/u/StalinsLargeStache on /r/relationship asks…
“I [34M] should start off by saying that I love my wife [31F] to death, we’ve been together 5 years and I would truly do anything for her. However, I’ve always felt like I put much more into the relationship than she does (dates, sex, affection, money, ETC) and whenever I tried to talk with her about she’d say that she was just “comfortable” and that it was acceptable since I’m the “man”. I grew up in a conservative household and this sentiment didn’t exactly stray very far from what I was taught as a boy, so I just dealt with it.
To paint a better picture, my wife never initiates sex, never pays for dates, doesn’t initiate much affection, never compliments me, and doesn’t really buy me gifts. Now I’m no Adonis, I am an average guy who is in relatively good shape with average features, but it still would be nice to feel like an Adonis from time to time–especially from your own wife. As I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting the past couple months I’ve realized how much this actually bothers me.
Well, it eventually culminated in me sitting my wife down and explaining to her that I do not feel attractive/wanted, and I wanted to know why she won’t put in much effort into our relationship. She tried to explain it off with her usual excuse, but it didn’t sit right with me so pushed further and kept persisting. After a while of badgering she broke and finally admitted she settled for me when choosing a partner. She said that the reason she picked me was that I seemed like nice man with a stable job who could’ve been a good husband. She also admitted that she never found me particularly physically attractive, but emotionally we “clicked”. As she was sitting there explaining this to me I felt very hurt and even used, I couldn’t believe my own wife did not find me attractive. When she finished I told her that I had to leave and went to have a few drinks on my own.
I haven’t spoken much to my wife in days, my heart and my head are still in shock I suppose and I am still very angry. The thing is I still love my wife and want her to be happy, she’s a good woman at heart and I hate to see her hurt, but I don’t want to have a relationship where I feel unwanted.”
Dear Stalin’s Large Stache,
I am really sorry to hear that you are in pain. It is really difficult to hear from your partner to what extent you’ve been misled in your five years together. It’s true. You have been misled to think that your relationship with co-equal with mutual respect and love for each other when it was definitely much more one-sided.
You touched on a couple really interesting points in your post that we should sit and talk a bit more about.
One of them is in this traditional/conservative male values that you outlined as a reason to accept your wife’s feelings around not putting in her effort into your relationship. I must ask you. What exactly are those traditional family values from male perspective and why are they relevant to you? We grow up in a world that tells us in so many different ways who we ought to be. We never really get to ask who we really are or want to be until we’ve had decades of other people telling us who we should be. So let’s think about and ask ourselves what it is about those traditional values of being a stable, comfortable, and dependable masculine figure that still holds value in this modern society. Dig deep into what each of those “masculine” values mean to you and for your wife. And instead of yourself settling into those roles, decide what aspects you like and let go of the ones you don’t feel like well-represents yourself.
After this exercise, you might find that you are upsetting the apple cart. And you sort of are. You are learning to reinvent what it means to be a man in a society, a society that cultures men to behave in a certain way. You’re more than what the society tells you to be.
Now let’s talk about your wife’s comments. Your wife’s comments about settling for you was especially hurtful because it ran contrary to the lies you’ve been repeating for yourself, that this was an equal relationship. And you are upset about the things you have realized in the past five years, with a set expectation on the roles you want to play in your life with your wife for hopefully many more years to come. I imagine you want to be more than just this supportive, dependable man that does 90% of the labor in your marriage and household, yeah? So be more decisive and be more than that.
I do not believe that distancing yourself from your wife is a good idea here. You have already disconnected here. And while your wife too has a lot of mental rewiring to do, it might be really helpful to sit down and recognize that you two have indeed developed a wide gorge between who you are from who your wife thinks you are. Five years is a long time in any relationship. After recognizing that gap, why not decide to commit to repairing your relationship? What good is there in demolishing your marriage when you’ve had five years to build on trust and faith in each other together? Some of those walls will have to come down, and you might have to renovate some parts of the relationship you’ve built together so far. But it is absolutely doable, and it is absolutely a group effort to renovate what is broken.
Consider that it is in your mutual best interest to reconnect and heal. If that means going on more dates where you two can fall in love with these wildly new and different versions of yourself, do so because you two want to reconnect, not because of some twentysomething advice columnist told you to do so.
You’ve done so much in the past five years. Now it is time for your wife to make more strides to connect with you as well. You’ve earned at least that much. You deserve all the love.
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