23 Jun How A Nagging Wife And A Withdrawn Husband Got Back On Track

I recently worked with a young couple who were dealing with a relationship challenge that’s common to parents of young kids. Here’s a summary of how this “nagging wife” and her “withdrawn husband” got back on track.

Sarah * is a young mum feeling overwhelmed. Diligent, anxious, exhausted. She reminds me of me when, back in the day, I too was stressing out big time about coping with motherhood, wifehood, and the whole overwhelming messy imperfectness of life.

Nick is doing it tough too. Still a little shell shocked that for some inexplicable reason they had decided to start a home business (in addition to his existing day job) just prior to welcoming their second-born into the world, he too has a drained expression that reveals he’s spread pretty thin.

They arrive for their first marriage counselling session with tensions barely tucked in beneath a frosty surface.

Sarah has plenty of opinions about why the marriage isn’t working, and most of them have to do with what Nick isn’t doing right:

He doesn’t help enough with the kids. And when he does, he doesn’t do it right. He doesn’t devote enough time to the new business. And when he does, he doesn’t do enough. And on weekends he sneaks away too often for a surf, leaving her home alone with a restless toddler and a newborn baby.

Nick has opinions too, but right now he’s not that aware of them, and not so confident in his own skin.

All he’s really sure about is that he’s got a wife who isn’t happy.

It’s easy to see that Nick’s feeling like he just isn’t making the grade. If he were a teenager at school he’d be hanging out  at the back of the class, looking nonchalant, wondering why he can’t figure out the right answers, but doing everything he could to avoid having to admit it.

He’s on the back foot big time when it comes to his marriage, and it shows.

As each begins describing the details of their regular arguments, I’m listening carefully to each and every word. It’s a similar story to ones that other couples have painted for me over many years. It’s a story called “nagging wife, withdrawn husband”.

At the same time I’m also tuning in to a story that’s running in a much deeper, parallel track. I know that it’s a far more important story. It’s where the real action is.

The switch happens when Nick reveals that for him, returning home after work hurts.

It’s become a moment he doesn’t look forward to. And that hanging around there all weekend is the same. Emotion chokes in his throat as he confesses how much he misses the wife who used to greet him with passion and tenderness, rather than lists of things to do, and/or criticisms about what he isn’t doing right.

Sarah, god bless her, is so smart. In what could only be a confronting and painful moment, she has the strength of character to look beyond the implied (that she’s become un-fun, un-loving, and someone he doesn’t really feel good about being around), and instead absorb what her marriage really needs her to absorb:

She has a husband who needs her back.

They move quickly from here: realising how the very thing they’ve been demanding from each other (from her, the demand for more input from him; for him, the demand to retreat and gain a sense of more space), together with how they’ve been attempting to get this (from her, endless “to do” lists and the absence of tenderness, and for him, repeated attempts to duck under the radar and find ways to avoid being really present), has been pulling them further apart.

They realise that with a few simple “tweaks”, they can reconnect.

A warm greeting with hugs and chit chat for those first minutes when Nick arrives home. Planned family time on weekends that his surfing escapes can be scheduled around. In short, a mutual commitment to remember why they are together in the first place, and to prioritise their marriage regardless of the often overwhelming stresses of parenthood and business.

Does this mean Sarah will never write another “to-do” list, nag about business demands, or complain when Nick ducks off for a surf, leaving her at home with a restless baby? Not necessarily.

Does this mean that Nick will become the world’s most punctual, reliable, available husband, ever ready to attend to home businesses and domestic duties above and beyond his own personal needs for space (and surf)? Not necessarily.

It means that Sarah and Nick are normal people juggling common stresses who realised that they could be doing it in more marriage affirming ways.

The real story wasn’t one about a nagging wife or a naughty husband, and (despite their deepest fears), it wasn’t about a marriage that was doomed to fail.

The real story was about a wife who didn’t realise how she’d been pushing her husband away. And a husband who didn’t realise that by attempting to dodge what wasn’t working (instead of dealing with it in a constructive way), was pushing his wife away. They were forgetting to connect.

* names have been changed

Finding your marriage or relationship stressful? If you’re on the Sunshine Coast, contact me. Let’s get you both reconnected.