What’s on the minds of married women? I asked and you answered. At my first-ever marriage summit, a group of Canadian moms gathered to tell me what matters most to them in their marriages. Here are their top five relationship peeves, surprising insights, and prescriptions for change. (Guys, get ready. It’s your turn next….)
1. “I don’t exist anymore — it’s all about the kids and his job.”
In the chaos of daily life moms often feel like their needs fall to the bottom of the list — if they make the list at all. “Sometimes I start to wonder if I’m invisible,” says Leah. “I mean, he’s such a good father, but what about me? Don’t I matter anymore?”
Prescription: I heard a lot of, “I know he loves me, but…” at our summit. That “but” disguises a whole lot of hurt. And the solution is simple: time. Institute regular date nights with your mate. Reconnect. Reaffirm the two of you as a pair, as an “us.” And remember, you can’t have a solid “we” without a “me.” If he doesn’t see you, perhaps it’s because you can’t see yourself. Is it possible that you have lost sight of who you are?
2. “His idea of communication is the cold shoulder.”
Moms often get frustrated over their partner’s style of conflict resolution. They find themselves talking (OK, sometimes shouting) at a retreating back, or conversely, dodging sarcastic barbs. And the worst thing is, nothing ever gets resolved.
Prescription: I’ll wager that 90 percent of your fights revolve around a central theme. That’s the case with most couples. It’s time to rewrite the script. The great Harville Hendrix calls this “core scene revision,” and the good news is that you only have one scene to revise! So, put aside the resentment and pick up a pencil. Sit together and pen new lines. What would respectful conflict resolution sound like? You decide.
3. “He has no appreciation for everything that I do — the kids, the house, the planning. Oh yeah, plus the job.”
Many women at our round table complained about being unappreciated by their mates. One of them even said, “I hate to admit this, but it makes me feel good when I see my husband struggling with the kids. It tells me I’m doing a good job!”
Prescription: If I could bottle and dispense one antidote for dysfunctional relationships (of any kind, really) it’s this: acknowledgement. Not praise. Not prizes. Just acknowledgement — the clear sense that we are being seen for who (and all) we are. Acknowledgement is magic to a marriage. Of course, a little appreciation doesn’t hurt either. In our family we do a weekly round of “appreciations”: Each member of the family finds something to acknowledge and appreciate in another family member.
4. “He doesn’t carry his fair share of the load.”
Does your partner have “mate myopia” — blindness to the laundry piling up or the dishwasher that needs to be unloaded? Sound familiar? “This resentment builds in me,” says roundtable member, Roxy, “and I get really mean. Then I end up hating myself for being so horrible.”
Prescription: Press restart. Chances are your partner isn’t intentionally ignoring household chores. So, instead of trying to mold your mate into the right partner, try to be the right partner. “I’ve learned to say to myself, ‘I have a choice here,’” says Roxy. “I can choose to look at this differently and I can choose to respond differently.” Valerie adds: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned through the course of my marriage is that you can’t control them, only yourself. You’ve got to stop complaining and just try to be a better person.” Well put.
5. “He wants sex all the time.”
Ok, well maybe not all the time. But a lot of you are suffering the great libido divide: He wants it more than you do. That leaves some of you doing the duck and weave. (Pretending to be asleep? Seriously?) While others go through the motions, yet pine for the days of their inner tigresses.
Prescription: Guilt is a very heavy weight to carry. Put it down. You don’t need to apologize for your sex drive. You do, however, need stop making your spouse feel bad about his sexual needs. If you haven’t already, please read my column on compromise. This is about give and take. Give a little. It will mean a lot.
This article was originally published in July 2012.