We’ve never really loved the saying “Happy Wife, Happy Life” since it seemingly prioritizes the happiness of one gender/partner over the other. On the other hand, there are some strong indicators that women initiate divorce more then men (about 70% to 90% more depending on the data you’re looking at). This invites a deeper dive into the relationship complexities that are ground zero for this data to emerge. And, for anyone with an unhappy wife, it might give you pause to consider your next steps.
There is a ton of speculation about why women tend to initiate divorce more often than men. From the seemingly uneven distribution of domestic responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, organizing, parenting, etc.) especially when both partners work separate full-time jobs, to challenges in communication, to a shift in what a partner is willing to tolerate/work through in a marriage (such as betrayal themes connected to infidelity, limited transparency with finances, addiction, and in-laws). The history of marriage also intermingles traditional gender specific social, cultural, and religious stories into its complex tapestry- some that are archaic or less relevant to one or both in the relationship. Marriage vows become more of a roadmap for the possibilities within the relationship and not necessarily a lock that secures you to a future of wedded bliss. The reality is that “I do” often turns into “I won’t”, “I can’t”, “I tried”, “I’m alone in it”, and “I don’t”.
Still, for many, at the core of the motivation to marry is the celebration and ongoing promise of love and commitment. A timeless message that says, “No matter what, I’ll be your person and you’ll be my person”, “my ride or die” and “we’ll always have each other’s back”. So, what’s a couple to do? Below are 4 tips to help you begin to navigate how to save your marriage based on what we think all this boils down to- at least from our perspective in working with many couples who are contemplating ending their marriage and searching the internet for a “marriage counselor near me”.
1) Prioritize your marriage.
A frequent complaint of the leaning out partner in marriage is that they do not feel prioritized. Please don’t take for granted that your partner will always be there just because you are married. These partners often feel dismissed and devalued. We understand that other things are important: career, family, kids, finances, hobbies, etc. However, when deciding to get married, there is often a spoken commitment of your choice to DO LIFE TOGETHER with your partner. That shouldn’t disappear after marriage. Marriage assumes that the couple is approaching life together. You spend time together, you make choices together, and you continue to build on the relationship. The leaning out partner will often say something like, “I feel like a roommate”. A dusty plant placed in the corner of the room with no water, no sunshine, no nurturing will not survive. Nor will most marriages. Marriages need nurturing. It doesn’t need to be grand gestures. See below for some basic things you can do to prioritize your partner.
* Be intentional about emotionally connecting with your partner on a daily basis – research indicates that just 10 minutes a day of emotional connection can help to increase positive perspective within the relationship. This is different than the business of life- this type of connection is more intimate. It’s about truly connecting with your partner’s internal word and displaying a deep desire to know and understand their feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and experiences. Think back to when you were first getting to know each other and the way that you talked back then. Tap into that- at least 10 minutes a day.
* Ask your partner what helps them to feel prioritized. For your partner to experience the sensation of being prioritized, they must be prioritized. Often, husbands feel at a loss here because they think they are prioritizing the relationship. However, they are doing so through their perspective. And, while that matters and has value (yes, it absolutely does!), it’s important to also understand the perspective of your wife. So, ask her! You might be surprised to learn that she really desires a daily hug, or a quiet conversation, or a teamwork approach to a household project. Or, maybe she really wants a romantic date night out. No matter what, a step in the direction of prioritizing each other is to seek to understand how each person experiences that!
2) Update your listening skills.
A frequent complaint of the leaning out partner in marriage is that they do not feel heard and that their thoughts or feelings don’t seem to matter. Partners, please tune into who you do life with. Truly listen to what your partner is saying. More specifically, listen to the messages and themes of what your partner is saying. Tune into their emotional world- because, yes, it matters. It’s real and it’s relevant. Also, share your world with your partner. Another frequent complaint of the leaning out partner is something along the lines of “we never talk anymore” or “he doesn’t understand me”. Most people don’t marry a stranger. Why? Because, when dating, there is an emphasis on getting to know one another. However, people evolve over time and it’s important to stay emotionally tuned into your partner throughout your marriage. Because, truthfully, most people won’t stay married if their partner becomes a stranger to them. See below for some basic things you can do to increase emotionally tuned in conversations into your routine.
* If you’re not doing this already, begin to reflect back, acknowledge, or validate what you hear your partner saying. We tell our clients ALL THE TIME that acknowledgement does not mean that you agree. It simply means that you are willing to intimately connect with your partner’s world by expressing an understanding of their perspective. Research indicates that the bridge to compromise is best built when both people have a deep understanding of each other’s perspective. Acknowledgement often takes the heat out of conflict and creates a pathway for both people to share and connect.
* Pay close attention to any use of emotions- the good and the bad. And, if a negative emotion is shared, try your best not to go straight into fix it mode, dismiss mode, or defense mode (this can be tough especially if you personalize this emotion or feel attacked or criticized). Verbally validate what your partner is feeling and ask questions about it- When do you feel that way the most? How often do you feel it? Express empathy and compassion. This is amazing listening. And, if it fits for you, perhaps end it with, “How can I help?”. It may be that they desire something. And, it may be that they just needed to be heard!
3) Have consistent and open conversations about the roles and responsibilities within the relationship.
A frequent complaint of the leaning out partner in marriage is that they feel overwhelmed with the burdens of doing life together- and they often perceive an unequal distribution of responsibilities and feel they are drowning in tasks. There are 2 people in the relationship and both people have wants, needs, preferences, and desires. This seems to have a heightened relevance when discussing roles related to household chores, parenting, and finances. Please don’t assume that just because of tradition, family of origin, faith, culture, or other social norms, that doing things the way you’re doing them now needs to be the way you always do them. Here’s the catch- you don’t always have to agree! Yep, that’s what the research indicates. Not agreeing is ok. It’s how you don’t agree that’s important. Meaning, does each person have space to share their preferences? Do you actively engage compromise in your routine? Is there a give and take when decisions are made? Do both parties have a voice? Do you divide and conquer together? Is there an equal and balanced distribution of the tasks? See below for some basic things you can do to improve the conversations around roles and responsibilities.
* Consider having monthly, quarterly, or yearly family meetings where the business of life is discussed. Explore what is working and what needs tweaking. Explore the roles and responsibilities of each person and create a safe space to explore requests for change or support. Also, consider swapping roles for a trial period (a day, a week, or a weekend!). For example, if your wife is typically responsible for cooking, offer to prepare dinner one night. If you typically give the kids a shower while she cleans the kitchen, suggest swapping duties for the evening. This can give each a fresh perspective of the task, offer relief to the person typically doing it, and create space to develop some new strengths.
* Express appreciation! We often hear that what stings the most is feeling unappreciated. So, even if you don’t change anything about the current roles and responsibilities withing the relationship, you can begin to be more verbally appreciative. Let your partner know that you SEE them, that you APPRECIATE what they contribute to the business of doing life together and CELEBRATE them with expressions of GRATITUDE. Speak it out loud to them directly, speak their praise to a family member on the phone where they can hear it, or go traditional and bring them flowers just to say, “I appreciate and love you!”
4) Be trustworthy. Be loyal. Be honest. Be true to your partner.
A frequent complaint of the leaning out partner in marriage is that they feel they can’t trust their partner. And, this isn’t always about a standard textbook affair. Trust runs so much deeper than that (well, it’s also that too!). Trust is also about feeling the partner will “have their back” and that they will feel honored, supported, preferred, and prioritized. For some, trust is about being “taken up for” when interacting with in-laws. For others, it’s about being celebrated in public (social media, etc.). For others, it’s about trusting that you will be respectful during conflict. Trust is also about believing that you will reserve some time for your partner- that you will be intentional about developing the relationship. We see these examples ALL THE TIME linked to the erosion of trust. And, yes, trust it’s also about fidelity and loyalty- and that runs the gamut from emotional affairs to physical affairs.
* Consider having some heart to heart conversations about how each partner defines trust. Ask for specific examples of when your partner has experienced the most trust with you. And ask for examples of if/when your partner has struggled with experiencing trust. You might be surprised at what you hear. Also, have you had recent conversations about the boundaries of the relationship (preferences with how each other interacts with others- in person and on social media, how you interact with in-laws, etc. These requests/preferences may evolve over time and through different experiences. Again, you may not always agree but tuning into each other’s preferences is a start.
* Keep the positive perspective alive in your relationship (much of the above helps with this). Affairs often don’t just “happen”. There is usually a stage in the relationship that the Gottman’s call the “cheater’s cascade” where over time, a disconnected and discouraged partner in the relationship begins to experience the relationship through a negative lens and becomes more vulnerable to connecting with someone else. See below resources on positive perspective. And, if your relationships is struggling with trust, consider getting support- whether by reading a book, listening to a podcast, or seeking couples counseling.
We wouldn’t be in the business of relationship support if we didn’t truly believe in the work. We have seen so many couples improve and increase their connection, communication, intimacy, and trust. We have seen couples heal, grow, and rebuild their relationship. It’s possible. It also takes time, commitment, intention, and a willingness to do things differently. It takes a willing heart to practice self-awareness (Asking yourself “What am I doing to contribute to this situation?”) and it takes a willingness to explore what works and what doesn’t work anymore.
Here’s the good news- there are also many marriages that thrive! Some stats say that 50 % of marriages end up in divorce. Silver lining? 50% of marriages do not! You have a ton of choice connected to the understandable desire to have a happy, thriving, and successful marriage- one that survives the negative stats! You can have a wonderful marriage where BOTH parties feel loved, prioritized, and HAPPY!
Unsure of where to begin? Feel free to reach out to us. It’s what we do. We are in the business of helping marriages thrive. Elevating Relationships offers a couple-to-couple approach to support relationships. We’re here if you decide to go that route.