Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I feel confused. I have a great husband, who provides for me and our daughter very well. He makes sure to be in attendance for every important family event, he never forgets my birthday, he compliments me and praises my accomplishments to others. Our sex life seems OK. But I have this continuing feeling that something is missing. Sometimes I almost feel as if I am in that movie,The Stepford Wives, only this time it’s my husband who was replaced with a robot designed to fill my every need and say the right things in public.
I mentioned this to my best friend and she thought I was nuts- she and her husband have disagreements and little spats all the time and she said ,”if he ever complimented me on my hair, I’d drop dead of shock!”
However, when I see them together, they seem real- I feel a pang of jealousy sometimes when I see them catch each other’s eye and laugh at a private joke only they understand. Such a simple gesture speaks of such intimacy. When my husband smiles at me, I don’t feel a sense of connection or sharing- just a practiced gesture he knows he should make.
Am I looking for problems in what really is paradise? I know that some husbands abuse and beat their wives. I know that this isn’t that kind of abuse, but I have to say, sometimes I almost feel I’d rather my husband yell at me or take a swing at me than hold the door open for me. I’ve tried to talk to him about this, but he just laughs affectionately and says “I just love you too much, that’s all.” What can I say to that? But somehow, it makes me want to scream.
Am I crazy for feeling this way?
The problem from the story you are describing isn’t just your husband. It is also your sense of self. You seem to be playing a role – that of a person you think you should be; but you don’t reveal what you really feel. In certain cases this is the right thing to do. For instance, if you had Aspergers or were suffering from depression or PTSD, then faking it could make life keep going. But generally, if you are just playing the role you expected to play as a wife, then you have never explored who you really are… and there is a problem brewing.
You need to teach people how to love you, because unless you tell them, they can have no idea who you are or what you need. This requires that you know who you are and what you need.
You didn’t mention your age, but there is also a phenomenon I have noticed in our culture. By the time a couple is in their 40’s, they have established routines that are pretty strong. These routines become one’s entire identity and can cause a couple to parallel play, but not really play together; then their relationship becomes another act. For instance, the mom’s role is that of caregiver to the kids with their school issues and activities; and the dad works and works and works. Entirely separate lives can form. Maybe that’s why the arguments and fights of other couples seem so intriguing- at least it breaks up the routine and causes the couple to interact and remember that their partner isn’t just part of the furniture.
Paradise shouldn’t be boring or routine. A marriage requires two people mutually working together towards a common intent. You are each on your own script right now. His aim might be to make you happy, but he can’t do that if you don’t know what it is that you want. You can come to resent his efforts because they are his ideas, not yours. His good intent just becomes another person telling you what to do and an obligation you feel to be happy.
I recommend you read The Death of Cupid: Reclaiming the Wisdom of Love, Dating, Romance and Marriage by Braverman Nachum – it’s out of print but available on amazon.com. It could help start a conversation that will get you and your husband on the same page.
There is also a book on toxic niceness, Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch
by Elizabeth Hilts.
The couple you envy are having this conversation albeit the wrong way.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I’m sure Dr. Brilliant is right on target about his observations on role playing. But there could be other explanations for your husband’s glassy eyed smile. I’ll share an experience one of my friends had. She also had the ultra considerate husband who treated her like a princess and never seemed to have a negative or disruptive thought in his head. Ten years into the marriage, she discovered entirely by accident that he was a cyber sex addict and had been leading a double life for years. It was easy enough to hide his tracks because no one ever suspects a computer as being the other woman. At least they didn’t 15 years ago. The guy had a serious inability to deal with reality or intimacy, so he just smiled his way through life and waited until he could get back to the cyber world he was more at home in. I think the rest of the time he was in a role-playing coma.
Your husband could be a sweet, well intending guy who was taught by his mama to treat women with respect and courtesy and he’s doing what he knows to do because you haven’t showed him what you really want. Or, he could be some nut job who is cruising the internet for clandestine liaisons and kinky sex and will go to his grave without letting you in.
The point is, you will NEVER know what’s going on if all you do is look at him, swallow everything he says without a ripple, and then sigh and go back about your business. For god’s sake, start talking about how you really feel. This is where real intimacy starts.
Have you seen the movie: The Bridges of Madison County, Pretty you are that woman. The book was popular because culturally she is most American wives, all playing roles, no one knowing who they really are. The kids learn of their true mom only after she dies and they read her thoughts in her journal. The handsome stranger in the story is a rescue fantasy but a false one. Once she would be his wife it would end up the same thing. Adding skills changes life, changing husbands rarely does.