Couples Therapy

On saying “I DO” again.

OK, five separate women revealed to me in my office this past month that they really are not able to give their husbands what they want or need. Why? Is something in the air? Are these men not worth it? Is it something about me?

Here’s the funny thing about it: every one of these women has a husband who loves her. Who not only loves her, but who also says he wants to give her everything she needs and wants. Now I know what you’re thinking “he says he wants to give her everything, but he probably doesn’t act that way.” Well, to me if a husband says he wants to give her everything, that is a good enough start. I’ll take that over those husbands who come in and tell me they don’t want to give their wives anything on any day, trust me.

Here is what I wish I could say if I wasn’t trying to psychoanalyze them: “What is wrong with you? This is a good guy, he really loves you, just tell him what you want!” 

What is it about being a psychoanalyst that prevents me from at least gently, exploring with these women what their problem is? After all, I know all these husbands, and I can’t say that any one of them is that terrible. But here’s the thing: I know, as a psychoanalyst, that women often don’t want what a man wants to give. Why not? Well, here is where the story really begins.

Once upon a time, the Psychology of Women was born. It said that when women feel very, very frustrated, they want to get rid of the frustration. Certainly, nobody can disagree that one very, very effective way of getting rid of frustration is to get rid of the husband who causes it.

Now, men have a different way of trying to get rid of frustration. They like to fight. They fight and fight and fight with their wives, to prove to the women that they should be loved and admired. The women fight and fight and fight with their men…to get rid of them. 

If this is true, how on earth could a woman possibly be nice to a man when she really just wants to get rid of him? This is the question of the day, and here is an answer: a woman can be nice to a man even if she wants to get rid of him if she is getting enough out of life, and enough from him. In that order.

A woman who feels she is getting enough out of life can negotiate what more she is going to get out of it. She has enough resources available to understand her husband enough to get what she wants from him.

The woman who is not getting enough out of life, however, feels miserable, and, since misery likes company, doesn’t want to work to make her husband feel less miserable. The husband and wife often decide to both be miserable and so they enter into a negative union.

Now, power has a large role in family life. A woman has to feel that she has some power. A feeling of power can take many different shapes and sizes. It’s not about hurting others or feeling superior. It’s about feeling strong, healthy, and that life can be taken by the horns, somehow. Personal power, in the form of healthy, beautiful children, wealth, beauty, talent, intelligence, fashion sense, whatever it may be, is quite important.

Now, a woman who feels enduringly powerful may, first of all, not even get to the point where she needs to get rid of her husband. Second, she may not need to see him struggle for her. She will be more motivated to learn about him — not as a sacrifice to her own power, but as a way of increasing it. This woman has the psychic resources available to deal with all kinds of frustrations. She knows how powerful she is in the man’s life, and even when she wants to get rid of him, can give him the basic feelings he needs to get what she really needs for herself: more love and more success.

How does a woman get power? Well, she has to learn to take care of herself as if nobody else was there to do it. She has to come to feel and know that in the driver’s seat of her life, she is alone. She has to grow in her ability to solve problems. She has to decide that even if she doesn’t always want her man he may still be useful to her either as a father, provider, babysitter, confidante, lover, assistant head chef or whatever works.

Now how am I, as a couple’s therapist, working with these frustrated men and these frustrated women, going to help the woman get some power and help the men get some admiration and respect? Well, I have to understand them both. 

Sometimes, when a couple hires me, I don’t always feel like they want me to help then learn how to talk to and love each other. I feel like they want me to understand how bad their spouse is. Of course, I always understand both man and wife, which is too bad since neither one is married to me. So we usually don’t get too far with each person speaking in their own defence.

The couples who are in the most despair are, I think, the couples who have the most love for each other. When I see coldness and dispassion, I know that the desire to get rid of the frustrating spouse has become greater than the desire to meet the frustrations head-on with hope and strength; to learn what the other person needs, and find a way to give it to them.

For these couples, for married women and men, for my husband and for myself — I hope we all find the power, strength and love to give each other the feelings, experiences, love, admiration and acceptance that we need in sickness and in health. I hope for all of us a discernible road to being together where new aspects of each other can be discovered and embraced; where new heights of intimacy and passion are reached; where the knowledge presides that you are better together than apart. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really need.

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