When there are problems in a marriage it can often be difficult for couples to speak plainly to one another. Maybe one partner doesn’t want to hurt the other’s feelings. Or maybe they need to work out their thoughts before bringing up specific points. However, there is a particular audience for which spouses will not hold back: therapists. Marriage and couples therapists regularly hear uncensored accounts of what’s happening in relationships because, well, it’s their job. As they hear from multiple patients and multiple women, trends start to appear and they are met with a number of issues that come up in marriages. So, to shed some light on what things husbands might need to be keyed in on, we asked a number of therapists to share the common complaints wives have about their husbands. Unsurprisingly, many issues revolve around communication breakdowns. Here’s what they said.
“He Doesn’t Listen.”
Therapists agree that this is one of the more common complaints women have about their husbands. Communication is, of course, essential, but it tends to dry up. When this happens, frustration builds and many wives say they’re forced to ask their husbands again and again about something. This leads to accusations of nagging and more frustration.
“The persistence of this complaint is related to chronic power struggles and repetitive conflicts in which partners begin their conversations by listing the other person’s faults and shortcomings, leading to too much attack and self-protection,” says relationship expert, psychologist, and therapist Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D.
Theresa Herring, LMFT, a Chicago-area relationship therapist, suggests that men who feel that they’re being nagged take a moment to hear what’s actually being said. “Think of it as an investment in your marriage,” she says, “and modeling a healthy partnership to your children.”
“He Doesn’t Understand How Hard I Work.”
Being a mom is a challenging, difficult, and never-ending job. There are some jobs that only a mom can do (such as nursing); and many other jobs that often go unnoticed. So, given the number of responsibilities a mother has, combined with the lack of sleep and irregular hours, therapists say a lot of mothers describe feeling helpless. This can also be amplified if the mother also works. “Many women feel the pressure to succeed professionally, and as mothers and partners,” says Heather Z. Lyons, a licensed psychologist, couples counselor, and owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group. “However, gender roles and the traditional division of household labor doesn’t always accommodate women’s immersion in all of these areas or support women’s competence in all three areas.”
“He Just Wants Sex.”
Therapists say they often hear women complaining that their husbands only want sex. This is born out of a disconnection between partners. When that disconnection happens, men tend to seek sex as a means of reconnecting and feeling intimacy again; women, however, often tend to need an emotional connection before they can feel the desire for a physical connection. This will persist until the two break through that barrier of disconnection. “If you want sex, it helps if you do things that put her in the mood,” says Herring. “And, hint, they may not the same things that put you in the mood.”
“He Doesn’t Compliment Me on My Appearance.”
Many men tend to fall into this trap because their wives will say they don’t want to be judged on their appearance or that they want to just be loved the way they are. This can lead men to become a little lax when it comes to handing out compliments. According to Young-Eisendrath, this comes down to communication on both parties. Men need to dole out compliments, and women need to be more obvious about asking their husband’s opinions. “If [a woman] wants her partner to compliment her appearance, let him know and then turn his attention to a new hairstyle, outfit, or pair of shoes,” says Young-Eisendrath. “Don’t ‘test’ him as to whether or not he sees something that is new; just ask him what he thinks.”
“He Doesn’t Make Time for Me (Or Our kids).”
In traditional family arrangements, where the husband is working all day, therapists often hear wives complaining that their husbands take downtime to unwind when they get home. While having time to de-stress is crucial, when it begins to happen to the exclusion of others in the family, it can create problems. When husbands want downtime to prevent themselves from having work issues impact their home life, they need to make sure they discuss it with their partner first and let them know that you are happy to arrange your schedule to accommodate family time as well. “And, while you’re at it, please put a date night on the calendar,” says Herring. “Putting relationships on the back burner for any substantial length of time is a recipe for disaster.”
“He Doesn’t Support Me Emotionally.”
This common complaint also stems from a communication breakdown, in which both partners in the relationship feel as though they’re not being heard. What therapists usually hear is that a wife is always upset, which makes her feel like her needs aren’t being met; meanwhile, the husband is always frustrated, because he feels like he can’t make her happy. “This situation persists as long as partners are unable to respect the emotional space between them, that they cannot see or feel the other person’s experiences perfectly, exactly or comprehensively,” says Young-Eisendrath. Taking time to talk about one another’s perspective and to really know what the other is dealing with is crucial.