My wife and I have been married for nearly 4 years, but have been together for 7 years. She as of late has told me she has emotionally checked out of our relationship because she feels more like a mom raising me and my son rather than me being a husband. She complains I have turned her into a nagging b*@%h, the thing she never wanted to become. I love my wife and want to do whatever it takes to show her that I am the man she married 4 years ago and I am not her second “child” but her rock. What kind of things can I do to change my wife’s opinion of our relationship for the better? What kind of goals can I set to make me a better husband?
Dear L –
It’s time to panic my friend. 7 years plus a kid seem to be the magic formula for divorce these days. What you need to do next is entirely dependent on your wife’s actual complaints. However, I don’t know them, but I’m going to guess. I’m thinking a few of these will resonate with you and hopefully others. That’ll get you started, but it is imperative that you guys get yourself some help immediately. People always, always, always wait too long and the road back to a solid relationship is significantly harder than it needs to be, if only people would get skills and good help in the early stages of these kinds of problems. Trust me on that.
So what is the problem? Here are a few guesses. Your wife either stays home with your kid all day or works full or part-time, but either way, she does most of the housework at home as well as the childcare. (am I right?) We call it the “2nd shift.” Even if you think you “do a lot” or you do more than your friends or your dad did, what seems to matter most is that she likely feels as if she is “doing it all alone.” Why else would she be nagging? People only nag when they’ve lost the position of “equal” in a relationship. One partner may leave their socks on the floor, never change the toilet paper roll or take out the garbage when it obviously needs it and so the other partner does these things for them and the resentment builds. Maybe you do these things and her complaints are about something else entirely, but the sentiment is likely this… she is a woman who feels like a mother of 2, instead of a mother of 1 child married to an equally mature and engaged adult. When that is the predominant feeling in a person’s life, it is inevitable they will disconnect emotionally from their partner. When people feel alone in marriage they stop counting on the other person to be an equal partner, they sort of give up and then it is almost inevitable to emotional and psychological disconnect.
So what to do? First; it’s time to open your eyes and see what you are really doing. Don’t change any of your behavior just yet. Simply observe and document yourself for a few days. If you were being filmed, what would we see? Keep track of what you do and what you expect her to do. Note how often you bath the kid, put him/her to bed, make dinner, do the dishes, laundry, or ask her how her day was. Most importantly how often are you half listening to her or not paying full attention to her when she is sharing something because you are on your phone or texting or facebooking or playing video games. 100% of people do not know how obnoxious they really are when they are playing on their phones and talking to someone at the same time. We all think we can pull it off – but everyone just seems like an insensitive jerk. Be really honest with yourself. Would you want to be married to you in these moments?
Once you have a good sense of your typical behavior; a list of your habits and weird proclivities, make a list of all the ways you treat her like she was your mom instead of your wife. At the end of that list answer this question. What did your mom do for you as a child? If your answer is “everything”, then you are probably doing many things that “make her your mom” without even knowing it.
Now, time to change it. Pick one thing at a time and do the opposite. If you usually wait for her to tell you what to do during the weekday evening bedtime ritual with the kid, do the opposite. Hand her the car keys and her coat and say “get some alone time – I’ve got the kid tonight.” Then figure it out. Google it if you need ideas. Fake it till you make it. Stop making her the “decider” for all stuff kid related. If she makes dinner, you thank her and then do the dishes. NEVER let her do the dishes if she made dinner. How about, you make dinner sometimes too? Another idea, is to plan a date for Friday night and YOU arrange for a babysitter. Remember how you got her to marry you in the first place? Start acting that way again.
After a few weeks of this, see what happens. Make an appointment tomorrow with a marriage therapist for a month from now and then cancel it, if all is blissful after your experiment of acting like “her rock.” If it is still rocky, then go and get someone to help you guys. It will be well worth it.
Best to you both.