"We need to talk."
The words strike fear into the hearts of men. Yet those who ignore it, do so at their own peril.
With the epidemic-like trend of more and more women filing for divorce, I've noticed an increasingly common phenomenon: husbands caught completely off guard when their wife announces that she wants out.
If you're a man with a seemingly stable marriage you might not think this applies to you. But think again.
I personally know of at least five husbands whose lives were blown apart when the woman they assumed was happy, or at least happy enough, informed them that she had in fact been miserable for years, and that she couldn't stand to live another minute in the same house.
(Hint: if your wife printed this and left it perched on the back of the toilet, you might want to read further.)
The scenario goes like this:
A couple gets married, gets jobs, pays bills, has kids and somewhere along the line the inevitable conflicts ensue.
His parents did it this way, hers did it that way. He wants to watch TV, she wants to host a book club. They disagree about money or sofa fabric. In short: they're married.
The woman thinks that the best way to solve the problems is to get her husband more emotionally engaged. She wants to talk about it (read "fight") or go see a counselor; or she may just endlessly badger him to get home for dinner on time.
Sometimes she's skillful, sometimes she's a screaming shrew, but in her mind, she's trying to "improve" the marriage.
However, very few men gleefully jump into the female world of highly-charged emotional dramas.
More likely, the husband resists, dreading the potential conflict and often fearing that counseling will be a dissection of all his flaws (which it likely will be).
Plus, who's got time to talk when you're trying to hold down a job -- a task many men view as their primary contribution to marriage?
So he tries to ignore it, burying himself television, golf, or the office, hoping the problem will go away.
And it does. After months, or sometimes years, of trying to get her man engaged, the woman gives up and makes do with the status quo.
Thus, the marriage enters the danger zone.
While the husband is relieved that they're no longer fighting, the wife is so angry and heartbroken that she can't even bear to make eye contact with him.
She spends more time with her friends, family or church. She may get a job or start volunteering, and slowly but surely, she creates an emotional support system that doesn't include her husband.
So, while he's thinking things are better because she's quit nagging, she's actually growing further away every single day. And she's even more hurt because he doesn't seem to notice.
Then one day it dawns on her: I'm happier without him than I am with him. And that's when she drops the bomb.
The saddest part is that many men don't even know why they got dumped. I had one friend whose husband came back to her the next day (after she dropped the bomb) with a diamond ring, promising that he would go to counseling, quit working late and do all the other things she had begged him to do.
But, unfortunately, it was too late. She'd been leaving him for years, and by the time she told him, she was already gone.
Why do I understand the wifely withdrawal scenario so well? I was unknowingly partway down this path myself a few years back, silently brewing and stewing, until fate -- and a highly skilled counselor -- intervened. I was lucky because my husband was willing to put aside his discomfort to step into the terrifying world of feelings and emotions.
So wake up guys. Wedded bliss takes work, and counselors are cheaper than alimony. So if your wife wants to talk, it might be time to put down the remote and engage.
This has been a public service announcement sponsored by the Council for Divorced Bitter Women
Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear". After a two decades of coaching executives she has reached the conclusion that people make the same stupid mistakes at home as they do at work.