Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Disgruntled Husbands Pay Doc A Visit

September 6, 2004

Imagine the surprised look on my face when three husky farmers burst into my office and waved a newspaper clipping in my face. They said their wives shoved the column at them and told them to go get help or else. They didn't say what the "or else" was, but it must have been serious. I invited them into my office one by one.

The Boss: The boss was irate. "Was I responsible for this column that was subverting the fine institution of marriage?" he demanded. After he calmed down he asked, "Supposing I have been a bit domineering with my wife, what can I do about it now?"

"There are a lot of things," I said. "It has been my experience with other big operators like you that they usually are not good listeners. They are so sure of themselves and their opinions that interrupting, blaming, telling another person how they feel, and giving criticism come as easy as a flowing creek in springtime.

"When this happens day after day, week after week, and year after year, a wife learns that her opinion doesn't matter. At first, she may fight and argue, but after a while she shuts up and nurses her hurts and resentments. She feels controlled, put upon, and eventually loses feeling for her husband.

"Really listening to your wife, understanding her and responding to her can make a difference. There is an art to communication and listening. Let me demonstrate how you can set your own ego aside and concentrate on her and her feelings. By restraining your impulse to share your opinions, and by using a soft tone of voice and good body language can help her feel you care.

"Stop the blame game. Admit mistakes and give sincere apologies when you have hurt her. Listen to her suggestions and be influenced by her. When you listen to her, don’t listen to form your rebuttal or find fault. Being "right" all the time is hard on a marriage. Your thoughts aren't the only thoughts and your way isn't the only way."

The Good Ole Boy: The "good ole boy" was defensive. He waved the clipping at me and asked, "Hey Doc, don't people have freedom to be with friends and to be themselves even if they are married? All you're doing is giving my wife ammunition to get even more grouchy and angry if I don't do exactly what she wants."

"Your wife probably likes your charm and humor, your generosity and your gift of gab," I said. "The only trouble is that she is not getting enough of it. You are always gone. You leave her with lots of responsibility and are not coming through as a father and husband. You promise her the world and forget your promises as soon as you go out the door.

"What you serve you learn to love and what you learn to love takes your time and what takes your time is what you love. Just look at how you spend your time. No wonder your wife feels left out. Get your priorities straight. You're not going to have a marriage and family life without giving your wife and children your time and attention.

"If you want to put her first in your life, you are going to have to give up a few things. Put her at the center of your life instead of feeding your own ego with your friends and drinking buddies. Stop chasing approval from others and be content with your own approval and the approval of your wife.

"Learn how to say 'no' to others. You will still be respected by them. It takes courage to make your own decisions and choose your own path. Your true friends will understand. Some of the fellows at the cafe and bar won’t want to give you up. Be ready for that. Go places as a couple and do things with other couples."

The Cowman: The "cowman" was confused. "I try to do all the right things, provide for my family and take care of my responsibilities. Then my wife tells me that the only thing I care about is the ranch. Who am I doing all this for anyway?"

"Caring for livestock has demanding and constant responsibilities," I began. "A ranch woman certainly knows that. I'm sure your wife's complaints have to do with achieving a balance between the ranch and the family. The ranch and the cows can't always come first. Your schedule shouldn't be so overloaded that you cannot respond to your wife's or children's emotional needs.

"Don't be so preoccupied with your work that there is no time to share feelings on a day-to-day basis. Put some energy into nurturing your marriage. This means daily expressions of affection, appreciation and acts of kindness that show you are tuned in to her life. Don't underestimate the power of your undivided attention. It tells her you care.

"Finding time for romance, supporting her activities and growth, and having fun in the family will make your work worthwhile for everyone. The ranch is not more important than the people it is supposed to serve. The most important work on a ranch is not with cows. It is with people - the people who live on your ranch.