Is Your Marriage More Intimate Than You Think?

Women will often say that they want more intimacy in their marriage. If you’ve had feelings like this, I want to give you something to think about.

Typically, when a wife complains about a lack of intimacy, she means that she and her husband are not having deep and candid conversations about things like each other’s true feelings, thoughts, and dreams.

However, intimacy can take different forms in a marriage. Some men — especially those with a more traditional upbringing— have an easier time with nonverbal intimacy than with building intimacy through conversation.

Paths and Roadblocks to Intimacy

When your husband seeks intimacy more physically than verbally, it’s easy to misunderstand his motivations. You may think things like, “It’s all about sex for him” and assume he’s only seeking you out to fulfill his own desires. Usually, the truth is more nuanced. Yes, he’s probably enjoying sex. However, he’s also seeking connection and intimacy with you in a way that just feels more comfortable for him.

When you seek intimacy through conversation and he seeks it through physical connection, neither of you is wrong. You just need to see that these are two different paths to feeling closer, and find a way to honor both.

To set the stage for more intimate conversations with your husband, make sure there’s an atmosphere of safety and respect in your marriage. Listen when he talks. (Put down your phone!) Be curious about what’s going on with him. And don’t micromanage or criticize him — would you want to open up to someone who is constantly getting after you?

Enhancing Nonverbal Intimacy

In addition to deepening your connection through conversation, appreciate the various forms of nonverbal intimacy in your marriage and look for ways to increase that too. I’m not just talking about sex. You could also…

  • Offer physical comfort.
  • Reassure or encourage with a squeeze of the shoulder or a gentle touch.
  • Hold eye contact.
  • Hold each other.
  • Wink and smile.
  • Gently caress his face, hair, or arm in a cherishing way.
  • Sit close to each other.
  • Speak quietly and lovingly.
  • Lean on each other.
  • Reach out and hold hands.
  • Embrace.
  • Kiss.
  • Give him a pat on the butt.
  • Walk arm-in-arm, holding hands, or arm-over-shoulder.

On their own, these gestures will bring the two of you closer together. They could also make it feel safer for your husband to risk opening up to the intimate conversations you’ve been longing for.

A Minute of Silence

I want to leave you with one of the most vivid reminders of the power of nonverbal intimacy that I know of. Perhaps you’ve heard of Marina Abramovic’s work “The Artist is Present” in which she sat across from strangers and shared a minute of silence with them. That’s intimate enough itself! But when Abramovic’s ex-love sits down, look at how much passes between them before they even speak a single word.

As Abramovic shows us, there’s nothing more powerful than the connection between people. Make it a priority to constantly build your connection with your husband, whatever form that intimacy takes. My book, Strong Women, Strong Love, can give you more ideas on how to stay close no matter how busy and hectic your lives are.

How to Stop Being Too Controlling of Your Husband

You’re so controlling! Can you just get off my back?

If your husband has ever hurled words like these at you during an argument, you no doubt remember their sting. But besides feeling hurt, you were probably also confused. Me? Controlling? Where’s he coming up with this?

This conflict can cause real damage in your relationship if it continues unchecked. Today, I want to help you get to the root of the issue and to suggest some shifts that both you and your husband can make to strengthen your marriage.

Are You Really Controlling?

If your husband has told you that you’re controlling, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common points of tension in marriages. But I don’t believe that most wives are out there secretly scheming to find new ways to boss their husbands around.

What’s actually happening? As you know firsthand, we women have a lot on our plates. In addition to going to work, women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do. And then there’s the emotional labor that goes along with having a family, which also disproportionately falls on women.

With so much going on, we have to be very good at getting things done. To keep all the balls we’re juggling in the air, we’re relentlessly focused and efficient.

Why He Thinks You’re Too Controlling

Here’s where issues of control come in. When you’re driving so hard to check off all the things on your list, sometimes it can feel like your husband is slowing you down or getting in your way. So you end up doing things like this:

  • Telling him how to do a task “right.”
  • Jumping in and taking over if he’s doing it “wrong” or taking too long.
  • Constantly reminding him about something you asked him to do because you’re worried he’ll forget.

You know that you’re just trying to get everything done because you care about your family. But he’s taking away a very different message from your behavior. If he complains that you are too controlling, he isn’t just saying that he feels micromanaged. The deeper meaning behind his words is that he doesn’t think you trust him or respect him which makes him feel demoralized and unmotivated.

Again, I know these aren’t the messages you’re trying to communicate to him. But they’re the ones he’s taking away.

Step Back So He Can Step Up

Your marriage doesn’t have to stay stuck in this destructive pattern, though. Here’s how to change the dynamic between you and your husband.

  • As we’ve discussed, the behaviors that he perceives as controlling are probably happening because you have too much to do and you feel stressed and overwhelmed. That means it’s time for an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores, childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more equitably.
  • Once you agree that a task or responsibility is his to manage, back off. Don’t jump in and sideline him, even when you know that you would do a better job. Yes, taking over might be easier right now, but giving him some space to grow is better for you both in the long run. He might make some mistakes, but he’ll grow from them.
  • Remember “the friend test.” Our spouses are so close to us that sometimes we take them for granted and don’t show them the same respect and consideration we would show a friend. When you’re tempted to tell your husband how to do something, or to jump in and start doing it for him, ask yourself whether you would behave the same way with a dear friend.

Persist Through Discomfort

Shifts like these may feel uncomfortable at first because things will take longer to get done, and they might not be done according to your high standards. But I believe the closeness you’ll gain in your marriage more than makes up for any efficiency you lose. He’ll feel less controlled, you’ll feel less burdened, and you’ll both enjoy a more collaborative partnership that gives you more freedom and flexibility.

For more marriage tips like the ones in this article, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In it, you’ll find many more strategies for maintaining a strong relationship amid our busy, stressful lives.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

If He ‘Needs Space,’ What Should You Do?

Nothing’s wrong — I just need some space.

Those are some of the most alarming and confusing words you can hear in your marriage. Today I want to help you decode them.

What Is He Really Saying?

If your husband says that he needs space, or if you notice that he’s been distancing himself lately, a lot of thoughts might race through your mind:

  • He doesn’t love me anymore.
  • He’s keeping a dark secret.
  • He’s having an affair.

So what does “I need space” really mean?

I’ll let you in on a secret: It means he needs space. Yep, guys are pretty literal most of the time. And this need for space is not necessarily a signal that something is wrong in your marriage.

Why Does He Need Space?

Speaking very generally, “space” is a more confusing word for women than it is for men. As a result, when your husband doesn’t want to collaborate, you might quickly assume the worst.

However, men in the U.S. are usually socialized very differently than we are. They’re taught to be stoic and deal with problems and issues on their own. So when he says he needs space, here a few things that might be going on with him:

  • He’s working through a challenge or a problem, like a tough time at work.
  • He’s exhausted. Men will more readily take some time to themselves to recharge. This is one area where we should follow their example!
  • He’s experiencing a difficult emotion, such as grief, that he needs time to process.

I’m not saying that taking some space is the best way to handle any of these situations. But it’s his way, and it probably doesn’t reflect on his feelings for you.

When the Need for Space Is a Red Flag

Sometimes, however, “I need some space” really does translate to “There’s a problem in our marriage.” This is especially true if you typically have a very close and collaborative relationship and he suddenly wants more space. Don’t rush to conclusions, but do realize it’s time to open a discussion about what’s happening with him.

This is just one example of how navigating the differences between your husband’s emotional needs and communication style and your own can be tricky. For more proven strategies that can help, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

Why are Women More Stressed at Home?

Have you been in this situation with your husband?

The two of you are at home after work or on the weekend. You’re catching up on household tasks or things you need to do for the kids. Or you may be trying to rest, but your head is spinning with thoughts of all you should be doing.

While you’re stressed, he’s relaxing by the TV or happily scrolling through his phone. If it’s bedtime, he’s out like a light.

One of the most frustrating and fascinating things I see happening in relationships is that there’s still a big gulf between the way men feel at home and how women feel in the same space.

Despite all the changes in gender roles and expectations that have happened in the past half-century, I believe that most men continue to view home as a place to relax and as a refuge from the stress of the outside world.

Meanwhile, women see home as a place that has its own set of responsibilities and stresses. There’s a good reason for this. Wives still tend to do more housework than their husbands do. Primary responsibility for childcare also continues to fall mostly on women, as well as the emotional labor of the household.

And then there are the cultural norms that affect us all to one degree or another. Traditionally, we’ve seen the home as the woman’s domain. A lot of us know deep down that if, for example, the house is messy when someone drops by that we will be the ones who are judged for that, not our husbands.

Making Things More Fair at Home

But, just like your husband, you deserve to get some rest and relaxation at home. And your marriage will be better if you don’t have underlying resentment that you’re doing more around the house.

Change starts by talking openly about the unspoken expectations and assumptions both of you have. You might discover that the behaviors you were taking personally (“He’s lounging around and doesn’t care that I’m so stressed!”) are actually just habits he learned in his family of origin or stem from his lack of awareness of how much is on your plate.

After you’ve cleared the air, negotiate how the two of you can divide domestic responsibilities so that you both get some rest. For example, maybe you agree that each of you will take a set amount of time to decompress after work and then have certain tasks to complete. Or, perhaps, you’re responsible for the dishes and he does the laundry. The more specific you can be, the better.

This common conflict really drives home how social expectations can affect your marriage. Remember that you are both on the same team and can create a less stressful life if you work together to ease the burdens on each of you. For more ideas about decreasing the stress in your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

It’s Not About the Nail — So What IS It About?

If you’ve never seen the short video “It’s Not About the Nail,” take a couple of minutes to watch it now: https://youtu.be/-4EDhdAHrOg. You’ll probably enjoy a laugh — and feel a twinge of recognition.

As you can see, “It’s Not About the Nail” captures a common situation in marriage. Spouses often go into an interaction with very different expectations, and that can lead to conflict. For example, one spouse doesn’t get their needs met during the interaction and becomes upset. Then the other spouse becomes confused and frustrated because they don’t know why the other spouse is upset and what they need.

It’s All About Communication

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid this confusion. It’s simple, but not always easy to carry out. The next time you’re in a situation that could turn into an “It’s Not About the Nail” moment, let your husband know at the outset what you’re seeking from the interaction. For example, do you just need to vent and feel heard? Or would you like him to help you solve a problem? Vice versa, if he’s coming to you with a problem, confirm with him what he really needs — even if you think you already know.

Sometimes we skip this step because we think our partner should “just know” what we need and how to respond. But it’s important to remember that each of you brings different experiences to your marriage, and that affects how you react to each other. What seems obvious to you isn’t so obvious to him, and vice versa. This is why being clear about your needs is one of the most loving and helpful things you can do for each other.

I love how the “It’s Not About the Nail” video uses humor to share some real wisdom about relationships. And I hope you’ll remember it the next time you feel like your husband just isn’t getting what you’re saying. For more advice on communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Terry Real: ‘I Side With the Woman’

In my last blog post, on emotional labor, I cited the work of renowned couple’s therapist, speaker and author Terry Real. Real’s work is important, and it has the potential to change your marriage, so I wanted to tell you more about him.

A great starting point is the post “The Awful Truth: Most Men Are Just Not Raised to be Intimate” on Real’s website. It’s a case study about his work with a couple during a two-day therapy session aimed at saving their marriage.

This is an intense read. The couple, Peter and Jenn, struggle with problems that affect many marriages. Their early passion for each other has fizzled. She’s tired of trying to build intimacy, while Peter seems incapable of it. He feels she’s undercutting his authority with their children, while she worries about his toxic temper, especially with their son. To top it all off, Peter has also been unfaithful.

Take a few moments to read and reflect on this case study. As you do, here are a few key points I especially want you to take to heart.

  1. In our culture, we still raise boys to be “hard, logical, independent and stoic,” as Real says. This creates men who are “emotionally distant, arrogant, numb to their own feelings and unconcerned about everyone else’s, as well as contemptuous of vulnerability and weakness.” Real points out something else important here: Men who were raised this way are the norm, not an aberration, especially when we look at older generations.
  2. It might be easy to interpret Real’s work as man-bashing, but that’s not accurate. He emphasizes that men struggle with intimacy not because they’re bad people, but because of the way they were raised and cultural messages. Real believes that, with hard work and bravery, men can change what they bring to relationships. He’s been through such a transformation himself.
  3. Real is not saying that women are perfect. In this case study, he’s clear that Jenn has her own issues to address, but that the most urgent need is for Peter to make changes.
  4. Real believes that what looks like men’s fear of intimacy is really the fear of subjugation. “Many men read emotional receptivity as an invitation to be run over,” Real says. This comes from raising men with an overemphasis on being strong and competitive.
  5. Nurturing and understanding, whether from their partners or through therapy, won’t change men like Peter. Instead, Real believes such men need to “feel proportionately ashamed for (their) bad behavior and yet still manage to hold onto (their) essential worth as an imperfect human being.” Appropriate shame isn’t spending the rest of your days in obsessive self-loathing. It’s about realizing who you have hurt and doing your best to make amends.

Real breaks from the common practice of the therapist not taking sides. “I side with the woman,” Real says. Again, he’s not against the man. He just believes that “business as usual” in therapy doesn’t work. This is because the skills and expectations men and women bring to a relationship can be extremely different.

If you’d like to delve further into Real’s work, there’s a great archive of articles on his website. You may also want to check out recent media coverage of Real in Forbes and AlterNet. To further your understanding of how your relationship is affected by the way you were both raised, enjoy this complimentary chapter on gender expectations from Strong Women, Strong Love.