Don't shoot the messenger.
I have had a few men reach out to me in recent weeks for advice on how to tell their wives that they are not happy. Truth be told, they wanted advice on how to tell their wives that they wanted a divorce -- the "I'm not happy" was just a softer version, a precursor to the real message, more like planting the seed for a discussion which would then grow.
Since when did I become the person who could give advice to men on how to gracefully tell their wives they wanted out? I think their thought is that I could build on my own experiences and tell them what worked, what didn't, and provide advice from a women's perspective. You know, provide the inside scoop on the kind and gentle way of telling us that they want out. Seriously? Do you realize that when you say, "I just want out of our 20-year marriage," it is hurtful no matter how it's phrased?
I took a deep breath, maintained a neutral stance, and tried to understand what was going on. Where were these men coming from? How could I help?
Here's what I learned: these men are unhappy and unfulfilled. Their kids are getting older, their careers are settling and they are finally stepping back from the chaos of building their lives. They have finally slowed down enough to look around, and have decided that this isn't the life they wanted. Life has happened to them, and they aren't happy with it.
Further probing yielded something I found shocking. These men made comments to me about how they were no longer physically or emotionally attracted to their wives because they had put on weight and no longer "met their expectations" for how wives should look. I had to bite my tongue (hard...really hard!) to keep from asking two questions: one, how physically fit were their wives still, and two, how many children had they birthed!?
Both admitted starting fights and making really inappropriate comments in frustration with their wives -- comments usually centered on a very hurtful topic, their wives' bodies.
Men, it is not OK to say to your wife, "I didn't know they made jeans that size." It is not OK to compare your wife to other women and say, "If she can look that hot, then why can't you take care of yourself?" It is not OK to say, "I have to go to strip clubs at night to look at what a woman should look like." Like I said, I was shocked!
I did my best to explain to these men that attacking a woman's self-image is about as hurtful as it gets. This is a low blow. It's unfair and hurtful -- plain and simple. I challenged these men to take the high road and talk with their wives about their true feelings in a very constructive manner as opposed to hitting them where it most hurts (and for most women, that's body image issues).
Getting upset, yelling and patronizing these men would get me nowhere and serve no purpose. I tried to heed my own advice and take the high road in how I responded by explaining how their actions were being perceived, calling them out on "not wanting to hurt" their wives, and encouraging them to address the real issues -- their own sense of personal unhappiness --instead of blaming their wives. I asked, "If your wife suddenly looked like she did when you married her, would you feel differently about her? Would you suddenly cherish your marriage?" As you might guess, the answer was "probably not."
I think this is a lesson in treating people the way in which we would want to be treated, accepting responsibility for our own thoughts and actions, taking the high road, being accountable, demonstrating maturity and having depth and character.
I know all men aren't like this (just like I know all women don't wish their "nice" husbands would cheat on them, which I discussed a few weeks ago).
Having heard this from a number of men in the last few weeks, I felt compelled to bring it up. What do you think? Are you hearing this too? Is there an answer?