Each day I am confronted by women who are extremely frustrated with their marriages. They usually express no hope that their husbands will ever understand what it is that frustrates them, let alone change enough to solve the problem. From their perspective, marital problems are created by their husbands who do little or nothing to solve them. Wives tend to see themselves as the major force for resolving conflicts, and when they give up their effort, the marriage is usually over.
When I talk to their husbands, they usually have a very different explanation as to why their wives feel the way they do. They often feel that the expectations of women in general, and their wives in particular, have grown completely out of reach. These men, who feel that they’ve made a gigantic effort to be caring and sensitive to their wives, get no credit whatsoever for their sizeable contribution to the family. They feel under enormous pressure to improve their financial support, improve the way they raise their children, and improve the way they treat their wives. Many men I see are emotionally exhausted and feel that for all their effort, they get nothing but criticism.
Grounds for Divorce
The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is “mental cruelty.” When legal grounds for divorce are stated, about half report they have been emotionally abused. But the mental cruelty they describe is rarely the result of their husband’s efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing to communicate and demonstrating other forms of neglect.
Another reason for divorce reported almost as much as mental cruelty is “neglect” itself. These include both emotional abandonment and physical abandonment. Husbands that work away from the home, sometimes leaving their wives alone for weeks at a time, fall into this category.
Simply stated, women leave men when they are neglected. Neglect accounts for almost all of the reasons women leave and divorce men.
What are women looking for in men? They want a soul mate, someone they trust who is there for them when they have a problem, who takes their feelings into account when decisions are being made. Someone to whom they feel emotionally connected.
A Man’s House
I use a house as an illustration to help husbands understand how their wives feel. Each room in the house represents one of the husband’s roles in life. There is a room for his job as a production manager, there is another for golf, another for his new sports car, one for his garden, one for his children, one for church, and, yes, one for his wife.
As he makes his way through an average day, he visits various rooms when he is faced with the role the room defines. And when he’s in a certain room, the others are blocked out of his mind so that he can focus his undivided attention on the role he plays at the time. He does his best when he’s not faced with distractions, and prefers to deal with each problem with all his energy and creativity so that he does the best he can in each role he plays.
The wives of most men are only one of many rooms in this imaginary house. It represents the “husband” role. When they are in that room, they usually try to give their wives undivided attention and make a special effort to meet their needs. They also go to that room to have their own needs met, particularly the need for sex.
What frustrates wives most is that they are relegated to only one room in their husbands’ imaginary house instead of every room. In other words, they want to be integrated into a man’s entire life, not relegated to one corner. Without such integration, there can be no emotional bonding, no uniting of the spirit, no feeling of intimacy and, in many cases, no sex.
The Policy of Joint Agreement
To help men integrate their wives into each room, I have encouraged husbands to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.
This policy helps men take their wives’ feelings into account whenever they make a decision. They avoid thoughtless habits, learn to meet emotional needs with mutual enjoyment and resolve their conflicts. All of this creates marital compatibility and emotional bonding.
The word “anything” in the policy applies to all the activities of a husband that go on in each of his rooms. So whenever he follows it, he learns to think about his wife’s reaction to everything he does, not just what goes on in the “husband” room.
Copyright © 2003 Dr. Willard Harely. Used with Permission.
Read more from Dr. Harley at Marriage Builders
Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D. is best known as author of the internationally best selling book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-proof Marriage. Dr. Harley and his wife, Joyce, appear together several times a year in various cities for Marriage Builders Weekend, which introduces couples to his one-year home study course for marital recovery. He personally supervises the progress of those who enroll in the course, and answers their questions on a special Marriage Builders Weekend section of the Forum.
He also answers questions every Monday and Thursday, on “Marriage Talk,” a live radio call-in show broadcast on AM980 KKMS in Minneapolis, that is live streamed on his Marriage Builders website.
Read more about Dr. Harley’s book, Love Busters.