As people all across the internet know, I am recently divorced. I married a lovely person and we couldn't make it work. I got married young and didn't know what I wanted in the long run. I thought love was enough.
Spoiler alert: It wasn't. Not even close. (It also turned out that I am gay, yet another reason it wasn't meant to be forever.) That being said, we are witnessing a huge spike in divorces all across the world. In the US, a major legal contract-creation site shared they recently experienced a 34% rise in sales of its basic divorce agreement, with newlyweds who’d got married in the last five months making up 20% of sales. That is huge and anecdotally, I'm seeing new divorces all around me.
Marriage is hard and a pandemic, political upheaval, economic hardship makes it all harder. For working parents, virtual schooling is yet another stressor. Plus the isolation we are all experiencing in big and small ways can leave marriages already on shaky ground into a dangerous place. We sigh. Maybe we expected too much of our marriages and our partners. “Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning and continuity,” relationship expert Esther Perel says in her book, Mating in Captivity. “At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
This is a lot to ask of a partnership with a flawed human. No husband or wife can be everything, but here are three things that would have made a big difference in my marriage and for my divorced friends. They've all said these to me multiple times in our conversations as we support each other through the lengthy and complicated process of getting divorced... those tiny heartbreaks and exhaustions that became big, marriage ending things. Even though I never plan to be with another man, I still hurt from these things in my former marriage. Things I wanted but didn't want to have to ask for. Initiative is a blessing you can give to your wife today.
Here are three things your wife probably wants but definitely doesn't want to ask for:
Your Wife Wants Help
I was so exasperated by the end of marriage with being the full time grocery shopper, cook, calendar manager, and housekeeper. My husband offered to "help" but would often take too long to follow through, if he followed through at all. Which led me to get frustrated by the laundry piling up, the laundry never getting removed from the dryer so my clothes got all wrinkled, or the groceries unpicked up. And then I'd resentfully sigh and say, "I'll just do it."
When I complained to a friend once about the seemingly endless list of things to do, they sighed and said, "that's just because women are better multitaskers."
Are women actually better at multitasking though? Is that why we do it all?
The answer is no. We aren't. Humans in general are bad at multitasking. “In fact, multitasking is bad for everyone because our brains are not built to deal with more than one complex thing at a time. Even when folks designed studies to prove that women are better at multitasking, nothing was really there," says Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do.
Your wife is probably tired of what's called the mental load: all the million little things that she is socialized to take over in your marriage or your home. The best thing you can give her is actual, invested, skilled help. And maybe you work 80 hours a week and legitimately don't have time to vacuum? Great. Hire a cleaning service to deep clean your house. Give your wife a week off. Pick up the kids from school or help them with their virtual homework.
For crying out loud, just do all the laundry. Remember not to put her bras or nice work shirt in the dryer. Take everything out of the dryer. Fold everything nicely and put it away. This hits better if its a surprise. Nothing like coming home after a long day and being reminded that you are not only loved, but you're not alone. You have a partner that sees you, values you, and is an adult capable of taking care of things just as much as you.
Your Wife Wants Eye Contact and its Weird to Ask for That
The passionate, locking eyes across the room thing typically fades after a few months or even a year of dating. We know that eye contact is so important. "Because the eyes offer such rich social information, adults and infants alike show a natural attraction to the whole face," wrote contributors to the APA handbook of nonverbal communication.
And if we are still making eye contact, sometimes it is replaced by the knowing glances across the room. Which can be intimate in its own way, making fun of that relative's insane child-rearing advice from the 1980's or rolling our eyes ever so slightly at an inappropriate joke. But the romantic, look into my eyes, the whole room melts away eye contact? That fades. In some marriages, it goes away entirely before we even realize our faces have been buried in our phones for the whole dinner.
So please, give her eye contact. Romantic, sweet eye contact that reminds her that she's special and you love her. But also, be generous with the kind of eye contact that shows her that you have her attention. Show her that she is more important than your work email buzzing on your phone or the game on in the corner of the room.
The only thing less sexy than not getting eye contact from your partner... is having to ask for it. Do her a favor and really connect with her. The simplest of gestures reaffirm that she matters to you and that she's worth the effort, that your marriage is worth the effort.
Your Wife Wants You to Go to Therapy. Please.
I have a new dating rule after my marriage. Men or women, I will not date gamers anymore or anyone who refuses to go to therapy. My husband struggled with mental illness throughout our marriage and I often felt helpless and alone in carrying the emotional weight of it all. He didn't have the kind of social support outside of me either and I buckled under the pressure.
Going to therapy means that your wife can still be there for you emotionally, but she doesn't have to be your emotional guardian, she doesn't have to hold all of your negative emotions. It means that you'll develop coping skills so you can be a better husband or father or spouse to your wife. It means that you'll be less likely to use unhealthy coping strategies like turning to alcohol or drugs, you'll be less likely to hurt your family and loved ones. Going to therapy can be the greatest gift you can give a loved one.
Many of my divorced friends have said they would have stayed married if their partner went to therapy. If their partner invested in their mental health. If their partner didn't put it all on them.
So go out there, be the best partner you can be. Don't forget these three things. They may make all the difference.