whatever feels like the right balance to you), and ask if the two of you can commit to that as a couple. This might include sharing with him that his lack of presence in your marriage creates loneliness for you, but you understand how important his personal interests are, and you want to respect that. Or, it might involve asking him to make a commitment that if he does something fun outside of the marriage/family relationship, that he spontaneously gives the same amount of time back to the relationship, so that balance is restored.
Finally, if you agree to balance as a couple, do not "punish" your husband for the things you agreed to. "Punishment" can include things like silent treatment, passive aggressive comments ("Well, I'm sure you had fun golfing, since you seem to be married to golf more than you are married to me"), direct criticisms (see above), or withholding (see earlier blog posts from this week). These more than likely will only increase his dissatisfaction in the marriage.
Remember, having healthy boundaries and limits are very important to marriage. Being rigid and controlling is destructive to marriage.
As always, I remind my clients that I can't speak for their husband, nor would I want to. This blog post is not a replacement for your husband speaking for himself, not is it a substitute for marriage counseling. Unless physical abuse is a part of the marriage, I recommend and strongly encourage BOTH parts of the couple to come into sessions together, so we can gain a better understanding of what is going on in the marriage.
But what happens if your husband refuses to come to sessions with you? Go by yourself! Counseling has helped many wives understand some of the underlying factors to why her husband might be so unhappy in their marriage, or why they seem like they are no longer attracted to them. Armed with new knowledge and insight, she can do a better job in fixing her part of what is hurting the relationship. Relationships don't happen in a vacuum. It truly does take both people gaining awareness into their role in the marital issues. And you never know... once your husband sees your willingness to look at your own part in the marital issues, he might decide to do his own work, and see the benefit of marriage counseling.
Next week we will do the counter-part to this week's blog series: Why is Your Wife Not Attracted to You? So, make sure to check back with us next week! As always, thank you for joining us at Imagine Hope Counseling.
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.