Here is February’s installment of “Ask Shelby” with Chester County’s own Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley
How do I get my husband to show me more love? He used to be so romantic. Now it sometimes seems like he doesn’t even know I’m alive.
Signed, Missing the Magic
Dear Missing the Magic,
I hear this all the time! And the answer I’m going to give you will seem very counter-intuitive. So take a deep breath, and stay open, okay?
The way we wives usually go about getting the love we want is to ask for it. And then whine for it. And then get mad and criticize that it’s not happening. And then beg for it. Then we use sarcasm. Then we give up and close off…. Until we have the energy to start the process all over again. Sound familiar?
This makes perfect sense to us. We’re asking. We’re “teaching.” We’re COMMUNICATING for goodness sake! But what men tend to hear is “You’re not good enough. I need more. You don’t make me happy. You are a bad, bad husband.” And they try. They try some small, pitiful little attempt at showing us love and we go, “What?! This? You have got to be kidding me! I don’t want THIS. I want this…” And then they feel all confused and ineffective and, most important, disrespected.
Most women would admit to feeling like they do more work in the relationship. More loving gestures, more displays of affection, more kindness. And because we do that more, we think we care more. Therefore, men must care less. Then our feelings get hurt, and we throw a tantrum to try to get what we crave.
What I’ve learned over the years as a couples’ therapist is that men don’t care less—they care a great deal. They just don’t like feeling so ineffective, so criticized, and they really, genuinely feel like they can’t ever do enough to get it right. So they give up. And they get bitter because the one thing most men crave, they aren’t getting: RESPECT. Most women are good at the love. Not so good at the respect.
What does respect look like? It’s not using a criticizing tone. It’s not making faces and rolling your eyes. It’s not nitpicking things to death. It’s letting your husband’s ideas shine from time to time. We say, “Please help me by feeding the baby.” So he does. And then we say, “Not with THAT spoon! Gosh! Never mind, I’ll do it myself.”
SO not respectful.
So if you want some lovin’—start by giving him the respect he deserves. Aim for unconditional respect. We all agree a marriage should have unconditional love, and I propose it should have unconditional respect, too. Smile at him when he walks in the door. Listen as he talks about his day and compliment him on something he did at work. Men like to feel like heroes. Try placing a filter on your eyes and ears for two weeks: see him the way his doting mom sees him. See him the way his employees see him. See him the way the goo-goo eyed girl at the blockbuster sees him. And then, when he does even the smallest thing right when it comes to showing you love, stroke him. “Thank you for offering me water, I love that you’re thinking of me.” (Totally sincere, NO sarcasm!) “I loved the voicemail you left me. It made my day.”
People learn just like animals learn. Remember conditioned response and close approximations from Pysch 101? Praising every small effort, not just the times he gets it spot on, help him to practice and learn what you love. Start building a story of success around his ability to love on you, and I will bet money he catches on much faster than when you give him those wretched verbal tongue lashings.
With all this said, you should have a place in your marriage for discussing tough issues, and making a request for change. A weekly couples meeting is a great way to make room for that and leave the rest of your interactions for connecting and caring for one another. If you want some ideas about how to structure a couples meeting, check out the Assignment Book for Couples on www.FamilyHelpToday.com.
Good luck, and I can feel the magic coming back already!
**Remember to check out Shelby’s website, Family Help Today, for a variety of useful information for couples, individuals, families, and kids. You can also find out more about Shelby’s AWESOME e-books on her site.