Mr. Marriage Counselor: "My Wife Threatens to Leave if I Don't Change"


    In my practice I frequently work with couples who are stuck. They’re in a rut, frustrated with each other’s behavior and may even feel their relationship is on the verge of ending. Something needs to change. Many times it’s the wife who recognizes these things first. I often speak with men who tell me that their wife is threatening to leave if they don’t change.

    We all know people, sometimes men in particular, who are “set in their ways.” They take things or people – generally their wives or relationships – for granted and don’t see any reason for changing. Unfortunately, for many men this can lead to big problems, including the possibility of divorce. Below is a question I received from a man who said, “my wife threatens to leave if I don’t change” and my response to him.

    Wife Threatening To Leave Means You Need To Change

    Reader Question:

    I am a 43-year-old male, divorced, now married for 8 years, not able to build an intimate relationship with my wife. What you say on your website applies, I am not able to communicate my feelings, recognize my wife's needs. Can't move relationship to the next level. Wife (rightfully) threatens to leave if I don't change some behavior. I've seen "conventional" counselors which were intellectually stimulating but did not make me change... Help would be appreciated." -Neil B.

    Neil is definitely stuck. It’s good that he’s able to see that there’s a problem and that he needs to fix it and change, but he has no idea how. Sound familiar?

    Change can be very difficult for many of us. It requires effort, takes time and is often very uncomfortable. And for many men in particular, it doesn’t feel necessary – they’re content with things just the way they are. For their wives, however, the default setting that many men have regarding minimal communication of feelings and little to no emotional intimacy doesn’t work. If you’re a man who wants a happy relationship then being willing to change and grow in these areas is crucial. Take a look below for my response to Neil.

    My Answer:

    I appreciate and admire your willingness to see that there may be some legitimacy to your wife's complaints and your need to change. Sadly, many of us guys trip ourselves up by only seeing what our wife needs to change and missing the opportunity we have to make things better by doing some things differently ourselves.

    You're in a common situation for a lot of couples -- can't build an intimate relationship. You've also got a common problem for a lot of guys -- communication of your feelings in your marriage and recognizing your wife's needs.

    First, you need to retrain your brain to work on an emotional level. Many of us men are very successful problem solvers, yet poor emotional connectors. Our analytical minds work well professionally, but often undermine our personal relationships. Second, you need to learn how to understand your wife and anticipate her needs.

    As you've experienced, "conventional" marriage counselors haven't worked. My marriage counseling for men is more direct and focuses on teaching men these skills. They can be learned. I had to learn them. Guys with successful marriages have learned them. You can too.

    What Can Happen If You Can’t Change

    Relationships aren’t made of stone and never move. They go through ups and downs, with each partner growing and changing (for good and bad) over time. In order for a relationship to be happy and healthy, both people need to be willing to understand the needs of the other, and meet and respect those needs.

    What works for you as a couple right now may not work 5 years from now. If you assume it will, and refuse to change as needed, the chances that your relationship will survive and additional 5 years is slim. This goes for both partners. Although it’s often men who get stuck, many women do too. Each partner has to be willing to make adjustments to maintain the connection.

    If you’re a man (or woman) in a relationship that feels stuck and you’re struggling to change, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this situation happens to many couples. The most important thing is that you recognize the need for change and respond to it as quickly as possible. And if you don’t know how, ask for help. Otherwise you’ll likely find yourself in Neil’s situation with your wife threatening to leave.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 17, 2009 It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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