Men, please give me a moment of your time. I know that there are a good percentage of us who have experienced those difficult days, months or even years where you were uncertain if your marriage was going to make it. If you are like many of us, you cope in some predictable ways, most of which are destroying your chances of winning her back. What seems the best thing to do is often quite the opposite, while what seems scarey is probably the best. Before I continue, let me say that there are no guarantees this will work. There are too many variables involved to make such a promise. As Freud once quipped;
“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’”.
SIGMUND FREUD, as quoted in Ernest Jones' Sigmund Freud: Life and Work
Let’s begin with one of the more difficult questions that must be answered; one that will allow us to explore these common, yet destructive tendencies. Here it is, "What is it about you that has contributed to this problem?" Before saying, “nothing," or making that huffing sound we tend to make when we don't want to talk about something, take a second to consider the answer. Let’s be realistic, there is nothing that you can do to change your wife, despite everything you've been told. The only way to encourage your wife to change is to change yourself. Marriages are like finely tuned watches, each gear or part is reliant upon and influenced by the others. When you change, you influence change in others. Now back to that pesky question. Take a second to think about it. There must be a list of things that your wife wants you to change somewhere. If they are like most wives, the list is probably multiple pages. That’s alright. Many of us have been there. In fact, I have no doubt that my wife still has a list somewhere. I just pray that it is shorter than it has been in the past. This list is your cheat sheet. Your wife is giving you the answers. It’s like the teacher given you all the answers to the test and you just throw it away. She is not just telling you this stuff to be a nag, grump or other less tasteful adjectives; she is telling you what she needs, and what she needs is what can turn this thing around.
Let’s move on. For the most part, when a relationship is on the rocks men start to feel distress, anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity. Do you ask your spouse “What’s wrong,” “are you okay,” “did I do something wrong,” or some equivalent daily? These questions are asked for a couple of reasons. The first is to find out how you can help your spouse feel better. The second, and probably the real reason, is to reduce your distress. You are playing detective because not knowing leads to uncertainty and uncertainty leads you to think about sleeping in your car, while she is at home cuddled up with your best friend. Not a fun thought at all. How does your spouse respond? Do they say, "nothing," or "I'm just tired?" This is secret women code that we have yet to decipher. When we get these types of answers our minds start to run wild. We think to ourselves, "she is so distant," "what’s going on, what’s going to happen," and so on. What do we, as men, do next? We ask again, but this time in a more demanding tone. Our insecurity has changed into frustration and will eventually become anger. DO NOT walk to the edge of this cliff fella’s; it’s a trap. Women want you to show an interest in them and that you care. When we are in this state of mind we go into desperation mode followed by fighting mode. When we reach desperation we start to emotionally suffocate and this makes you look desperate. Have you ever seen a singles add that reads, "desperate man looking to emotionally suffocate woman?" Probably not, because women would run as far away as fast as they can. When you do this to your wife it is no different. What if you were to say, “I understand, if there really was something wrong I want you to know that it’s okay to tell me whenever you want. I’m here. Since you’re tired, can I get you a pillow?” and leave it at that. Don’t say anything else about it! This is doing a couple of things. First it shows that you care. Second, it shows that you’re not dumb. Third, it shows that you have confidence in her and that you are not one of those insecure guys who smother. Fourth, it shows that you can give her time and space. See, time and space doesn’t typically mean what most guys think. Time does not mean eons and space doesn’t mean that she's moving to France with that waiter down the street. Give it time. Take it slow. Show consistent concern and keep working on yourself.
Before we leave the topic of desperation, let me address another common mistake. Desperation leads us to do stupid things like hack Facebook accounts t, checking cell phones or hovering over them to see who they're texting. It’s no different than a stalker sitting outside of their bedroom window and it makes you look creepy. Look, if she is going to cheat there is no stopping her. If she isn’t planning on finding someone else, your creepy behavior may just change her mind. I understand that desperation is bred from uncertainty, but you can be certain that you will be even more desperate if you keep it up. Now let’s take a look and the next step we take down this rocky road of bad choices.
Over time, uncertainty will become buried and replaced with frustration, anger and a level of jerkiness we never thought we could reach. When this happens, men develop a damaging pattern called Projective Identification. What is Projective Identification? It is one of the most destructive coping strategies in a relationship that I have seen throughout my career. See, typically men don't like to feel certain emotions (e.g. insecurity, jealousy, uncertainty, fear, and so on). Over time we learn to deal with these emotions by getting rid of them. We project them onto our spouse. Let’s say you feel insecure. You don’t like that feeling so you project it onto your spouse. What happens when your spouse is not insecure? You then jump on the train of delusion and believe it anyways, or you can somehow cause her to feel insecure. By causing her to feel insecure, she now feels the emotion we projected on her. Over time, this can lead her to adopt these emotions as her own. Let me give another simple example. You feel insecure because she is not telling you what’s bothering her. It even feels like she is giving you the silent treatment. You had enough of this nonsense, so you are going to give her a better silent treatment. In fact, you will give her a silent treatment as you walk out of the house and not tell here where you am going. Guess what, she is now probably feeling that same insecurity you felt during the silent treatment. This insecurity may cause her to isolate emotionally, leading to more desperation for you. How about another example. She seems distant from you and there has been little intimacy. Something must be going on right? You start to feel jealous and this is driving you nuts. You exchange that jealousy for anger, project the jealousy on her and then hop on Facebook and friend that cute girl you work with. Oops, and she “accidentally” found your Facebook page open and saw all the messages you sent to “the other woman.” Yep, now she is feeling insecure and a bit jealous. But just like you, this is being exchanged for anger, because she doesn't like feeling that emotion either. Tit for tat as they always say, and she starts sharing her emotional pain with the guy in the office across the hall.
How do we address this issue of Projective identification? Often times, those feelings we have deep in our gut are the same feelings that your spouse is feeling. It is important that you understand this. If you are feeling it, she is probably feeling it as well. If you feel insecure, what is making your wife feel insecure? If she feels secure with you, I doubt you will feel insecure with her. Get my point? This same process goes with other emotions such as jealousy, and fear. It is our job to understand our true emotions and how to effectively communicate them; not relying upon the projective Identification process.
As you spin down this downward spiral, you adopt another coping strategy called Reaction Formation. Reaction Formation is acting or believing opposite of what you truly want. You want her close but the anger and frustration has become so strong that you push her away. You want intimacy, but you feel so rejected that you reject your spouse. Too often the statement "It'll be her loss,” is tossed out. Guess what, that nonsense only sounds good to friends. Doubtful it will continue to work as you tell this to your unshaven and unkempt self in the mirror in an effort boost your ego. If it was her loss, why are you feeling the way you do? We need to swallow our overly puffed up male pride and admit that we hurt, we want her back and that we need to grow up and be a man. You know those chick flicks they watch all the time. You know the one where she is about to leave for a faraway country and he chases after her to tell her how much he loves her. Notice that little tear in your spouse’s eye when that happens. Guess what, your spouse sees that as chivalrous. Chivalry, a word that is becoming extinct in our modern culture. It is a word that means brave, courageous, daring, loyal and willing to do what it takes to protect those we love.
If we haven’t already dug the hole deep enough, the next step in our destructive process is to go into double desperation. So far nothing has worked. Your fear has turned to anger and you are pushing her further away. What do we do now? We make them scared for us. We must somehow make them care for us; to be concerned for us. Some may make subtle suicidal threats, some may become physically ill, and some may disappear altogether. Although your spouse may feel concerned, underneath that concern is contempt. A contempt that you made her feel emotions that she is not ready to feel. A contempt that you scared her. A contempt that you made her concerned about you when she doesn't even feel safe with you. Women know that this is a trick in the desperate mans playbook. One single incident of double desperation will damage your chances of making this work. Just don't do it. If you have already made this mistake you need to make amends. When your spouse feels safe enough with you, you and her need to sit down together and talk heart to heart. You need to share your shame about making such a move and causing them pain. You need to, as best as you can, assure them that you never want them to go through that again. Double desperation makes you look frightening, unstable and quite honestly, not like someone she would take home to meet mom. It is a guaranteed backfire in your attempt to win her back. Even if it appears to have worked, in the long run, it will have a negative impact upon the relationship.
Our desperation leads us down a very dark and destructive path, yet we think that it is the only way to win them back. What we really need to do is become men. Not the emasculated image of the modern man found in our current culture; but confident, strong, caring, loving, protective, patient, trustworthy, trusting, and safe men. Your spouse should see you as her partner not her enemy; her protector not a threat, her rock not a dependent wimp. Get out of your own way, put the pride down, stop being your own worst enemy and listen to what she is telling you. She is giving you the answer.
This information is simply for consideration and not intended to serve as clinical advice. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, I encourage you to seek professional guidance from a pastor, counselor or psychologist.
With all respect,
Ron J. Llewelyn Psy.D.