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Dear Dr. David,
I have been married to a nice guy for over ten years now. Although our marriage is on the whole, a happy one and pretty satisfying, there is an area in our marriage where I feel threatened and in somewhat of a competition.
We lack emotional intimacy. At least I think we do. My husband’s idea of emotional intimacy with me is to spend an evening watching television and chatting with me on commercials. But the big difference is that he has no problem calling his mother every day and taking the time to really have a talk with her about her day, ask for some advice, speak about family matters, etc. I end up feeling left out and I will admit, feeling jealous too, because somehow although things are pretty easy-going in our marriage, it always seems to be a competition for my husband’s attention.
I try not to show my feelings of annoyance, but he can always tell. To complicate matters, if he doesn’t call his mother everyday, she will call him and ask if “he is still alive,” to which he doesn’t see anything wrong, as being the mother, she can come and visit any time she wants and call anytime she wishes, according to him. That’s our biggest point of contention in our marriage, as my parents raised me quite differently.
Dr. David, I know my husband. He is just trying to do the best for his parents. He is an all-around caring guy, who feels deeply responsible for his parents’ well-being. I can understand that, but still, I feel that emotionally he feels more of an obligation to them than to me. He would disagree with that, but that’s what I feel, especially now that his parents are getting older, it seems to be getting worse.
Could you please help me to deal with this? Should I admit to him that I am jealous of his relationship with his mother? Should we both pray about this, or should I keep it in my private worship time? How do I lovingly confront him about this situation without seeming heartless and rude? ~ Left Out
Dear Left Out,
You have given me a perfect opportunity to get on my soapbox about men and relationships—so here goes.
While there are certainly exceptions, and I’m trying hard to be one, men generally have been emotionally absent in relationships. While we may make great golf buddies, and are hard-working, loyal employees, we don’t have the best track record when it comes to relationships. Making conversation with our spouse, one of their greatest needs, tends to be our weakness.
While men are attentive and affectionate initially, listening and caring about the well-being of our mate, we soon lose interest in maintaining our marriage. We’re great sprinters, but poor marathoners.
Many of us, like your husband, sadly do better at calling our parents than we do maintaining a warm, emotional connection to our mate. Even there, however, men are likely to give only superficially. We don’t want to expend the energy to really care for others, and are tragically lacking in depth-relationship skills.
Add to this problem the fact that women have, historically, carried the burden of creating emotional and spiritual connection in the home. They have kept our families together, raised the children, and often even keep the financial books balanced.
Now, having taken men to task, citing many of the errors men make on a repeated basis, let’s balance the scales. Your note shouts out some of the mistakes women tend to make.
Your note says you feel jealous and annoyed, but try not to let him see these feelings. Why are you trying to hide these feelings? This is relationally dishonest and enables your husband to be emotionally and spiritually under-developed. To feel jealous, annoyed and left out is only natural, since he is putting more emotional energy into maintaining his relationship to his mother. I suspect you’d feel jealous of anything, or anybody, that got more of your husband’s emotions, leaving you chewing on relational crumbs.
It’s long past time to have a heart to heart with your husband—speaking the truth in love. It’s time to stop being codependent, one of the primary problems plaguing women. Talking to him about rebuilding your marriage is long overdue. What you want is not only reasonable, but critically necessary. You don’t need to apologize for wanting the best of your husband’s affections and attention. God’s plan was for man and woman to cleave to one another, leaving our parents. The day will come soon enough when his mother will no longer be here and you’ll be left with a shrivelled and dried marriage—and neither of you want that.
So, pray about this encounter that needs to occur with your husband, making it clear that this is not about what he’s giving to his mother, but about what he’s not giving to you. Clarify that you need to see him put energy into meeting your needs, in addition to listening to, and caring about his mother. Develop a specific game plan, together, for invigorating your marriage with new life. You two must re-create a warmth and vitality in your marriage, or too soon you’ll find yourselves in serious trouble.
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book is Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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