I’ve been married for 15 years, and my wife is a great mom, a great wife, and my best friend. I feel like things are going great. My wife, on the other hand, has started telling me that we’ve “settled” for a mediocre marriage. I tell her I love her every day, but sometimes she will still say things like, “Do you really love me?” I finally asked her why she would even wonder that, and she said there’s no sense of connection anymore, and that I’m just going through the motions. I have no idea what she means, or what to do. Last weekend I told her to pick a new restaurant for a date night instead of our old standby, thinking that would spice things up a bit. When she cried over her shrimp cocktail, I realized just how clueless I am.
What is going on? How do you get back “connection” with someone you thought you were connected to for more than 15 years?
Dear Mr. Mediocre:
You’re not mediocre! But you are woefully behind in learning what women most need from their men – and what your wife almost certainly needs from you.
While a guy rarely questions whether his wife loves him, most women never get that sense of certainty. My husband, Jeff, and I found in our research with women that 80% of women — even confident women in great relationships — have a subconscious daily question about whether they are loved and loveable. So you can put a ring on her finger and vow to love and cherish her forever, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to feel loved and cherished as long as you both shall live unless you do things every day to show her that you would choose her all over again.
I have a friend who says being with her husband is a bit like being a lonely radio receiving tower. She’s sure, mentally, that her husband loves her, but if he doesn’t broadcast that message on a frequency she can receive, well…she’ll never receive it. So she simply doesn’t feel loved.
I’m betting the same is true of your wife.
When your wife says you’ve settled for a mediocre marriage, that doesn’t mean (or JUST mean) that she’s tired of the same routine. What she’s trying to tell you is that she wants you to start broadcasting the same message every day that you did when you were dating: that she is amazing, that you love her, that she is a great wife and mom and best friend, and that you want to spend the rest of your life with her. You can’t stop sending that message that you want her simply because you already have her! She needs to see your love for her, every day.
Here is my husband, Jeff’s, analogy for this: Think about your first car. Even if it was an old rust-bucket with doors that were painted a different color from the rest of the car, you loved it, right? Not to mention the nicer car that you got when you could finally afford it. Because that was your baby. You put all kinds of time and money into shining her up and making her look nice. And remember… you put all that time and money into the car after you bought it. Once the deal was already done.
Marriage isn’t all that different. Because in your wife’s mind, her “I do” will always mean, “Do you?”
So. It’s time to start doing the things you did to win your wife’s heart in the first place. It is time to start pursuing her again.
Now, at this point, Jeff tells me I have to reassure you: Don’t freak out. This doesn’t mean planning the big gestures you found so exhausting when you were dating! You don’t have to start jumping out of airplanes or planning a second wedding.
You’ll be relieved to know: it is the little day-to-day things that pack the biggest punch. When was the last time you wrote her a text message that told her that you love her and that you are so amazed at what a great mom she is? When is the last time you took a five minute break during work to call her and ask how her day was going? Have you put your arm around her recently, when you were out at a restaurant with friends? If she needed to talk about her problems with the kids, have you learned how to listen to her feelings so she feels heard?
I mean, it’s not like you can buy a car, throw it in a field and let it rust and expect it to purr like it did when you first got it.
So learn to do the little things every day. And start to pay attention to when she needs extra care! If it seems like your wife is having a rough day, mute your football game, put down the remote and go talk to her. Plant a smooch on her cheek as you walk through the kitchen. If you get a little ding in the hood of your car, you buff it out. You don’t have to dissemble the entire car. You attend to the dents and scratches as you go.
Doing a few little things that show your wife how much you love her will make her feel wooed and pursued all over again, and when you see your wife start to perk up and say she feels more loved…. Don’t stop! Do it more. You’ll be glad you did.
Just one final little thing. If you ever talk to her about this…leave out the comparison to the old rust-bucket, okay?
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.