If you can remember back to the early days of your marriage, it’s likely that neither person could do enough for the other. When you begin dating, it’s as if you want to do everything in your power to show the other person how much you care, no matter how much time, energy, or effort this takes for you. But, when you have been together for a while, this sometimes ceases to become the norm. One spouse may stop much effort while the other spouse may still crave it. Eventually, the disappointed spouse may ask for what they want – more reassurance, more attention, more effort. And the spouse on the receiving end of this might actually promise that they are going to do better and then, for whatever reason, not follow through.
That’s why I might hear a comment like: “I am not proud of this, but I have threatened my husband that I am going to leave him if he doesn’t put more of an effort into our marriage. He will make excuses for himself but eventually, he will promise to do better. He never does. The thing is, I’m not asking for the moon and stars. I am just asking him to be an attentive husband and to act like a man who prioritizes his wife. The older he gets, the lazier he is about this. He never wants to take me to dinner, spend any quality time with me, or show me that he cares. His ideal day is doing as little work at his office as is humanly possible, going out for a long game of golf with his slacker buddies, and then parking himself in front of the TV and even eating dinner on the couch. I don’t want to live this way. I don’t mind him having his hobbies, but there has to be a balance. I will tell him that I need more effort and attention from him or I might have to leave the relationship. It is only at this point that he will beg me not to go and tell me how much he loves me and that he couldn’t live without me, which is what I have been wanting to hear all along. Then, he will promise me that I am going to see big changes. I might see small amounts of effort for just a few days, but then he will resort back to his old ways almost immediately. I get so tired of this. To me, not following through on your promises shows a serious lack of integrity and respect and I’m getting ready to walk. Because I am just so tired of this cycle. How can I get him to do what he says he is going to do?”
There are definitely some things that you can try, and it certainly does not appear that you are asking for too much. At the same time, while you can attempt to change a person’s actions or habits, you really can not change the core of who a person is. What I mean by that is that while you can encourage your husband to become more affectionate and demonstrative (and pile on positive feedback when he does,) it’s unrealistic to think that you can completely change your husband’s personality so that it is more in alignment with your own.
Understand How Men Can Be Different: Men are just naturally less demonstrative than women. Yes, they can be encouraged and somewhat trained to do better. But it’s probably never going to be their natural inclination to be caregivers in the way that it is ours. With all of this said, if you need more from him, then you are well within your rights to ask for it. But, if you truly want to get what you want from him, then you have to understand basic human nature.
Understand Mirroring: People will typically respond by mirroring back what you are giving to them. What do I mean by this? If you treat your spouse with positive emotions, you will likely get positive behavior back. But, if you treat your spouse with negative reinforcement (like threatening to leave him when he doesn’t act in the way that you want) then you may get passive aggressive behavior in return, like what you are seeing sometimes right now. Please don’t misunderstand me. I think that you have every right to ask more of him. I just think that you might be going around it in the wrong way to ensure the best outcome.
Why Positive Reinforcement Can Get Different Results: It is possible that when you threaten to leave him, he feels criticized and rejected, which makes him more difficult for him to give you what you want. I would suggest that, to the extent you can, try to use positive reinforcement. When you present what you want, allude to a time when acting in that certain way gave him more of what he wants. So you might try: “remember that time you made surprise dinner reservations and we hardly made it through dinner because I couldn’t keep my hands off of you? I miss those times. I wish we could do that again.”
He may not immediately go out and make reservations, but he might try to make more small efforts. And when he does, it’s important that you acknowledge and praise it. Tell him how good it makes you feel when he tries to express his affection for you. The reason for this is that it’s very important that he doesn’t think that he will never achieve your high standards. Because if he thinks this, then he may not even try. Instead, you want to give him small obtainable goals, praise him when he reaches them, and then just slowly raise the bar as he gains confidence.
The other day, I saw a celebrity on a talk show and they asked her how she stayed happily married for twenty years. She recounted a story where her husband had told her he’d charged her cell phone and then proceeded to hand it to her while her hands were full and she risked dropping it. She said she had learned to read between the lines. Instead of being annoyed that he handed her the phone when her arms were already full, she knew that his way of caring for her and showing her affection was charging her phone for her. Sometimes, you have to look for these small moments and then praise them so that he wants to do more for you. As you obtain success with this, you will gradually ask for more and more, offering encouragement the whole time.