Numerous men have pondered the questions, "Why does my wife say she's unhappy? What does she want that I'm not doing?" Many of the men raising these questions have been blindsided by a wife's confession that she's not happy in the marriage and wants a separation or divorce. I've seen many examples of this dynamic in marriage counseling sessions that I've conducted.
It can be confusing to try to figure out what a partner wants. And men, in particular, are having a harder time than ever because of changing expectations on the part of many females.
In the past, it was enough for a husband to be a good provider, to have stable employment, and to bring home an adequate paycheck. If he didn't ordinarily drink too much, gamble his paycheck away, mistreat his wife, or blatantly run around, then he was considered a "good husband."
But now, that's not enough anymore for many females. Enter the age of the "soulmate"-a word that signifies a deep bond and heart connection, someone who's on the same "wave length" as his or her partner. Soulmates are compatible and bring out the best in each other. The relationship has satisfying intimacy and includes friendship and companionship as well as love.
The connection between soulmates is sustained by emotional intimacy and the delight the partners share at having found each other. They share feelings easily and keep each other informed as to what they're feeling, what concerns they're wrestling with, what they're worried about, and what their hopes and dreams are. Soulmates often say they feel a spiritual as well as an emotional connection to their partner.
A number of couples feel deeply connected at the beginning of their marriage. Both individuals are trying their best and are putting genuine effort and energy into the relationship. Even reticent, quiet males often make an effort to talk more and connect at this early stage in the marriage.
But, over time, the quality of the relationship can change-often for very understandable reasons, like parenting demands-and wives may begin feeling disconnected from their mates. Many husbands do not understand the importance of strengthening and nurturing emotional intimacy in a marriage. They may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings. In fact, they may not even be able to put their feelings into words and communicate them to their spouse.
A friend's husband once remarked that he'd rather stick pins in his eyeballs than have to share his feelings. And as a counselor with many years of experience, I know that he's not alone in feeling this way. Many men feel the same way.
The old model of marriage demanded a "real man," and a "real man" didn't cry, didn't show his feelings, and didn't talk about his feelings. He was strong, always in control of his emotions, and he solved his own problems without help from anyone else. While he was being emotionally strong, his wife was usually feeling increasingly distanced and disconnected from him.
Some men have asked, "Well, what do women want, then? Do they want us to act like their female friends do?" The answer is both "yes" and "no." No, they don't expect their husbands to be as interested in every little aspect of certain things as their female friends are (planning a baby shower, deciding what dress to wear to a special event, for example). But yes, they do expect to get emotional support and sharing of feelings from their husbands on a regular basis.
So what's a husband to do who has neglected this vital area of staying emotionally connected in a marriage? For specific recommendations often used in marriage counseling, read Part Two of "What Do Wives Really Want in a Husband?"
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of the book Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.