By Anne Gagliano
Both sexes long for love, but women tend to desire marriage more than men do. Most girls dream of their “Prince Charming” and plan their “big day” from a very young age. It is the wife who is usually concerned about marital issues as statistics show they buy the most books on the subject and will pursue counseling more readily than a husband will. Wives tend to view themselves as the major source for holding the relationship together and will expend tremendous effort to resolve all conflicts. With these facts in mind, that women long for marriage and seek to keep it intact at higher rates than men do, it is all the more surprising to learn this: Women file for divorce two times more often than men do.
So why is this? Why do women wish to end marriage twice as often as men do? There are two primary reasons women file for divorce in this country. The number one reason is mental cruelty or emotional abuse. In this case, wives declare their husbands to be “indifferent, emotionally distant, and/or noncommunicative.” The second top reason is neglect. In this case, wives report their husbands to be either away from the home too much physically and/or mentally and emotionally absent when they are home. Divorce due to mental cruelty and neglect occurs more often than any of the other reasons combined, including physical abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, criminal behavior, and fraud. (Tragically, many women in extreme physical peril who should leave refuse to do so, but that’s a whole different topic.) Simply stated, women leave when they feel emotionally neglected.
Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr., a noted and well-respected author and marriage counselor, lists the following nine statements as the most commonly quoted to him by women seeking divorce:
1. I feel alone and abandoned.
2. My husband is no longer my friend.
3. The only attention he gives me is when he wants sex.
4. He is never there for me when I need him the most; he’s not interested in my problems.
5. When he hurts my feelings, he never apologizes; he just says I’m too sensitive.
6. He rarely considers my opinion when making decisions; he lives as if he’s single.
7. We are ships that pass in the night; he goes his way, I go mine.
8. We have become strangers; I don’t know who he is anymore.
9. He doesn’t show interest in me or what I do.
Wow, pretty sad stuff, isn’t it? Can you feel the loneliness, the sense of abandonment, the loss? Sadly, this is the hardest issue for marriage counselors to treat, yet it is the most common. Dr. Harley writes that husbands are typically “mystified” by these complaints and do not understand why emotional neglect is grounds for divorce. Do you see the dilemma, the impasse? Women need emotional connection above all else, so much so that they will leave if it’s not there. When they come to believe that their husband no longer “sees them,” they stop trying to save the marriage. But the husband doesn’t “see” that this is a problem, like physical abuse, so why leave? How does a man truly emotionally connect with a woman? How can he give her what he himself doesn’t need in the same way? How can he ever please her? Is it even possible? Speaking from my own experience of nearly 29 years of living with a man, the answer is yes! Men, you can please your wife. You can give her what she truly wants from you, and it’s not as hard as you think.
It begins with access. Give your wife complete access into your world. Men tend to be compartmentalized; it is their nature, it is ingrained into the very design of their brain. Think of a man’s brain as being full of boxes on a shelf or rooms in a house. One box or room is “work,” one is “hobbies,” one is “wife,” and so on. If she is only allowed into her one allocated room, and the rest is off limits to her, the marriage will eventually fail. A woman needs to have access to every box, to every room in her husband’s life. Otherwise, over time she will begin to feel left out, like an unwanted, uninvited stranger.
Access can only happen with attention–undivided attention. When you are present with your wife, actually be present. Do not let your mind be elsewhere. Listen to her, even if it’s stuff you don’t necessarily want to hear. And talk to her; tell her about work, let her know what’s going on in your world; share your thoughts on all topics and don’t allocate them to separate boxes as she will see this as being secretive even if it isn’t intended to be. Seek her input; make all decisions together, like a couple—not as if you’re single, or before you know it, you will be. Make sure both parties are enthusiastic about the decisions you make–i.e., where to go for vacation–so that nothing is begrudged and no one is the martyr. If a husband always considers his wife’s feelings when making decisions, he will gain her trust and her approval. As the trust grows, so does the compatibility, as each of you tries to please the other in all of your choices. Seek her opinion and she will seek yours. Seek to please her by giving her your undivided attention and she will seek to please you in the ways you need.
Don’t spend too much time apart. It is very easy for the firefighter couple to become as “ships that pass in the night.” Firefighters are doers, and they tend to overcommit. A wife can come to feel neglected as he works long, 48-hour shifts and then goes on to work a second job and then project after project after project. With such a rigorous schedule, when he finally does come home, he’s so exhausted as to be nothing but a TV-watching zombie who can’t or won’t speak. No amount of money or achievement is worth the loss of intimacy with your wife. If she ends up divorcing you because of neglect, both your heart and your income will be broken in half. You will have been working all of that overtime for nothing.
Many men fear that if they let their wife “in” to every “room” or “box” they will lose their identity, their space, their freedom. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the result is the absolute opposite. My husband Mike leaves no doors locked between us, denies me nothing. He is an open book and allows me full access to his deepest thoughts and seeks my input on every decision. Because of this openness, he has my complete and total trust and with that trust lots of freedom. He treats me like a cherished, adored, and desired guest who is both welcome and wanted in his world. He views time spent with me as more valuable than any amount of overtime, as do I. This is what I need, this is what most women need, to feel emotionally connected and not neglected. Because I feel cherished, I am secure enough to give him his “space” when he needs it. And because of our passionate love affair, he is proud to have his identity intertwined with mine.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 29 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.