Seeing Things Differently Having trouble seeing where your spouse is coming from sometimes? Dr. Scott offers 8 tips to find that middle ground. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
In a relationship, it can seem that you and your partner are going down two different streets sometimes.
Why does my spouse seem to want different things from the marriage than I do?
When my office doors open to a couple who is seeking help in their relationship, not much time elapses before it becomes apparent that husband and wife are looking at the same marriage from two different perspectives: his and hers.
It’s common to believe that couples’ values for happiness are worlds apart. Actually, in most cases, husbands and wives share many values they take for granted: they agree that they seek warmth, love, companionship, financial security and a safe environment to raise children. So, if they’re on the same page with so many key issues, why do some couples have so many hard feelings about what they don’t have?
Human nature explains part of the issue. Normally, we don’t notice people's fingers, but, if they hit their thumb with a hammer, it sticks out like a sore... well, you get the idea. For that reason, it’s rare a couple sits around and celebrates all the things they agree on, but when there’s that one point of discord, it consumes a great deal of their time and attention.
Differences in how men and women perceive things also explains why we often feel our needs aren’t being met. Brain studies show that men are excellent at being able to navigate three-dimensional puzzles, but less accomplished at perceiving subtle changes in facial expressions; day-old boys are just as attentive to geometric objects as they are to human faces. Girls, on the other hand pay rapt attention to faces from day one; they are more attentive to human emotions, and seem to have more diverse brain ability to verbalize their emotions. As boys and girls grow they are shaped by their biology and social environment to have different strengths and weaknesses. When couples don’t realize these differences, it can lead to misunderstanding.
When a wife doesn’t realize that her husband may be listening to her with the sole intent of "solving her problems" (as he would a 3-D puzzle), she may feel unheard and uncared about when he interrupts her with suggestions. When a husband doesn’t know that his wife wants to feel emotionally connected with him, he may feel rejected when she declines his invitation to sleep cuddled together.
Happy marriages are ones in which spouses focus on areas of agreement and see the differences as a source of personal growth. Happy mates have the ability to capitalize on the differences between the sexes. Here are some of the things happily married husbands and wives have taught me:
Know the things that make your man a man: Is he action oriented? Does he need pampering? Does he need credit for his achievements? Does he have a strong sex drive? There are many ways that your guy is different than you—some of them are the reasons of why you fell in love with him in the first place.
Nurture his nature: Okay, if you’ve figured out what makes him tick, why let those things tick you off? Instead, go with the flow. If he needs credit for small things, give it to him. He’s happy, and you just saved yourself a lot of grief!
Take control of your happiness: Women today have more opportunities than ever, and unfortunately, more expectations as well. Here’s the bottom line: you’ll exhaust yourself if you try to be the best at everything all the time. Forget it. It’s just not gonna happen. Instead, stand back and get a sense of priorities. Then, decide where to put your efforts, and ask your husband to fill some of the gaps. But just remember, he’s likely to do it his way [see (1) above].
Be good to yourself: a healthy diet, exercise, sex, "down" time and maintaining friendships can all be ways of keeping your life in balance.
Make sure your wife knows she’s number one. She’s working darn hard to juggle all the demands of today’s woman. She’s got to know that you’re making her a priority.
Keep a "can do" attitude: Men sometimes feel overwhelmed with the "rules" of marriage, and often believe that they can’t get it right. When you take the time to see how your wife’s needs differ from your own, you’ll be in a better position to make both of you happier.
Get home! It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and lots of guys focus on being the best, either on the tennis court or in the board room. But don’t forget that your wife married you because she wanted you around. You’ve got to balance your priorities so that your wife feels you’re spending enough time by her side.
Learn how to listen. Your fix-it skills propel you to respond to your wife’s conversations by either jumping in with suggestions (because you think that’s what she needs) or just tuning out (if you think there’s nothing you can do). There’s always something you can do, and usually it involves supporting your wife and providing a caring ear. Listening is an important way to make her feel there is an emotional connection—often a prerequisite to a great sex life.
When husband and wife can learn to respect their differences, and act in ways that honor those distinctions, they find the key to fulfilling the needs of their partner.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University.
He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com