Nagging. Henpecking. Badgering.

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

In working with my clients, it is fairly common to observe many marital stereotypes. This includes the wife as an overbearing figure in a relationship and one who can never be pleased. The imagery evokes sympathy for the poor guy who just can’t win. No matter how hard he tries – working long hours, helping with the children and household, this guy is just in a bear-trap of a marriage which will never loosen its grip. Yet, there is much more to this picture that requires analysis.

The husband can often recall the early days of his relationship when things were enjoyable, calm and far more mutual. Now, after years of taking his beatings he is left with two obvious choices. Option A: continue to be beaten into submission and keep his mouth shut. Through embracing his daily routine and hobbies for comfort, he will ultimately sail through the years, while his lonely and burdensome marriage continues to wear him down or eventually push him over the edge.

Option B: He can fight back and stand up for himself. After all, he’s a man! Why shouldn’t he defend himself? Who says that his wife always has to be right? Is there anything wrong with wanting to just relax after a long day of work? I mean, come on – he is killing himself from morning till night to earn the income needed to support his family and just at that moment when he crashes on the couch, his wife asks him to switch the clothing from the washer into the dryer! He wonders to himself, “why doesn’t she get me? Can’t she tell I’m exhausted? Would it kill her to do it herself?”

The problem with choosing either of these options – is that no good will ultimately come from them. To stick with Option A is to die a slow and painful death. To choose Option B is to run the risk of fueling confrontation and accelerating the decline of the relationship and the disillusion of the marriage. (Of course, with a competent therapist, this option can be more safely navigated).

Yet, let’s not forget secret Option C. In this scenario, the husband can fondly recall the good ol’ days when life was pleasurable and the relationship was fun and exciting. He remembers the romance, the flirtatious looks and the intimacy that they once shared. Where has it gone and how can he get it back?

I once saw a bumper sticker which read, “ If God seems to be far from you – ask yourself, “who drifted away first”? Similarly in relationships, while the husband may feel justified in feeling frustration and resentment towards his wife – he must look in the mirror and ask whether she is responsible for drifting away, or perhaps, could he be a contributing part of the problem, too?

In most relationships, when things start – of course, there are fireworks. However, the trap that many couples fall into is that their relationship turns from loving to transactional. And why shouldn’t it? There are bills to be paid, carpools to arrange, and shopping to be done. Through a responsible division of labor, couples can reach a smooth level of functioning, wherein the home is a well-oiled machine and something to be proud of. However, as a result, the relationship itself becomes stale and the friendship, romance and intimacy that once fueled their bond tends to dissolve in the wake of this partnership.

Their challenge and primary goal for this couple is to learn how to bring the love back to the forefront – as it is the foundation to everything else in their world. In their hectic lives, when a couple slows down enough to take the time and give that sideways glance or smile, a touch on the hand, or thoughtful text during the day, it reminds them of their love and helps refocus them on who they are as a loving couple. Thus, when a husband hears his best friend asking for the laundry to be put into the dryer, it is no longer viewed as an attack or judgment against him, rather, it is an expression of intimacy. The request, which was once interpreted as burdensome, can now be viewed as a deep longing from the single person in life he values more than anyone else. Whereas it may be natural for a guy to take affront to such a request – as if she did not care about how hard he has been working, it behooves him to learn how to process her expressions and be responsive, not out of obligation, but out of love. By being thoughtful and considerate of the pressures that she might be under, he can genuinely care and serve his half of the partnership – not out of obligation, but out of love.

With the many couples I have counseled, I have found that a wife who sounds like a nag, might in fact, be a best friend who is in need. By learning to really listen and understand what your spouse is feeling and through investing in the friendship itself, the necessary daily transactions no longer become a chore. Instead, they are elevated to meaningful gestures of love which strengthens the love, friendship and marriage.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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