Ending Conflict & Building a Better Relationship with Your Wife (pt.2-d)

Divorce by stevepb


I can’t think of a better example of what I will call sabotage than an example in Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.  In it she talked about a caller to her radio show whose husband refused to eat chicken.  One night the caller made her husband a chicken noodle casserole, and lied to her husband about what was in it.  Once he ate it, she then revealed her lie to “prove” to her husband that he liked chicken just fine.  Dr.Laura’s response was a wise one: she asked the caller if she wanted to stay married.

This sort of nasty tactic takes forethought and deception.  Whether it is feeding the husband something he asked her not to on purpose, meddling with his job, or messing with the TV on the night of the big game, it is all pure selfishness and disrespect.  It usually appears when a wife doesn’t feel like her husband is a good leader, and doesn’t deserve to be at the head of the marriage. She undermines him then reveals it to see if he will take command and stand up to her in a meaningful way, or sulk.

What a woman needs when she plays this sort of game is a massive show of manliness.  She needs to be told that she crossed the line, that he is angry, and that he won’t put up with it.  Generally, this behavior demands consequences to the relationship.  In this case, I recommend demanding a full and formal apology, and demanding that she apologize to everyone else involved as well.  That apology must include a set of actions for making amends, and a withdrawal of some of the positive things that happen in the marriage like dates until it happens.

Snooping and Prying

Privacy has a limited place in any marriage or good boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.  Too many secrets will spoil the relationship.  That said we all need some sort of private space and an opportunity to talk to friends in order to process feelings.  Men also need to be entitled to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, and not be harrowed and nagged into revealing our every thought.

For the former, if the wife is intruding into your “guy time” or poking around the man cave needlessly, you need to address it directly.

“I don’t appreciate you invading my space like this.  I trust and love you, and hope you would do the same, but we need time to ourselves and with our own friends if we are going to be at our emotional best with each other.  I would not dare poke around your craft supplies, or spy on you during a girl’s night out.  I expect the same from you.  I would like you to apologize, tell me what you were looking for so we can have a straight talk, and then promise me that it won;t happen again.

For your private thoughts, things can be a little more problematical.  Women, in general, are more verbal than men.  They like to voice thoughts and feelings.  Sharing secrets is a tool for bonding for women.  Men, on the other hand, through a fusion of culture and biological imperatives, keep our cards close to the vest.  While it can often pay to be a little more open with our wives, it is unreasonable to expect us to become another one of our wives’ best girlfriends.  In fact to be open with our women more than we are inclined might make them feel close in the moment, but would, in many cases, erode their respect for us in the long run.

Men are not defective women.  We have reasons for processing things differently and different needs.  Drawing a firm line when it comes to emotional prying is important.  Usually it is enough to say “I don’t feel like talking,”  but sometimes a woman feels a need to push, to which the natural response of most men is to become defensive and angry.

It helps to remember that she is doing this because she feels emotionally disconnected and needs to know you are available to her, and that she does not understand why you need to retreat into your emotional cave from time to time. But it is also still disrepsectful of your boundaries.  The way to handle it in this case is to shut down the prying assertively, then offer closeness.

  • “Listen, I really don’t want to talk about my feelings right now.  I am still processing them.  It’s not that I don’t love you or trust you, it’s just how I work.  I am happy to spend some us time, though, if you want to go for a walk.”
  • “I am putting up a black card on this discussion.  My thoughts are my business.  I’m not saying I don’t want to spend time with you; I just don’t want to talk about me.”
  • “I am finding this very disrespectful.  I would not dream of pushing like this to force someone to tell me their thoughts.  I want it to stop.  We can talk about anything else you like, but not this.”
  • “If you really want to know what I am feeling so badly, you need to try a different approach.  If you want to play truth or dare, I’m game, but you’d better be ready for some pretty dirty dares.”

10 thoughts on “Ending Conflict & Building a Better Relationship with Your Wife (pt.2-d)

  1. Brian, in the example at the start, I’m minded to think that if he is so inflexible and intransigent and she is so manipulative and deceptive, they probably deserve each other.

    1. Is it really unreasonable to ask not to be served a food you dislike? It seems like he was within his rights to set a boundary. I have a similar rule about Tuna.

      1. I know what you mean Brian, but I do sometimes think there’s a thin line between setting boundaries and being what was called “cussed awkward” where I grew up.

      2. My dad used that turn of phrase, too.

        The problem is, more often than not when we say someone else is being obstinate, what we are really saying is that “you are not going to do what I want, and so I will make you feel abnormal and ashamed. That way you will think twice about asserting your will.”

  2. Brian, funny isn’t it? The exact same phrase from both sides of the Atlantic!

    Again, I agree, but there is still the idea that “I will maintain my boundary, no matter what, irrespective of how it affects anyone. You can’t make me do anything I don’t want to.”

    One person demands to have a different meal cooked to everyone else in the house, for example. It appears based on the pen-portrait at the start that neither person in that couple has any idea whatsoever about flexibility or compromise. I know it might said that you shouldn’t ever HAVE to compromise, but if neither person will compromise on anything, the subset of what the two will do together becomes very limited. Fair enough, but it’s so very limiting.

    1. I suspect that there is a narrative being inserted here that is part of the problem. People tend to assume that if the man in the example refuses to eat chicken, then he must be demanding special treatment, but if you unpack that, it is smoke and mirrors.

      When a woman hurts or acts badly towards a man, we look for the reason he “deserves” it. This is a tendency across 90% of the cultures on Earth, because most every culture on Earth has thrived through treating men as disposable and women as something to be defended. This also means that we treat women like children (hypoagency), and men as if they had a supernatural ability to see the future and control their environment (hyperagency).

      So in this case, we need a reason why this woman would force feed her husband something he didn’t want, that way it fits the narrative we have that if a woman does something unkind to a man he “deserves” it. In this case it is easy to extrapolate that he must be some kind of tyrant who demands special meals be made for him. This fits the narrative. Social psychologists call this the WAW Complex (Women Are Wonderful).

      The truth is that we know no such thing. if fact the projected narrative makes no sense. There is no logical reason why this woman would be making chicken for herself and kids and then making another special meal for her husband. She knew his dislike when she married him, and already therefore had made a tacit agreement that she would not prepare chicken meals for him; if she makes chicken for herself and their children, then that is not him putting her our, she is making a choice to do extra work for herself. Chicken may be a staple food, but it is far from the only staple protein, so it is not exactly like she is being forced to get creative with meals.

      The image of him being inflexible, limiting, or rigid is therefore more a construction of our minds than a reality of their situation.

      1. Equally, her being an absolute tyrant/harridan for serving him chicken is partially a creation. Are we not ascribing malice to her (in the case of the pen portrait) without evidence?

        One of the problems with these boundaries is that when everyone has them, the options become very, very limited. If he refuses to eat chicken, she won’t abide pork and one of the kids is allergic to fish, how long is it before everyone becomes heartily fed up with eggs and beef?

      2. But we don’t need to ascribe motivations to her, because we have her actions to judge.

        • She married him and agreed to honour him.
        • She did this knowing that he would not eat chicken.
        • She decided that his boundary was inconvenient for her.
        • Ergo, she did not respect him or his wishes.
        • She intentionally deceived him.
        • She then engaged in triumphant behaviour after he fell for the deception.
        • Ergo she refused to act with empathy for him.
        • Without respect and empathy we can in no way say she honoured him.
        • Thus she is not in integrity with her wedding vows.
        • She is also deceitful and disrespectful

        It would not have been a hardship for her to negotiate with her husband and say “I miss chicken and I am craving it. I am also at a loss for ways to keep preparing new meals without being able to use it as an ingredient. Will you please let me make you one chicken dish a week, using the best of my cooking skills for one month? If you like it I can add it into our meal rotation. If you don;t I will never make it for you again.” And if he said no, she could have at least asked why he did not.

        Instead she chose to deceive, disrespect, and dishonour him, contrary to her wedding vows. The actions tell us a lot about her character and intentions, regardless of what we know about her feelings.

  3. “It would not have been a hardship for her to negotiate with her husband and say “I miss chicken and I am craving it. I am also at a loss for ways to keep preparing new meals without being able to use it as an ingredient. Will you please let me make you one chicken dish a week, using the best of my cooking skills for one month? If you like it I can add it into our meal rotation. If you don;t I will never make it for you again.” And if he said no, she could have at least asked why he did not.”

    Sounds less like negotiation and more like wheedling and pleading. Surely, he doesn’t have to compromise, much less give a reason, it’s his right to decide no matter what, isn’t it? I still feel that *BOTH* parties are operating on the principle of “I’ll do what I want and you can’t stop me”, less adult boundaries and more stroppy teenagers.

    When you have children, you find yourself looking at boundaries and asking yourself “Is this the hill I want to die on?” and you realise you may have to re-assess relative importance.

    1. Good negotiations mean laying some of your cards on the table. You tell the person what you want. You tell them what you would like. You give them an incentive. You offer them a compromise. The difference between a negotiation and a whine is pretty far apart. This statement, unless a particular tone is used is not emotionally manipulative. It is offering a solution instead of expecting the other person to “fix it”. It offers a reasonable solution, a time period, and an out.

      And yes, he could still refuse to five a reason. And yes he could operate on a “I’ll do what I want” principle. But he has a very straightforward incentive to be flexible: he has to live with this woman, and he has made vows to cherish her. If he is given a reasonable request and a incentive, a wise man makes a compromise.

      Given that we cannot know why he does not eat chicken, how is it that the refusal to eat a certain foodstuff is a childish barrier in this case? Maybe he worked in a slaughterhouse or industrial chicken farm, and has a moral reason not to wish to support that industry. Maybe he was stuck eating chicken flavoured rations for weeks on end during a military action and has a bad association between chicken and deprivation – or bloodshed. Maybe he got very sick off of tainted chicken once and now has a gag reflex at the smell? Maybe he grew up in poverty and chicken was all he could afford as a child, and now sees eating chicken as a regression in his personal path? Again – we are projecting immaturity on him because he is inconveniencing his wife. Remember, she gave no indication whatsoever that she had negotiated with him or asked why before she pulled this horrible stunt of hers. Nor did she tell Dr. Laura that she had ever done anything other than nag him about it.

      The “when you have children” thing, aside from being a logical fallacy, is a categorical error. When you deal with children you are preparing a human being for the world. You are also dealing with a human with diminished reasoning capacity, and an unformed prefrontal cortex making them unable to control powerful emotional outbursts. Their boundaries are not based on complex experiences, lifelong traumas, career agendas, or the medical complexities that start to evolve beyond the age of 50.

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