Here is March’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
Things feel stale in my marriage, boring even. Sometimes I think he’s staying late at work just to avoid being around me. How do I get my husband to take more of an interest in our marriage and show me more love?
Signed, Missing the Romance
Dear Missing the Romance,
I hear this all the time. I spoke with three couples this week about this very issue. And the answer I’m going to give you will seem a little counter-intuitive and annoying, but I promise it has helped many, many couples turn things around. I am going to ask you to do the heavy lifting on this one. I promise you, if he were the one that wrote in, I would be giving him some clear work to do, too!
The way women usually go about trying to get love and attention is to express their disappointment/anger/sadness about the fact that they’re not receiving enough love and attention. This makes perfect sense to women. We’re communicating our feelings directly and “teaching” our partners what we want. But what men tend to hear is “You’re not good enough. I need more than you are capable of giving. You don’t make me happy. You are a bad, bad husband.” It is crushing to receive this feedback. So some give up, but some husbands forge ahead and try to give their wives what they’re asking for. They try some small attempt at showing love and we go, “What?! This? You have got to be kidding me! I don’t want THIS. I want this other, better gesture of love…” And then they feel hurt, confused and ineffective and, most important, disrespected.
What I’ve learned over the years as a couples’ therapist is that men don’t always crave love and affection the same way women do, but they often do care about their partners a great deal. They just don’t like feeling criticized and ineffective. So they give up trying to show love in a way their wives will like because they’ve come to believe they really will never get it right.
So if you want to feel more love, start by communicating what you do want, instead of what you’re not getting. And aim to give him unconditional respect. We all agree a marriage should have unconditional love, and I propose it should have unconditional respect, too. Smile and greet him when he walks in the door. Listen as he talks about his day and compliment him on something he did well. 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 friends see him. See him the way the smitten grocery clerk sees him. And then, when he does even the smallest thing right when it comes to showing you love, stroke him. “Thank you for making me coffee, I love that you’re thinking of me.” “I loved the voicemail you left me. It made my day.”
People learn just like animals learn, in baby steps. Praising every small effort, not just the times he gets it spot on, helps him to practice and learn what you love. Start building a story of success around his ability to love on you, and I predict he catches on much faster than when you give him lectures on what he’s doing wrong.
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 Amazon.
Good luck, and I can feel the romance coming back already!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner and director of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.