Moms who are the primary caregivers for their kids often have one or more of the following gripes about their husbands: Feeling unappreciated, feeling that their husbands have no clue how exhausting their lives are, being asked, “so, what do you do all day, anyway?”, being highly educated yet sacrificing hours each day to thankless, mundane, and repetitive tasks like running errands, cleaning, preparing meals, cleaning, dealing with temper tantrums, cleaning, doing laundry…did I mention cleaning?…and feeling they have nothing to show for it, feeling that their careers and ambitions come a distant second to their husbands’…you get the picture.
Of course, not every relationship fits this description, but for the women in the moms’ groups I’ve spoken to, and for most of my female clients and friends, these complaints are familiar.
Within a supportive setting, like in a moms’ group, or in the context of an honest conversation with a close friend or sister, it’s often a relief for women to learn that they are not alone, and that others are dealing with similar feelings. This can be very cathartic, and healthy…to a degree.
But not always. “Getting support” can be a slippery slope, where women’s conversations with their friends can devolve into nasty bull sessions about their husbands. The focus can quickly become very negative, rather than supportive.
The problem with this is that habitual complaining doesn’t really accomplish anything, other than perhaps reinforcing all of the negative feelings you may already be experiencing – which, if you love your husband and want your relationship to improve, is obviously counterproductive. So while it can feel great to get a gripe off your chest, I feel that more serious “venting” shouldn’t be an end in itself, but a means to an end.
What do I mean? I’ll give you an example.
Last year, a friend confided in me that her husband had decided to end their marriage. She said that she wanted to work on their marriage but that he wasn’t open to it – his mind was made up, it was over. What an idiot he was, in her opinion, for being so willing to throw away such an amazing family! Then she proceeded to tell me all the ways in which he had failed her as a husband. After I’d listened to her for about half an hour, I asked her a question which threw her for a loop.
I asked her to imagine that her husband was the one talking to me about why their relationship fell apart. I asked her what she thought he would say about the role she had played in the deterioration of their relationship.
She looked at me, stunned.
Then, she replied: “Hmmm. I never thought about that.”
It’s amazing how many people are unable to try to take their partner’s point of view when they’re in conflict. Apparently, my friend was one of these people. So I decided to take a risk. I proceeded to tell her exactly what her husband’s point of view was. I explained to her what life was like for him inside their marriage, and how he viewed her and the way she had behaved.
“How do you know all of this?” she asked when I finished. “Did you speak to him?”
No, I hadn’t spoken with him. But I knew her pretty well, and I knew him a bit. I’d seen them together a number of times. And when you do family mediation for a living, you learn to pick up on cues that others wouldn’t notice. I’d spent enough time around divorcing men in general, and with my friend and her husband in particular, to be able to imagine, with a fair degree of accuracy, what the husband’s complaints would likely be. And it turned out I was right. He hadn’t been able to express himself very well, but once she raised the issues with him, they were able to begin working through their problems.
A couple of months later, my friend and her husband were back on track and he’d changed his mind about leaving. They’d worked very hard to make some major changes. But none of this would have been possible if she hadn’t been open to seeing his point of view. That simply can’t happen when you get stuck in “venting” mode.
So the moral of the story for women is: If you need to vent once in a while, vent. But if you really love your husband and his actions show that he really loves you, make sure the venting is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It can be toxic to spend time with groups of women who just want to go out, get drunk, and bash their husbands. If you want to stay happily married, I’d say that you should avoid those particular kinds of girls’ nights like the plague.
Instead, put that emotional energy into viewing your relationship not just from your own point of view, but from your husband’s as well. Don’t just think about what he could be doing better – think about how he experiences his home life, and consider what you could improve upon as well. Be honest with yourself. Are you the best partner you can be, or are you too wrapped up in your own needs to think about his?
If you’re having problems, by all means reach out to a friend you trust and talk about them, but if your goal is to keep your relationship on track and healthy, choose your confidantes carefully, and make sure that the conversation has a purpose beyond venting.
Remember, men have gripes too, and although they may not talk about them as freely or as often, they’re just as real as women’s. So, what are they? Stay tuned for a future post on that very topic, and you’ll hear what the guys have shared with me in their most candid moments.