Marriage on the rocks?—Or merely riding the rapids?

Opinions - July 17th, 1992

by Joseph Precker

“Dear Dr. Precker:

“I am furious with my husband—and now I real­ize I’ve been furious with him for almost all the 10 years we’ve been together. He’s intelligent, success­ful in his work as a manager of an international com­pany, a good father and provider and well-accepted in the international community, doing charitable work and related things. BUT, he sure isn’t charitable to me!

“I feel taken advantage of, responsible for our chil­dren (two great kids), looking after our household, arranging whatever little social activity we have to­gether, serving as chauffeur, nurse maid, repair-per­son and everything else, while he’s out working, en­tertaining (“business,” he says), being seen as a great guy in the community.

“Not only do I get no recognition, thanks or ap­preciation from him (or anyone else!), but also we have almost no time to talk (and when we do, it’s argue, argue, argue, even in front of the kids)—and “no time” (or energy) for “intimacy.” Sometimes, I hate him and want to leave, but then I think of the kids. And, from time to time, I even remember how nice and charming and close he was long ago before he was ‘successful.’ What shall I do?”

Dear Furious:

Your plight is far more general than you think, not only among the spouses of upper-level foreign executives in Japan, but also among the wives of many men between the ages of 30 or 35 and 60. While “misery loves company” is not my lesson for today, it is often helpful to know that one is not alone, and it is not just one’s self nor one’s spouse who seems to create or contribute to what seems to be a very personal problem.

Many observers agree that there are “stages” in life—not only in childhood, but also throughout the life-span. Probably, when you married, you both were in the “romantic stage,” when finding the right mate, and then making that relationship a binding one, was uppermost in your thoughts and feelings. Following the romantic stage, there is the “settling down” stage, when each of you may have felt truly adult for the first time, creating a home, taking on responsibilities, paying the bills, learning to live with another person, not a blood relative—and so on. This stage, while often frustrating, is often also stimulating and plea­surable, as the two of you function as a socially ac­ceptable “couple.”

The come the child-bearing years, together with the tender years of child-raising. This seems to be the period through which you are passing now. Para­doxically, although his period begins with excitement and awe, in many a traditional marriage, it is also a period when estrangement may begin and intensify in the lives of many couples. Why? Who is to blame?

Well, I’m not one to assign “blame,” nor to find it particularly useful. In my experience, both parties bear at least some of the responsibility. The wife and mother during this stage often devotes much more attention to the babes and growing children than she does to her husband. Often enough, she may neglect her appearance, or even hygiene. Her energy level may be low, being up at all hours and running around all day, taking care of the energetic and demanding children. While, at heart she may yearn for romance, she often does not put out romantic signals, and may even go around looking, seeming, acting “angry,” for reasons her husband cannot comprehend. Men, gen­erally being unversed in the “language of women,” find it all puzzling and off-putting.

What is going on for the male at the same time? The more he loves his wife and his children, the less time he spends with them. He is so eager to be “suc­cessful,” financially and otherwise, so that he can pro­vide for his family generously, that he enters the stage where, for him, “career” becomes a matter of prime importance.

His rationale is that his achievements will demon­strate his love, materially and spiritually, to his wife and children. What ensues is more absence from home—and, even when he is at home, a kind of “psy­chological absence,” as he is engrossed by the demands, the competition, the prob­lems at work. A great time for both husband and wife (and often children, too) to feel unfulfilled, misunderstood, neglected and unappreciated, no matter what they do! And, too often, in anger, frustration and a sense of loss, they continue to do exactly what exacerbates the situa­tion, rather than alleviates it.

This is the period of “dangerous rapids,” particu­larly in this day and age when many forces seem to urge toward separation and divorce …

What to do? A few simple suggestions: set aside at least one or two “nights out” each month—just the two of you!—in a setting where you can talk. But do not talk “family business.” For that, set aside a sepa­rate meeting each week or each month, to talk fi­nances, vacation, kid-problems,plans, careers, invest­ment, etc. (By the way, have both partners share in family financial responsibility and planning.)

Then, keep clean, look good, “think ROMANCE” .. . and act romantic. That’s only the beginning… more later.