Dear husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you,
I’m writing this letter to you because I want you to spend the rest of your days with the love of your life. Truly I do. Some of these words may sound harsh, but they are deliberately bold and blunt because the message is so important.
Some of you may recognize yourselves in this letter…show your wife and ask her if this letter applies to you? She may want to read this one.
Some of you may have been given a copy of this letter, or it was left on the front seat of your car, or slipped into your laptop case to find. If you are reading this because your wife gave it to you…do me a favor?
Let your wife know she was very brave and very kind to give it to you. Let her know this letter was a lot to digest so you are thanking her, but you won’t be able to discuss it further because you need some time to think it through. Let her know that you want this marriage to work as much as she does…and you had no idea how much it wasn’t working for her. Let her know that you want to take it seriously and make lasting changes. Mostly let her know you read it, and it matters to you.
This letter isn’t going to be easy to read. It may even make you furious, or want to hide, or get drunk or pull away, or get involved in a super big project in the garage or at work or at the community center to avoid the conversations this letter invites. You may be pissed off at me because of the implications of this letter.
You may have devoted your life to providing her a good life with secure finances and a beautiful house. You may take her on a big vacation once a year…you have really tried to give her what you thought was a good life. To get this letter is really going to hurt because all your good intentions won’t feel good enough.
Know that I write it because I want you to stay married to the woman of your dreams.
I’m giving you the biggest “heads up” of your life. I’m giving you an opportunity to ensure that your wife isn’t slipping away from you unawares.
I’m inviting you to truly and deeply connect with your wife so she experiences you really connecting to her. Being pals and roommates isn’t enough. Inviting her into your interests and passions isn’t enough.
There may be cues she has given you in the past that invited you to work on your relationship with her. Remember how you have wrote it off as a cranky mood? Maybe you chalked it up to “that time of the month”. Like when she wanted to go on the couples retreat, or buy a book, or engage in a quiz or exercise from the internet. What if I told you that they were brave bids for connection and when you blew the bids off, she felt blown off?
It’s now harder for her to do it again…and so she may not say much. So…as the two of you raise your kids, and get together with friends, and buy groceries and pay down the mortgage, just generally live your lives, she is getting farther and farther away from you. Maybe you haven’t even noticed. Some of these women wake up one morning and say, “no more”.
First the bad news: The awful truth that research confirms over and over again:
Yep, more than 2/3’s of divorces are because the wife says, “I’m done”. There are lots of articles that speculate about why women are more likely to initiate divorce, like this article at Psychology Today, or this one at Time.
Dear husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, I’m going to give you my experience of this, from the viewpoint of the therapist’s chair. This is harsh but true. I’ve been doing this for a while, and this has happened over and over again in our office:
We get an email or a phone call from a desperate husband (often first thing in the morning). He says his wife wants to end their marriage. He is shocked and stunned. He loves her and wants to continue the marriage. He is clearly distraught. He wants an appointment today. As soon as possible. He will move heaven and earth to be there.
And he’s hoping his wife will come too. They simply have to work this out. He’s sure it can be worked out. She’s upset, but things can’t really be that bad. He doesn’t know why she wants it to end, because things have been OK. There should be a way to fix this…as long as she comes. He really really wants her to come.
They come in together. He is incredulous and uber upset. She is tired and flat. She says in an even tone: I’ve tried for years. I’ve let him know that this isn’t working for me. He would get a little more helpful for a few days, but then when I stopped complaining, he would just go back. He would get a little more conversational or affectionate until for a few weeks, and then it went back to the way it was.
I can’t do this anymore. I believe he wants to change now. I know he thinks it can be different this time. But I’m done. I don’t trust the changes he will make now to last. It’s too hard to hope he might actually change—I’ve hoped before, and then been disappointed. Can’t do it anymore. I’m done.
Sometimes, he comes in alone because she has refused. All of a sudden, he can see crystal clear into their history. In the session, he tells an insightful tale of how he gradually stopped being curious about her interests, how his eyes glazed over when she came home excited from something and she wanted to talk. He can see how he stopped getting up from the couch and let her do most of the house management. He’s crushed and desperately motivated to sincerely change…but it’s looking like he won’t get a chance.
Dear husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, you don’t want that to be you, do you?
A wife will tell me that she has tried to reach out to you and has been disappointed for years. She has worked to be:
- supportive of your career with late evenings at work by taking over tasks at home,
- cheerleader for you as you pursue your interests while you went away for the weekend or spent money on your latest pursuit, and
- patient with your fatigue and let you go to bed early while she made the lunches and got ready for the next day
She has spent years:
- tolerating your disengagement
- silently enduring your lack of interest and support in her life
- making up for your distance with the kids and making excuses for you
A wife often does a lot to make her husband’s life easier without him realizing it.
This might mean giving up her own opportunities to be with her friends, compromising her career or interests in ways she wouldn’t even have brought up to you, or even just making your favourite suppers often and rarely making hers.
Statistically, she has done a lot more housework than you have. She has learned to not raise the issue…you taught her that it would only lead to a fight. She has just silently been working more hours than you in a day because everyone just expects it.
More than likely, she has gone for pizza when you wanted pizza, or burgers when you wanted burgers. Do you know where she wants to go? When is the last time you want to a restaurant that she liked that you’re not really nuts about, but you went because you knew she’d love it? And then she saw that you truly enjoyed the experience because you got to see the sparkle in her eye.
There are a lot of women who are quite unhappy, but are determined to be kind and respectful. They know that whining and complaining doesn’t draw you into a closer marriage.
So they tell their husbands that something isn’t right and would like to go for counselling…but when he refuses, they don’t know what else to say…so they say nothing.
The disappointed wife may leave a marriage book on the coffee table or the nightstand for a looooong time, hoping he’ll notice and pick it up, because they intuitively know that he for sure ain’t gonna read it if she asks him to directly. She may have even highlighted certain passages she is desperate to have him digest…and he walks by the book every day without acknowledgement.
There is distance that you feel from her. Less sex. Maybe no sex at all. For quite a while. You notice and mention it, because you miss it…but tune out when she tries to tell you of the distance she feels.
And so when her direct and indirect efforts were rebuffed, she gave up and hung in there for as long as she could.
And then one day, she writes a letter and packs a suitcase, saying she’s done.
Women tend to file when they are done.
Finished. Finito. So very, very done.
Dear Husband-whose-wife-is-lonely-for you…don’t let this be your wife. Please.
The wife will use the counselling session to explain that there is nothing left in them to work on this marriage. Leaving now is like when the doctor declares the time of death over a patient. She isn’t killing the marriage…she’s acknowledging it is already dead.
Typically, husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, only now is when the husband gets that it is truly serious. And he is flooded with all the feelings of love and connection and adoration that he truly has for his wife.
And he is desperate to fix it. He doesn’t want to lose her.
Except she’s done.
So, dear husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, I know you don’t mean harm to your wife. You don’t mean to allow the marriage to die in front of you without you even knowing about it. You don’t mean to ignore her. I get that.
It’s not intentional.
It’s hard to hear from your life partner that she finds you falling short. It’s tempting to push painful information away, like pushing away the Brussel sprouts on your plate and just not eating them.
Women are raised to be sensitive to other’s emotions…they notice when their husband is upset and take care of it. They know when he needs extra support, and they give it. Wives are really dialled into being aware of where their partners are at—women are socialized to really notice and be impacted by what other people are going through.
So, husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, this is hard stuff. It’s quite possible that you weren’t raised in our culture to accept influence…to figure out how to actually have what your wife is feeling matter to you in ways that have you check in on her, change what time you go on your fishing trip, offer to take over cleaning up the house because you see she’s tired, learn to watch some of the movies the way she may have learned to watch yours.
Does your wife experience and see by your actions and your words that her feelings, thoughts and behaviours influence you? Does she see you living a life that actively demonstrates she matters to you?
To accept influence from their husbands is as natural as breathing to most wives.
For husbands to accept influence from their wives is not as natural.
Better yet, when you’ve had a chance to gather yourself to truly hear her, ask you wife how much she feels like she matters to you. Ask her how much she feels heard and understood, how much she feels you support and care for her. That will be hard. It will take real courage.
I’m warning you…if she has given you this blog post, the results may be dismal, and that will certainly be disheartening. You may unleash the flood gates of pain. Her parched soul that is thirsty for connection may overwhelm you. Your first impulse might be to be angry. You might want to blame her…can you prepare yourself to hold off on a harsh reaction?
The irony is that, even in the asking, you are telling her that she matters…as long as you listen to her and give her an experience of listening to her responses that encourage her to say even more hard stuff to you. If you can keep her talking, and if you can write some stuff down, and really hear her—as hard as it will be—it will be an important step in letting her know that she can feel hope.
Dear husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you, get an accurate read from her on your marriage, now, before she tells you so clearly that there is nothing you can do about it.
I want you to be able to grow old and happy with your wife.
Make my job as a therapist easier? If she asks you to work on your marriage now before she is completely burnt out–please show up? Stick with the process—and you give yourself a fighting chance?
You give me something to work with when you come before she’s completely done.
With great respect and hope, Carolyn
**This blog is now a chapter in a book that expands on the ideas in this blog, Nice to a Fault: Redefining Kindness in Marriage. While it is written to women, men will receive an inside look at the struggles of women in ways that will illuminate an understanding of the issues. Available in paperback and on Kindle:
This letter may be uncomfortable in how it specifically addresses husbands. There is absolutely gender bias to it…based on the very real stats and the research. But there is room for wives or same sex partners of either gender in this letter, for certain. 31% of husbands petition for divorce…and for some of the same reasons. Please, if you are experiencing this letter but in a gender reversed situation, please print it off, and use white-out to blot out “husbands-whose-wives-are lonely-for-you” and write in “wives-whose-husbands-are lonely-for-you”. There aren’t as many of you…but you are very, very important too.