Angry spouses should schedule a talk CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

August 21, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"How come everyone else's life changes when they have children, except my husband's?" wonders Cindy, 28. Cindy is exhausted and furious that Steve never takes her needs or feelings seriously. "I don't think he cares about me at all. Every weekend, Steve is off hunting and fishing with his buddies, leaving me with a 10-room house to clean, two babies in diapers -- and a marriage that's falling apart."

Cindy discovered she was pregnant with Jenny six months after the wedding. "Pregnancy was not my favorite time of life. I looked like a green elephant and felt awful," recalls Cindy. It didn't help when her body-builder husband started to make wisecracks about her weight. Nevertheless, until the baby came, Cindy didn't mind that Steve was busy all day in his landscaping business and busy all weekend with his friends. "I had my job at a clothing store, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I had a million errands," she explains.

But after the children were born -- Brian came along when Jenny was 14 months old -- she began to resent how much time he spent away from home and how little help he gave her when he was there. Though she tries to tell him how desperately unhappy she is, Cindy says it's like talking to a wall. He either pretends to listen while he reads the paper or stares at the TV and nods "uh-huh, uh-huh." Or he cuts her off, saying: "Is this our monthly dump-on-Steve discussion?"

Steve feels neglected, too: "I don't think she cares about me," says the muscular 36-year-old. "I work hard, and if I need to unwind at the end of the day, or want to hunt or fish on the weekends -- something Cindy knows I've loved since I was a kid -- I think I'm entitled." Instead, the second he walks in the door, Cindy pounces. "She's shouting, 'Why didn't you do this?' 'What about that?' "

But mostly Steve is flabbergasted by Cindy's sudden about-face: "I thought she wanted this kind of life! When we were dating, all she talked about was raising a big family in a big house in the country. Now she's got it -- and all she does is complain. I don't get it."

He's fed up with her complaints: "My father worked seven days a week, and my mother raised five kids single-handed," he says. "I never heard her moan like this -- and Cindy only has two little ones." Instead of being constantly derided for what he doesn't do, Steve wants a little credit for what he does do.

Feeling misunderstood

"Cindy and Steve are both, in their own way, short-circuiting conversations," says Jane Greer, a psychotherapist in New York and Douglaston, N.Y. "The problem is, neither realizes it." When you short-circuit a conversation, you unwittingly trivialize your partner's concerns and feelings. The result: You both feel misunderstood.

Think about how you express your needs and feelings to your partner. Do you, like Cindy, shout your needs and layer them with cutting, sarcastic digs? If so, you need to tell your husband calmly, without accusing him, that there are things you need to discuss. If necessary, schedule a specific time to talk, perhaps -- after the kids are asleep or even on the weekend. When Cindy did this, she felt better just knowing she'd have a chance to express herself later on -- and she no longer needed to pounce on her husband when he walked through the door.

Or perhaps you short-circuit communication like Steve, by failing to respond concretely and respectfully to your partner. In this case, don't let a question or comment hang in the air unanswered. Acknowledge in some way that you've heard, even if you disagree. You can say: "I didn't realize you feel that way," or "I understand where you're coming from, but I want to explain why I see it differently." When Steve learned to do this, Cindy felt that he at least cared about her feelings and wanted to find solutions.

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