Many years ago, a couple on the brink of divorce came to see me. The wife had decided to leave but they were giving it a last ditch effort at a marriage counsellor. She told how she had tried to get her husband’s attention for years, but he wasn’t there. She would have to beg him to spend time with her and the kids on weekends. She would talk to him but he didn’t really listen. If she asked him to help her with housework and all the things she had to do, he would put it off. She felt she was raising those kids on her own. She was lonely and frustrated.
Then, the sink broke in the kitchen and the plumber came to fix it. After he did the job, she offered him a coffee and they sat at the kitchen table and talked for a half hour. That’s it. Nothing more happened. But when he left, she made up her mind to get a divorce. She realized that the plumber, a perfect stranger, gave her more attention in that half hour than her husband had in the whole past year.
In my office, the husband was desperate. He didn’t want to lose his wife and family. At last, he got it. He could finally see how she had, time after time, tried to get him to engage with her and with the kids, but he was fried after a week of work and needed to recover. He would lie on the sofa and sleep on a Saturday afternoon just to recharge his batteries. He said, “I’m not a bad guy! I’m not a gambler, I’m not a womanizer, I’m not a drinker. I was just working for the family!” He saw now how lonely his wife had been all those years but it was too late. She’d shut down and she did leave him. He was devastated.
If you’re a man and this scenario sounds familiar to you, you need to wake up and stop taking your wife for granted. More women than men initiate divorce and it is often because they feel neglected and unloved. They long for a sense of attachment to their husbands but can’t get the man to connect. For many men, being under the same roof is being together. For a woman however, she needs eye contact and time to talk. Husbands need to learn that being available and listening with full attention is the best gift they can give to their wives.
You want to shock her (in a good way)? Put some muscle into your couple. Organize something—make a fun plan for her or for the family. Be fully there (that means rarely checking your phone, if at all, when you’re out together). Give her your full attention. The more she feels you are there for her, the less she will nag at you because she will appreciate it. And the happier you both will be.
I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal; The Divorce Talk: How to Tell the Kids – A Parent’s Guide to Breaking the News without Breaking Their Hearts; My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life and the editor of Planet Heartbreak: Abandoned Wives Tell Their Stories. I offer Skype and phone therapy and can be found online at www.vikkistark.com.