Despite the picture-perfect impressions we get from upbeat Facebook posts or boastful holiday letters, even the healthiest marriages aren’t 100% free of conflict. At some point, virtually everyone feels wronged by a romantic partner. Bob Navarra, PsyD, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), says that those feelings aren’t what throw a marriage off course-it’s how couples handle them. “While it may be frustrating that the toothpaste cap was left off, happy couples talk about these small things,” he says. But when those emotions are swept under the rug, a more toxic variety of negativity begins to fester: resentment. Here, marriage experts share some of the most common reasons husbands resent their wives and how to protect your relationship.
1. Not fighting fair.
Happy couples don’t necessarily fight less, Dr. Navarra says; they just fight better, by “describing their own feelings and needs rather than labeling their partner as faulty.” And the ball is probably in your court for that. Research shows that wives are more likely to bring up problems for discussion, while husbands are more likely to withdraw at the first sign of an argument. When this keeps happening, women tend to start conversations on a negative note, which only makes things worse. Instead of resorting to personal attacks-”You’re such a slob!” “We’re going to be late because of you!”-which lead to defensiveness, Dr. Navarra recommends sticking to “I-statements,” such as “When (this happens), I feel (frustrated, angry). What I needed was…”
2. Treating him like a child.
“A big issue I see in couples is a man resenting his partner because he feels she talks down to him,” says Mary Kelleher, LMFT. This can leave him feeling “less-than,” and nothing triggers resentment faster than inadequacy. So avoid threatening his independence-the way pressuring him to go for a promotion so he’ll bring home more money may be perceived-suggests couples therapist Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD. “No one wants to feel ‘managed’ by a spouse,” Dr. Meunier says
3. Involving other people in your marriage.
What you might think of as harmless complaining to friends and family can actually break your husband’s trust. It threatens the safety of the “couple bubble” you’ve created together. “Men find this humiliating and hurtful,” says Norene Gonsiewski, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a couples’ therapist at the Portland Relationship Center in Oregon. If you really need to vent, consider talking to a doctor or therapist to keep things confidential.
4. Not showing appreciation for thing he does right.
“Men will never ask for it,” Gonsiewski says, but regular doses of praise are important. “They need to hear that their wives are proud of them.” Scott Haltzman, MD, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women, notes that men tend to be more action-oriented than women, which means they show affection in different ways. “He may empty the dishwasher as a way of saying he cares about you.” Haltzman’s suggestion: “Pay attention to what he does, and let him know you notice.”
5. Withholding sex as punishment.
While women generally need emotional intimacy to make love, men express emotional intimacy through sex, says Marla Taviano, author of Is that All He Thinks About? When a wife turns down sex, in her husband’s mind, “she’s turning him down as a person,” explains Taviano. Using sex as a bargaining chip to get your needs meet isn’t negotiating-it’s emotional blackmail, which can alienate him. “Withholding sex may make your partner feel less love from you and give you less love in return,” says Dr. Haltzman.
6. Trying to change him.
“Every person can change, but it’s better to focus on our own changes, rather than our spouse’s behaviors,” says Anne Ziff, LMFT, author of Marrying Well. And yet, some women see marriage as a starting point for a “husband makeover.” This isn’t all bad-studies show that married men tend to eat healthier and have fewer problems with drugs and alcohol than single guys-but avoid creating a relationship in which your husband can’t be himself. “When a man feels his home is not his castle, and he can’t just be a guy-whether it’s walking around in his boxers or letting out a burp-he’ll feel like he’s been put in a box where he has to act prim and proper all the time,” Dr. Meunier says. Sometimes, it’s smarter to let the little things slide.
7. Making important decisions without his input.
Research shows that money is a top source of disagreements among married couples, even those with bigger budgets. In a lot of ways, money equals power, and balancing power is important to harmonious relationships, Meunier says. Whether you’re considering booking a vacation or buying a dishwasher, your partner deserves a say. The same goes for decisions that affect how you and your husband spend your time, such as inviting company over for dinner or signing up your kids for soccer. Although it may seem simpler to beg for forgiveness instead of getting him on board, unilateral decision making can drive you two apart.
8. Not giving him the chance to be the kind of dad he wants to be.
Mothers often parent differently than fathers, but not necessarily better. For instance, some studies show that parenting styles more common with dads, such as rough-and-tumble play, offer children unique developmental benefits. “Men’s resentment grows as their children develop with gaps in their competency and independence, two attributes men rate highly,” Gonsiewski says. “When a woman doesn’t trust her husband to parent she sends a message that he’s wrong and only she’s right.” Instead, “reinforce your husband for the positive contributions he makes to your children’s lives,” Dr. Haltzman recommends.
9. Acting jealous when he looks at other women.
Men are visual creatures, Dr. Meunier says, so it’s not surprising that a typical heterosexual man would notice a good-looking woman. “Women who understand this and don’t take it personally minimize unproductive fights about jealousy.” When a wife overreacts to a situation, her husband will likely feel defensive, and eventually, resentful. Dr. Meunier’s advice? “Chill out.” Responding to a visual cue isn’t cause for worry, she says-curious comments or behaviors, like dropping your hand to head across the room to talk to another woman, could signify a lack of commitment to you.
10. Expecting immediate forgiveness after you apologize.
Studies show that seeking and granting forgiveness greatly contributes to marital satisfaction and longevity. But beware of empty words. While apologizing manages conflict, Dr. Navarra says a simple “I’m sorry” often isn’t enough. To truly earn her husband’s forgiveness, a wife needs to show that she understands why her husband is upset. Dr. Haltzman recommends being specific about what you’re apologizing for, accepting responsibility for what you did, acknowledging that you what you did was harmful and lastly, asking what you can do to make it up to him. “If you’ve gotten to the first three steps cleanly, most men will say ‘forget about it’ to the last question,” Dr. Haltzman says.
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