WebMD Health - Healthy Men

Jun 1, 2011 1:40 PM

6 Mistakes Men Make in Marriage

Men, we don't mean to nag, but you may be making mistakes that risk ruining your marriage. In fact, if you are a typical man, you are likely making several, and making them often.

Don't believe us? Ask your wife. Now, before you get all defensive, this isn't about blame. These aren't ridiculous relationship mistakes -- they're the subtle things that you might not even know you're doing. And changing these habits could make a big difference to your wife -- and that can only be good for you.

Recognizing these mistakes and making efforts to correct them will not only help your marriage, it may also help your health -- and that of your spouse.

Over time, negative feelings in a relationship that aren't addressed can lead to physical and psychological problems, says Silver Spring, Md.-based psychologist Gloria Vanderhorst, PhD.

"Stress develops in the relationship for each partner, though for different reasons," she says. "Typically by the time that a couple comes into treatment this stress has triggered anxiety or depression in one or both of them."

Below are several common mistakes that men make with their wives, how to recognize them, and - most important - what you can do to correct them.

1. Not showing empathy.

Empathy is the most important part of any relationship, says psychologist Albert Maslow, PhD. It's the ability to recognize and share someone else's feelings. And it's something that, in general, women are better at than men. "Women want their feelings to be understood and validated," says Maslow, who has a private practice in Crozet, Va. "Men have to discover this."

Rather than simply listening, though, men tend to go into fix-it mode. That's a mistake.

"If your wife tells you she feels ignored, for example, at that moment what she wants is for you to understand her feelings rather than talk about the facts," Maslow says.

2. Reckless spending.

Making big purchases such as buying a car without first consulting your wife is a huge no-no, Vanderhorst says. In fact, she ranks it second only to infidelity when it comes to marriage-busting mistakes. And, she says, "Men tend to do it a lot."

Why? Consciously or unconsciously, men frequently assign themselves the leadership role in the relationship. That, too, is a mistake, Vanderhorst says. "A couple's relationship is a shared leadership position," she says.

3. Being sexually selfish -- or clueless.

In the bedroom, men forget - or, worse, haven't figured out - that their wives often need more than they do to get turned on, Maslow says.

"Affection, making her feel loved and needed -- that's basic for her to feel aroused," Maslow says. "Older men usually catch on, but young men are especially unaware of this."

Vanderhorst says turning a woman on begins well before the lights go down. "Men perceive sex as a sufficient means of being close, of having a connection," she says. "But women want a connection prior to having sex."

4. Listening the wrong way.

Listening does not mean nodding along as your wife explains what is bothering her, all the while thinking up ways to fix the problem. "Men tend to analyze situations and generate options," Vanderhorst says. "That's guaranteed to make your wife go ballistic."

What she most often wants is to talk things out, and she wants you to be actively engaged in the conversation, not by trying to be the hero and save the day, but by demonstrating an interest in what she is saying and caring about what she is experiencing emotionally, Vanderhorst says.

"This is not passive," she says. "Listening to establish a connection is an active process."

5. Shelving your feelings.

Listening to your wife talk about her feelings is essential. So is talking about your own.

Many men, however, think they need to hide their feelings or risk being seen as weak. That's a mistake.

Not sharing your emotions can be a real downer for your wife, Maslow says. "The woman feels like she's missing a close connection that she wants with her husband. When he's withdrawn, she feels like he is leaving her."

Maslow acknowledges that getting men to open up can be difficult, but he also says it shows strength. "Growing up, a man learns that he can't let others know when he's scared. But opening up is taking a risk, and that takes courage."

6. Going on a power trip.

Being a man does not mean being in charge - many men don't get that. "That's one of the mistakes men often make," Maslow says. "They try to get what they want by being dominant. But it's not about making demands or trying to overpower her. Women will pull away from that."

Vanderhorst agrees. She says that the "power position" that men often put themselves in essentially negates the relationship, which must be reciprocal, supportive, and caring. "Our best selves emerge in the context of our relationships with others and not as an independent entity," she says.

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