Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of men unburden themselves to me as we go about the painful task of resolving their divorce issues.
Often, it seems, their wives have been too wrapped up in their own marital grievances to stop, take a minute, and consider these grievances from their husbands’ point of view (and, of course, vice-versa – it almost always works both ways).
So what does the husband’s point of view look like? Obviously, every man is different, and there is no one point of view that applies to everyone, but here are some of the complaints I’ve heard over and over again from men explaining what they think went wrong in their marriages.
“She was never in the mood for sex – she rejected me over and over until I eventually gave up.”
This is by far the most common complaint men express to me. The flipside, of course, is that these guys’ wives almost universally complain about the husbands’ consistent failure to show they care in other areas of the relationship.
And of course, sometimes it’s the man with the low sex drive, and the woman who’s frustrated. There are exceptions to every rule. But the sexually frustrated husband/ withholding wife dynamic is, by far, much more common.
With this complaint, the lack of sex is generally symbolic of a bigger issue, namely a problem with the “give/take” balance of the relationship, but unfortunately, most spouses who are locked in this pattern are too focused on their own resentments to think honestly about what they may have done to contribute to the problem.
In other words, he says, “I might be more in the mood to do things for her if she wouldn’t reject me in bed all the time,” while she says, “I might be in the mood for sex if he occasionally lifted a finger to help me around the house.” Both are focused on what the other person isn’t giving, but no one makes the first move to address the other person’s needs, so the cycle repeats on a permanent loop.
This issue could fill a whole book in itself – but if you find yourself caught in this dynamic, an important first step is to realize that both parties are responsible for this problem, and that unless you both do something active to address it, you are in danger of divorce.
“She consistently treated me like an annoyance in her life.”
I remember a male client, “Shawn”, who was caught having an affair. He told me how unhappy he’d been for years, and how he had done everything in his power to improve his relationship. He’d wanted to go for counseling; his wife had consistently refused. He suggested activities they could do together; she wasn’t interested. He felt utterly lonely and unappreciated. Eventually, he gave up trying.
Was he just a jerk trying to justify his cheating? I didn’t think so – and I do believe that after all these years, I’m a pretty decent judge of character.
His affair really wasn’t about sex, because he and his wife were actually having it – it was more about feeling that someone valued him. He truly didn’t feel that his wife did. He earned an above-average income and was well-respected at work, yet he felt that his wife (a stay-at-home mom who, of course, had grievances of her own) never expressed appreciation for their lifestyle, and barely acknowledged his presence when he came home. Instead, according to him, she just nagged and complained.
He told me that things might have been very different if she had taken an interest in his career, expressed appreciation for his efforts, and last but not least, smiled at him when he walked through the door each night instead of barely looking up from whatever she was doing at the moment.
Now, you may be thinking, “cry me a river”. But people are not one-dimensional. People who cheat are not evil. Often, as was the case with this guy, they are cowardly. They don’t know how to fix their relationships, and they don’t have the courage to leave, so they find someone else and often try to have it both ways – until they get caught and it hits the fan. This is a very passive route to ending an unsatisfying marriage, and sadly, it’s one that many men take.
Over the years, I’ve found that women usually end relationships because their emotional needs are not being fulfilled; they would rather be alone than be in a dead-end marriage. Most of my male clients who have ended relationships, in contrast, have someone new waiting for them. They would rather be in dead-end marriages than be alone – but if they can find someone new, they don’t have to be alone anymore. That’s usually the way it plays out.
“We fought about money all the time”.
Lots of people fight about money but would describe their relationships as pretty good regardless. Where money issues are identified as a major factor in a divorce, the financial conflict is usually symptomatic of bigger problems.
One of the most common examples, from the man’s point of view? “She’s been a stay-at-home mom for 14 years now, even though we really can’t afford it. She refuses to do anything to contribute to our finances. The kids are in school full time – I have no idea what she does all day, and she gets angry and resentful whenever I mention her going back to work. Not a day goes by when we don’t fight about it.”
Another common one: “She constantly compares me to her friends’ wealthier husbands and complains that we don’t have what they have. No matter how hard I work, I’m constantly being given the message that I’m not ‘enough’ for her.”
Or, “She refuses to stick to a budget. She spends money like it comes out of a faucet. We’ve had to refinance our house three times already because of her credit card habits, yet she refuses to change her behavior, because she feels entitled to get everything she wants. That’s the way she was raised. I’m the only responsible one in this relationship.”
Of course, every one of these complaints has a flip-side, but whatever the wife’s rebuttal may be, the point is that if this is the way the husband views things, there’s a big problem that needs to be addressed. In all three cases above, the problem is not really about “money” – it’s about the fact that the spouses have very different values that they have not been able to reconcile.
“She’s never put our relationship first.”
Again, there are many variations on this theme, but here are some of the more common ones I hear:
“She never wants to leave the kids alone for a second, even though both my mom and her mom have offered to babysit. The one time she did agree to go out with me, for our anniversary, she cut the evening short because she ‘needed’ to get home to the kids. It’s like ever since the kids came along, I don’t exist anymore.”
Another one: “She’s on Facebook or is texting her friends for hours and hours a day. Whenever I enter the room, she minimizes the screen so that I can’t see what she’s doing. Why is a friend she hasn’t seen in 20 years more important to her than her husband, who is right in front of her?”
Also very common: “She and her mom call each other 10 times a day. I feel like there are three people in our marriage. I like her mom, but this is not normal. And every time my wife and I fight, her mother has to weigh in against me. Why can’t my wife respect our privacy, and why can’t her mother mind her own business?”
Again, there is always another side to the story, but often, discussions about these issues take the form of accusations and counterattacks, so the couple is never able to get to the root of the problem.
So there you have it. Lack of sex, perceived lack of respect, differences in values, and feeling shut out – these are the main issues weighing on guys’ minds.
If any of these issues is a problem in your relationship, it’s important to understand that resolution will never be achieved by avoiding the problem or arguing about who is “right”; both of these strategies are surefire recipes for divorce. Instead, you should turn your full attention to having a solution-oriented discussion, with professional help if necessary, before it’s too late.