For the sake of argument, I am going to go forward here with a focus on marital turmoil that comes from feelings of insecurity that creates either fitness or loyalty tests. If your spouse is positioning herself to cheat or is mentally ill, I recommend getting in front of an appropriate professional as soon as you possibly can.
For everyone else, let’s talk about what you can do to end conflict with your wife in the long term. Over time as you respond to her insecurities by standing firm, being compassionate, and tackling problems quickly, much of the conflict will fade away, as your wife becomes more secure in the knowledge that you care about her, understand her feelings, and that she can trust you to handle emergencies with speed and good grace. However, knowing how to and handling the tests she puts in front of you is only a part of the process.
Handling conflict with a blend of assertiveness and empathy gets you part of the way to the ideal relationship with your wife, because it keeps the number of negative experiences you have with each other down to a minimum, and it improves the loving feelings in the relationship a little. To make your relationship a source of happiness and comfort, however you need to go a little further.
In order to feel good about and happy with our partners we need to have about five positive interactions with our wives for every conflict we have with them. If you think of it as a scoring system, every fun thing you do together, every lovemaking session, every date, every time you heroically handle a problem – those are all one point. Every fight you have is minus five points. Unless you have a positive score, things are going to be uncomfortable between you.
You can gain a lot of headway just by doing things that wrack up the positive points for your wife. Here are some examples of things that you can do to in a week to put your relationship in the positive zone:
- Take 20 minutes as soon as you get home to play with and reconnect to the kids.
- Handle dinner at least once a week.
- Take your wife out on a date.
- Handle one problem that is clearly stressing her, without her having to ask.
- Make her coffee or tea and ask her about her day, then just listen attentively until the coffee is done – no need to bother with advice, etc., just listen.
- Ask her about how she handled an issue she talked about over coffee about four days later.
- Be the one to get up with the kids on Saturday morning and make breakfast.
- Play with the kids and make them laugh.
- Handle assigning the chores for the week.
- Help make the meal plan for the week.
In the end, the kind of activities you can do to make your marital relationship feel more positive can be broken down into four categories:
Wives love to feel heard, they love to know that their husbands are listening, and they love to know that their feelings are respected. There are a lot of simple things that you can do to make this happen.
The first is to ask her about her day regularly – and just listen without trying to solve problems. This gives her a chance to feel heard. This is also a great way to gather intelligence for the second thing. Like I said in part 2-a, it helps to create natural limits, like a cup of coffee, or time spent while the kids are doing their homework.
If you have a suggestion or a solution to a problem she is talking about, hold off. Sometimes she just needs to vent, and wants to solve the problem on her own. At a good break int he conversation, you can ask her if she would be interested in hearing your advice. For her, it is often being heard that is important, not actually talking out the problem.
The second is to prove that you were listening. If you can make a mental note about something that your wife is struggling with, some item she admires, or some topic she is reading about while she is talking, and then put it down on your smartphone for later, you have the perfect opportunity to show her that you were listening. Wait a few days and ask her how that problem is going, bring her home the product as a gift, or ask her more about her new interest.
As a side note, if your wife uses pinterest or a similar service, you have a gold mine of information at your fingertips – your wifes interests, dream vacation, gift wishlist, and many of the things that inspire her are there for the browsing. Pick something off of her boards to ask about – or use it as a gift shopping list.
The third task is to let her know that she is in your thoughts. A simple text or email during the day saying little other than “Thinking of you,” or “Is there anything I can pick up for you on my way home?” can make her feel far more connected.
For more on the way men and women communicate differently I will again recommend Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray.
Women look to their husbands for leadership. Men are often trained to be decisive and to handle the stress of decision making in a very different way than women are. We are also the ones who are expected to protect and provide – and to be fit to do that we need to be able to choose a course of action and carry it out quickly.
Because of this a man who makes the decisions for his family, who sets the budget, plans the vacations, and who decides on the meals most of the time is incredibly attractive to a wife. He shows with every good decision that he makes that he is a fit protector, an ambitious provider, and he takes some of the stress of making decisions and being judged by them off of his wife.
A man who rarely has an opinion, who answers questions with “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”, etc., on the other hand, makes a wife feel like she is mothering a large and surly teenaged boy, and becomes stressed and resentful.
This does not mean that a husband ought to bark orders or make unilateral decisions. A wife wants to feel listened to after all. The best compromise is for a man to make some plans and do some research, and then treat his wife as a trusted advisor – he’ll pitch his plans to her, show her his research, and then ask for feedback to make them even better.
Handling the budget, assigning chores, planning meals, handling trips, and taking care of bills don’t seem like big deals, but they all set the tone where the man is taking a leadership role in his marriage. One valuable thing to learn to do is simply to have opinions and be ready to express them. Even on simple things like where to eat. I often teach men to just come up with a few simple decision making rules to help them make quick decisions if they don’t already have an opinion.
Knowing where you want to be in five years, what you would like for the kids, and what experiences you will have can be one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox, because it can help you have a long term goal that makes short-term decisions simpler.
I love reading about leadership and can recommend a lot of books, but my top three would be The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell, The Art of War by Sun-Tzu, and The 33 Rules of War by Robert Greene.
Nothing is more appealing to a wife than a husband who is involved with his kids. This can be hard for a man who has just worn himself out with eight hours of work, but a strong emotional connection with your kids, and guiding them can be incredibly beneficial to your relationship with your wife. In fact, for every point you score building a good relationship with your children, you get a point with your wife, too.
Parenting is a complicated task, and you will wear different hats as your children age, but the most important role of the dad will always be to make sure his children are ready to leave the nest as happy, functional, focused adults. That means teaching them skills, encouraging them to think critically, taking them out on adventures, and helping them learn through play are your most powerful tools.
I highly recommend having at least a half hour of fun with your kids in the evening, especially young ones. If they know it is coming and you schedule it with your kids, they will happily save up their energy for some wild play and roughhousing at the appointed time, making them better behaved the rest of the day. Play lets children process feelings, and feel emotionally connected and safe with you. It builds trust and respect as well. As teens become less playful that same time can be used to play video or board games together.
It can also be very helpful to teach the kids self-discipline by being the o in charge of bed time. Creating check lists and getting your kids to use them, helping them learn and stick to a routine that includes some time for stories, books, or talk will make your evenings more peaceful, the bedtime rigmarole shorter, and buy you both points with your wife and time to spend with her before you are both too tired to continue yourselves.
If you work a typical job on a Saturday morning, sleeping in is a strong temptation, but spending that time with your kids will both help you build a better connection with them, and let your wife take some much-needed alone time (especially if she is a stay-at-home mom herself.) It is an opportunity to play games, watch cartoons, roughhouse, or just talk with your kids.
My favourite book on parenting in a way that builds both good rapport with kids – and helps you build a better marriage at the same time is Peaceful Parent, Happy Child by Dr. Laura Markham (her blog is an excellent resource, too), along with Baby-Prooofing Your Marriage by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neil, and Julia Stone.
Some men run into a particular problem when they try to get involved in parenting – their wife won’t let them. She pushes them out of the parent-child relationship, and closes herself off with rude behavior in the process. This behavior, called “mommy-blocking” is a serious marital issue, and I will handle it separately in a later article.
You are in charge of the romance in your marriage, not your wife. This is because you are the one whose sex drive activates for no reason. Your wife has to be pursued and wooed in order to feel turned on. If a husband waits for his wife to feel horny to have sex, he could be waiting for months at a time.
Accordingly, if you want your marriage to be an intense, sexual relationship, you need to take your wife on dates, send her racy texts, flirt with her, and rock her world in the bedroom. Letting her know that you are sexually interested is going to score you lots of points over a week – if you are attractive to her.
Being attractive is hard work unto itself, it means keeping fit, showing off your strengths, dressing well, keeping yourself groomed, and maintaining strong leadership. If you slack off on yourself, then you can;t blame your wife for not responding to your flirting, after all, attraction is an involuntary body response, not a choice. You have to make yourself attractive, she can’t make herself attracted.
When it comes to attracting your wife the best book around is the Married Man Sex Life Primer 2011 by Athol Kay or his video evolution of it The Married Guy’s Guide to Wife. I would also recommend Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Steven Mansfield.
All of this: showing leadership, being a good parent, maintaining a connection is hard work – it takes effort and energy. Ultimately you need to treat your marriage like an ongoing project, putting something into it every day to make it great.
There is one thing you can do to make this work feel, effortless, however, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s article.