- After she’s left and taken the kids to her mother’s
- After the fifth time she asks — before that, maybe a cruise or really classy piece of jewelry will make her happy
- If she asks you twice at different times of, you know, “the month”
- The first time she seriously brings it up to you
Did you choose “D”? You win the Savvy Hubby Award!
Here’s the reason why.
Long-term committed relationships are what scientists who study human behavior call “attachment bonds.” When it comes to attachment bonds, human beings are pretty much hard-wired to want similar things and react in certain predictable ways.
Once people “attach” and get that feeling that they want each other to be their one-and-only-forever, both men and women want and need essentially the very same things from their partner. At those moments when they feel they truly need their partner (which are moments when for some reason they’re feeling frightened, insecure or in danger), they want her or him to be:
- Accessible (that is, reachable)
- Responsive (coming through and responding in a way that shows he or she cares, both in words and actions)
- Engaged (acting like he or she is truly “with” them, not a bystander or onlooker).
So you may complain about the missing toothpaste cap or how she steals the blankets every night, and she may hate the way you leave your socks on the floor, but if the two of you come through for each other in these three essential ways most of the time when you really need it, you’re probably going to feel pretty good about your relationship. You have what’s called a “secure attachment.”
How the trouble starts
But of course, as the saying goes, “stuff happens.” Even the best spouses sometimes do the wrong thing at the wrong moment, making their partners feel like their relationship isn’t as secure as they thought.
When that happens, all of us, men and women, react immediately and automatically with a mixture of anxiety, hurt and anger that’s called “protest.”
For example: Let’s say you come home late one night. You walk in the door and your wife says, “What the hell were you thinking? You told me you were going to be home at 10 o’clock, and it’s one in the morning! And your phone was dead! How could you do that!? I was going crazy wondering what happened to you!”
Now, if you have a healthy relationship, you hear her protest, you address the problem and the relationship goes back to being secure. So you might say, “God, I’m really sorry. My phone ran out of juice, and I didn’t want to ask my buddy to borrow his phone to call you….and then the time got away from me…. But you’re right. That was really stupid. I won’t do that again.”
You and she would hash it out for a little while longer and eventually she would believe that you understood and you meant it, and all will be well in the world again.
Then It Gets Worse
But what frequently happens is that a man can get stuck in a pattern of behavior with his wife that leaves her feeling repeatedly abandoned, unloved and uncared-for, without ever meaning to or even realizing that he’s doing it. (Women do this to their husbands as well, but usually not quite in the same way). So what happens if she’s been feeling for a while that you’re not really “there,” accessible, reliable, emotionally connected to her, etc.? What if she’s not sure anymore that she can trust that you really want to be with her, or that you care about how she feels?
Then her “protest button” may be in the semi-on-position all the time. Which means she easily gets angry, anxious and critical of you a lot of the time you’re together. Maybe even most of the time.
It’s not pretty! And then you start to avoid her and distance yourself from her – trying to keep the peace – which of course, only makes matters worse.
And maybe then you start to defend yourself all the time, or get angry back at her, or try to appease her – and those don’t work either!
It probably doesn’t feel like this, but this is the BEST time to come into couples therapy.
Why? Because, beneath all her anger and criticism, she’s still hung up on you, or why else would she be so upset?
But what if you don’t do anything at this stage, hoping things will get better just on their own, but they don’t?
The next stage is called “grief” and “despair.”
In this stage, she starts to give up on the relationship.
She starts to mourn for the future she had hoped to have with you but no longer thinks she will. She starts to grieve for the feelings she used to have in her heart for you that she’s starting to lose.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But on the outside, it may look to you as though things actually have gotten a little better.
For example, she may not nag you as much. You might even think, “Aha! She’s finally coming to her senses!”
On the other hand, you also might notice that she has less desire to have sex with you.
This is definitely “uh-oh” time.
The next and final (you might say “terminal”) stage is called “detachment.” At this stage, her feeling and desire for you as a lifelong partner are just about over. And I mean over, done with, game ended.
If your wife’s truly in the detachment stage, there’s very little I or any therapist can do to help you rekindle her feelings for you. I mean, it’s still possible, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.
Now you’re living in a country-and-western song. (Have you heard the old joke about what happens if you play a country song backwards? The guy gets his dog, his truck, his house, his job and his wife back.)
So I’m Just Sayin’….
I’m telling you all this because so many times when a man calls me for couples counseling, it’s just, well, a little bit on the late side. Not only is he closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, he’s closing it after she’s bolted and is grazing in a meadow four counties away.
So men, listen to what I’m saying. Couples therapy is not so bad — or at least it isn’t with me. It’s not about fixing what’s wrong with you, the uncaring, emotionally ignorant husband. It’s about figuring out how to get the two of you to feel each other’s hearts again.
When you married her you really wanted to make her happy, and there was a time when you actually did make her happy.
I bet you still want to make her happy, even though you may think you can’t any more.
But here’s the deal: Despite how it may look, I think she still wants to be happy with you and, believe it or not, deep down, to make you happy, too.
And that’s why she said, “I think we need to get some marriage counseling.” Translated into guy-speak, she’s saying, “We’ve got a problem we need to fix, and we don’t know how to fix it ourselves. So we need someone to help us fix it so we can feel good together again.”
So do what the lady says, and go. As with any other problem, the sooner you deal with it, the easier it is to fix. If you have a good, skillful and qualified counselor and you catch the problem early enough, it won’t be as bad as you think, you’ll save a fortune in the long run, and you get back the woman you love. Not so bad, is it?
You can take her on that cruise to Aruba another time.