Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Why Women Get Mad At Their Husbands

Should women stop nagging and treat their hubbys with respect?

Author Martha Brockenbrough penned a provocative article for CNN about how exasperated wives have become with their husbands.http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/29/living/why-we-get-mad-at-our-husbands-p/index.html?hpt=hp_bn8   Her classic line is that some women feel they are "married to nothing more than hairy man-child."

The brilliant Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarain echoed Ms. Brockenbrough's frustration with a telling account of three working mothers checking in with each other:

 Wife 1, cautiously: Do you ever feel like your husband just doesn't like you?

Wife 2: All the time!

Wife 3: It's one of my standard fighting refrains: "If you dislike me so much, why did you marry me?"

Wife 1: When I ask other friends about this, they all look at me like I'm crazy, like they don't know what I'm talking about.

Wife1 and Wife 2 in unison: Liars, liars, pant's on fi-re!

Sadly, women like Ms. Brockenbrough and Robin Abcarian's friends have reached the low point in this method of modern love. The once attentive lover who once sent them 10 page love letters quoting from "Songs of the Portuguese", carefully choreographed romantic dates  and texted them day and night now refuses to meet them halfway in the never ending duties of home and hearth. The detachment and selfishness leaves women feeling abandoned and frustrated.  Many wives eventually realize that their distant husbands  do not even like them as a person, and some of the husbands make no effort to hide their contempt. Other women in this condition will suffer from husbands or lovers who hide their true feelings of resentment and personal dislike toward their brides or live-ins through slavish obedience to the letter of their commitment. But in either case their hearts are not in the relationship any more, and it is revealed in their lack of enthusiasm. 

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No wonder many wives or lovers like Ms. Brockenbrough  and Robin Abcarian's friends are seething with resentment: they have been cheated out of a fulfilling heterosexual union by initially deceptive men. If they had only known their Ever Ready battery lover was going to slowly morph into a couch potato they would have never signed on.

One would like to think that unhappy women like Ms. Brockenbrough and her fellow wives quoted in the blog represent the fringe of all wives... but they don't. According to psychologists Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, they are considered among the "happily married." The gist of their bestseller "The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts," is that happily married couples scream, yell, throw inanimate objects at one another, go to bed with serious unresolved conflicts, give each other the silent treatment for weeks on end, and have meaningless sexual flings while away from one another.

This sounds happy if one compares it to Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage. But is it the best that we can hope for under the current courtship and marriage model?

Perhaps. Consider our society's contemporary standard of husbandhood. For two generations, American men and women looked to comedian, author  and actor Bill Cosby as the shining example of the happily married family man. He provided millions of Americans with a humorous role model of how all good husbands should be, from his hilarious, chart-busting stand up comedy albums in the 1960s to his role of the ideal husband Dr. Cliff Huxtable to wife Clair in the smash 1980s-90s NBC comedy "The Cosby Show," to his best-selling book "Fatherhood." Yet America eventually discovered that the man who was ranked as  America's all-time favorite television husband and father by Reader's Digest was the victim of a poorly-designed extortion plot by an alleged love child spawned from an episode of 1970s infidelity. Although Bill denied paternity, he admitted to the extramarital affair and to providing long-term financial assistance to the woman claiming to be his daughter. http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/LegalCenter/story?id=508828&page=2

Beyond the ugly scandal is the larger question: are deception, infidelity and love children from meaningless sexual liasons to be expected in a "happy marriage"? Robin Abcarian sums up the current state of American love and marriage thusly:

"In a season stained by stories about the horrible ways in which spouses inflict pain upon each other, it is tempting to see marriage as a new car, a thing that starts out shiny and perfect and inevitably rusts right through (although the decay often hides under a well-polished exterior."

The rust is evident in the  husbands who delight  in the times they can escape from their wives. You see it in their sparkling eyes and improved posture as they prepare for their Wednesday night softball game. You hear it in their conversations safely out of earshot of other women. You see it confirmed on television, in insipid situation comedies like  "Two and a Half Men", "Yes Dear" and "King of Queens" and beer commercials that feature men escaping their wife's clutches to spend some stolen moments of joy with their drinking buddies watching ESPN. In the private places that men gather, the Lions Clubs and athletic club locker rooms, the office lounges and local taverns, you hear a familair refrain. The banter and the jokes reveal a deep-seated resentment of their wives and girlfriends, even a dislike of them personally, no matter how well they perform their spousal duties.

It's easy to understand how such festering resentment poisons romances. But it is ironic that these disgruntled men once professed undying love to the same women they now can barely tolerate as fellow human beings. There is a good reason why women like Martha Brockenbrough are mad at their husbands, and we need to instruct the next generation  on how to avoid such loveless unions of obligation.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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