Everybody rubs their spouse the wrong way sometimes. But often there are bigger picture rifts that can be missed in everyday spats. These aren’t disagreement so much as fundamental missteps that can eventually undermine a marriage. To pinpoint some of the more common big relationship mistakes, we asked marriage counselors to tell us about the biggest complaints they hear most often from clients about husbands. Their answers, ranging from communication shortfalls to over reliance on technology, serve as a reminder of habits to avoid.
1. “He Never Asks How I’m Doing”
Pennsylvania couples therapist Laura Silverstein says her clients grow frustrated when their male partners fail to ask how they are and find it easy to conclude their husbands don’t even seem to care about them. “Usually, it's about differences in how people like to connect,” she says. “If you are hearing this, it's probably because your partner feels emotional when the two of you talk about your day.”
Better Approach: A simple “how are you?” is a good start. But overall, you may need to reconsider how you communicate in your marriage. Remember that your spouse wants to hear from you, which is a good thing. “If you remind yourself that even though it lands as a criticism, it is coming from a desire to connect,” Silverstein says.
2. “I Have to Handle Everything”
Illinois marriage and family therapist Kate Engler says her clients express a sense of unfairness about the division of household labor. Much of what’s known as “invisible labor,” like keeping up the household schedule and tracking the family’s information and obligations, usually falls in the wife’s lap. “The wife feels like she's doing all the organizing and the scheduling and the running around, and then who needs what forms filled out and this doctor and all the little pieces, parts that make life run,” Engler says. “They feel like they have to be the manager of all of those things.”
Better Approach: Make a real assessment of household responsibilities and divide them fairly. All the needling little administrative responsibilities often go overlooked, hence the “invisible” part of invisible labor. Both partners need to understand what really needs to be done and devise a fair way to do it.
3. “He Always Wants to Fix, But Is Rarely Willing to Listen.”
California couple's coach Nancy Landrum notes that men and women often have very different ideas about the goals and outcomes of conversations about problems. Women want to talk through a situation with an active and attentive listener; men want to identify and solve the situation, which is a mistake.
“When women want to talk about something, most of the time, they just want their husbands to listen,” she says. “But the husbands tend to think they need to jump in and fix whatever problem it is.” While the husband may be coming out of a loving place and trying to help, Landrum says their solutions fall on deaf ears for a simple reason: “The woman doesn't want to be fixed. She just wants to be heard.”
By offering solutions, the man is saying he’s more capable and smarter than the woman, which can come off as demeaning.
Better Approach: Listen and ask for permission to offer suggestions. “I tell husbands that their only job is to listen with a caring attitude and maybe repeat back what you hear every once in a while,” she says. But don't give advice or try to jump in and fix it unless she asks for it.”
4. “He’s Not Emotionally Present.”
Engler says many of her clients feel like their husbands are “closed off” from them. They’re uncomfortable with discussing or displaying their inner selves. “We've done a poor job of helping men be positioned to do that,” she says. As a result, many wives feel their men only try to be emotionally intimate when they desire sex. “Many women feel like they can't connect with their partners at that sort of deeper level,” she says.
Better Approach: Accepting that your partner wants you to share your inner life with them is a good first step. But here, it’s really the follow-through that matters. You can’t just want to do it; you have to be willing to learn how to do it. Engler says men need to show they’re really taking ownership of learning how to express emotions and be comfortable sharing them.
5. “He’s Always Looking at His Phone.”
All spouses hate phubbing, even if they’ve never heard the term. Coined in a 2015 scientific paper, phubbing is a portmanteau of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ describing that exquisitely aggravating experience of having your partner’s eyes locked on their phones when you’re trying to have a conversation. We use our phones all the time, for a variety of reasons, so most are guilty of the occasional phub. But Silverstein warns that repeat phub offenders risk alienating their spouse by making it appear that the phone is more important to you then them.
A Better Approach: Silverstein says couples would do well to put their devices on airplane mode on a regular basis. “Have short times during the day when all phones are off, or at least face down and silenced,” she says. “This gives your partner the sense that they have your undivided attention, even if it's only for a moment in the middle of a busy day.”
6. “He’s Only Nice When He Wants Sex.”
Engler says many of her female clients feel like men are only interested in emotional intimacy when they have designs on ramping up to physical intimacy. “Women often feeling like their spouse only sweet to them if he wants have sex and otherwise there's no sense of a personal intimate connection.”
Better Approach: Engler says better communication about sex is often the key. “I would recommend people learn how to have conversations about sex,” she says. “And not just what you're into. That's all well and good. But there’s much more beyond that.” Talk about the difference reasons you desire sex. Do you miss your partner? Simply want to get laid? And work out timing and logistics — do some times of day work better than others?
7. “He’s An Overgrown Kid.”
Georgia-based marriage counselor Sam Marion says his clients complain of feeling like their husbands are overgrown kids they have to fuss over and take care of. “Many times, people express frustration that after a long day of work and chores without the husband doing much to help, he tries to initiate sex and gets upset when it is declined,” Marion says.
Better Approach: Stop acting entitled and make a sincere effort to help support your household. Marion suggests that husbands who may be guilty of this spend the hours after dinner cleaning the kitchen, helping kids with homework, getting the kids through bath time and so on. “People want their spouses to be equal bearers of the household burdens — cooking, cleaning, childcare, errands and other responsibilities,” Marion says.