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YOU OWE ME: When the Score is Uneven in Your Marriage

Question:

Maybe I’m weird, but I enjoy coming up with creative and romantic date night ideas and surprising my wife with them every now and then. The problem is that she never reciprocates by doing things for me. I try not to keep score, but I find myself feeling bitter about the fact that I try hard to keep her happy and she doesn’t seem to lift a finger to do the same. Should I take this as a sign that she doesn’t love me anymore?

Answer:

First, you’re not weird, and your wife is fortunate to have such a caring and intentional man in her life!  Many women would give their right knee to have their husbands design a romantic evening out.

Let me take a stab at your question by first addressing what is probably NOT going on before I address what probably IS happening.

What is unlikely is that your wife is a completely unreasonable, narcissistic, and selfish person who cares little for your needs or your happiness.

Of course, I can’t claim this as absolute truth since I’ve never met her but let’s just say that, in my experience, this is doubtful.  It’s possible, but not probable.

And since she’s not here to defend herself and tell her side of the story, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.

So . . . what could explain this one-sided effort on your part?  Let me suggest 4 possibilities and a tip for each:

 

Competing Interests

What consumes most your wife’s time and attention?  For example, do you have young children that require her focus much of the time?  It’s common for fathers to feel left out and even neglected during the early years of child-raising, especially if the woman of the house forgets to take her “Mom” hat off occasionally to be a wife!

Perhaps you are beyond this stage of life but she is consumed with a project at work.  Just like with men, it can be very difficult for women to work a long and challenging day, come home, and be emotionally, mentally, and sexually available.

That doesn’t mean it’s right to withhold these things from you; only that this could be a potential explanation for the fact she isn’t matching your efforts right now.

TIP:  Begin to observe her normal, everyday schedule and activities and decide if she’s simply being stretched too thin to respond the way you’d like her to.

If she’s tired and frazzled from dealing with the kids, offer to help in a way you don’t currently and see if this doesn’t take the edge off.  If she seems preoccupied with a big project at work, offer to give her a relaxing massage or half-day out at a local spa to see if that doesn’t perk her up.

Whatever you do, don’t assume you’re not important to her, or even that you’re not THE most important thing in her life.  You may not feel that way, but if she had to make a choice, she might just choose you every time!  The reality is that, in a stable and secure marriage, we can grow complacent and assume this choice is obvious and our spouses will always be there for us, so we neglect to make them a priority when other things scream for our attention.

Of course, this can be very damaging if it continues for an extended period.  The point is to figure out if this is just a season in her life or if this is something habitual.

 

This question reminds me of a woman who asked me
what to do because her husband doesn’t recognize Valentine’s Day.
See my answer to her in my blog entitled You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.

 

Bad Habits / Laziness

If it IS a bad habit – to completely neglect your needs while you focus on hers – then you may need to take more decisive action.

I’m not speaking of doing something drastic or resorting to threats or other such nastiness.  As I said above, we can take our spouses for granted when they take such good care of us.  We forget that – in order to keep the good vibes flowing – we need to create a loop where we meet their needs so they meet our needs so we meet their needs, etc.

When this loop is broken, we should first take proactive measures to repair the link before throwing away the chain altogether.

Even the Score in MarriageSo, what can you do?

TIP:  My recommendation would be to take a self-imposed vacation from planning any date nights until she asks you what’s up.  If she notices and asks you why you haven’t planned anything lately, that may be a sign that she misses them or is realizing the value of this gift to her.

If she doesn’t, my guess is that she is either preoccupied with other matters (see above) or that you have a . . .

Love Language Mismatch

Most people have heard of the 5 Love Languages: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Gifts.

You may be trying to express love for your wife through Acts of Service (e.g., planning date nights) or perhaps even Quality Time (e.g., spent together during these date nights).  However, if your wife has other love languages such as Words of Affirmation or Gifts, she may be missing the boat altogether and not even receiving the message you’re trying to send.

And the same goes for her.  You mentioned that you’re bitter about her unwillingness to reciprocate, but could this be because she’s trying to show her love in other ways that you don’t “receive” in your own love language?

TIP:  Assuming things haven’t always been this way, think back to when you were dating or when you last felt really loved by her and identify the way she expressed this love.  Was it with a Gifts or Physical Touch? 

In this case, you might have hit on the answer and can adjust your efforts to make sure that your messages are being sent on the right “channel” and vice versa. To make sure, take the quiz at the link above and share your results with each other.  It will make for a great discussion!

And lastly . . .

 

She Doesn’t Know What to Do

Ignorance isn’t an excuse, but it can happen when a very well-intentioned spouse simply doesn’t realize how much their partner needs them and how to meet these needs.

This goes beyond a simple discrepancy of love languages to a genuine unawareness that a great marriage (or close relationship of any kind) requires regular, ongoing nurturing and attention to thrive.

You didn’t mention having spoken to your wife about this before so might this be the first place to start?  It may be difficult, if not impossible, for your wife to scratch your itch if she doesn’t know exactly what you’re expecting from her.

TIP:  Don’t approach this conversation in a confrontational or accusatory way.  Frame it positively by stating your feelings and then making a simple but direct request, such as:

>>> “I feel like we haven’t spent much quality time together lately and would love to do a road trip – just the two of us – next month.  What do you think?  If you like the idea, are you up for making the arrangements?”

Or even – –

>>> “I’m kind of running out of date night ideas.  Do you want to take a turn and plan our nights out this month?”

If you think a more direct and in-depth discussion is in order, select a good time when you’re both calm and will not be interrupted and start by expressing your feelings in a non-judgmental way.  Then ask for what you’d like and allow her to respond.  Maybe something like – –

>>> “I’ve been feeling lately as if I’m doing most of the heavy lifting as far as planning our special nights out.  I’m sure this isn’t your intention, so I’m wondering if you’d be willing to ____________ (what you want) on occasion too.  I enjoy doing this for us, but I would also enjoy it if you sometimes _______________ (what you want) for me too.  What are your thoughts?” 

Doing this in an easy-going, sincere way may lead to her being able to recognize the imbalance in your relationship and create a new and more mutually-fulfilling pattern in your marriage.

 

Whatever route you choose, remember that your wife probably loves you a great deal and may just need a gentle wake-up call.  Keeping score in your marriage is unproductive and potentially dangerous, so it’s worth it to take steps to get back on an even keel. Even a small change can mean a HUGE improvement in the status quo, so keep the faith and reach out to us if we can help!

 

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