My wife constantly compares me to her girlfriends’ husbands, and apparently I never measure up. She thinks she’s being subtle by saying things such as, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful how Gary takes Melanie out on all those romantic outings?” or, “Len’s redoing their bathroom. He’s always willing to undertake projects for Sharon.” I get the message that I’m disappointing her because I’m not doing those types of things. I’m annoyed and fed up. What should I do?
Your feelings are cues that something’s going on within you and between you that needs attention. I strongly suspect you’re picking up something your wife’s trying to tell you, although she’s doing it in a confusing and perhaps even judgmental way. It’s perfectly natural for you to feel uneasy and hurt by her comments, but I encourage you to consider what she’s saying and invite her to be more direct in her concerns.
Sadly, many–if not most–marital concerns are expressed in indirect and at times passive-aggressive ways. The real issues never get resolved. That’s why I counsel people to “make the unspoken be spoken.” In other words, when there’s an elephant in the room, talk about it. Be careful how you express your concerns, though, as anger won’t serve you well.
Here is some additional counsel for tackling this troubling issue:
First, invite your mate to share her concerns directly. Scripture implores us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). While it may be hard to hear, go after the truth. Tell her you want to know what she may be trying to tell you.
Second, ask your wife to share her feelings without judgment. This becomes a bit tricky. Rather than sharing opinions such as, “You should be more romantic,” she might say, “I’m feeling lonely and would really like more of your time.” Ask her what she’s feeling so you can better understand her underlying concerns.
Third, let her know about your “raw spot.” Explain how you’re hurt when she comments about other husbands or makes comparisons. Tell her you long to be seen as adequate and even exceptional in her eyes, not inadequate. Likely she’ll appreciate this level of vulnerability from you.
Fourth, guard against either of you becoming defensive or accusatory. You’re venturing into a “touchy” topic so move carefully and slowly. Speak respectfully and invite information. Take turns in sharing feelings and needs, and listen carefully for new information with which you can empathize and validate. You both have needs–perhaps different–but equally important.
Finally, agree together how you’ll handle these issues in the future. Work together to meet each other’s needs and seek solutions to future problems in an open, honest manner. You’ll both be better for it–and your marriage will be stronger.