This might be a new one for you. My wife and I been married for 12 years and since the beginning of the marriage I realize now that I’ve been a selfish @$$hole. I can’t explain why, but I thinks it’s the fact when I was younger I did what I wanted to do. My parents were very thoughtful and gave me a lot. Which might of been the first mistake because I was an unappreciated kid (I expected everything).
My question is, now that my marriage is going south, what do I do to control this behavior and be more thoughtful of my wife and the great person she is? She’s a great mother, a great wife and a dear friend to a lot of people. I want to be the great husband she’s looking for and provide for the family and stop partying like I’m a rock star but I don’t know where to start. Can you help?
Hi Hard Place,
You’re right, a guy emailing me saying “I have a problem that you’ve already identified and need help with” is a new one for me.
OK, you’re a selfish guy. I’m going to throw you for a loop here:
Selfishness isn’t bad.
Now I’m going to qualify that statement.
Selfishness is good:
“Selfishness” is a process where people look out for themselves. They try to get the best that they can for themselves, despite what others may think. Selfishness is often a drive for someone to do their best, regardless of others, a method of empowerment, of succeeding.
How selfishness is bad:
Selfish people think of themselves first, others second (if at all). Selfish people do what they want to do, which is not always what is the right thing to do, given their particular circumstances. This selfishness does not take into account anyone else’s feelings, thoughts, emotions and needs. Very bad.
Now HP, you’ve been married for 12 years. Throughout this time your wife has put up with being second place in your life. Second to what you wanted to do; second to where you wanted to be; second to what is happening in your life. That has to change.
Now, I don’t want you to go to your wife and say “I know I have a problem being selfish and I will work on it. I want to make this marriage work and I’ll change”. You’re not going to do this because, my friend, the proof is in the pudding. And your words aren’t worth squat right now.
The proof of being able to change is in your actions. Change needs to be shown, not discussed. You can’t tell someone you’ve changed, you need to show the change you have been able to do and maintain that change, from the moment you’ve decided to change forward.
Here’s how you’re going to make the change that your wife will see you’ve changed and stay in your marriage:
You’re going to put her, and her feelings, emotions and needs, first. What you do has a consequence: how it affects her. You’re going to ask yourself that question every time you plan to do something, “How will me doing, or not doing this, affect my wife?”
– If you get invited out to be with your friends it must be a “wife-friendly” event. She either has to be able to go with you, or you have her complete approval to go without her. Anything else and you must decline to go, without any blame towards your wife. Spend that time with your wife. Rent a movie instead of leaving her behind. A movie she wants to see.
– If your wife right now has no “friend time” of her own you have to encourage her to go out with the friends she does have and you’ll pick up on the slack time, the housework, that would normally be done when she was home. This has to be a regular, hopefully weekly, time for her. Her friend time. She needs it and she needs to know you’ll be home while she’s out. You’ll be waiting for her to come home, instead of being out partying somewhere.
– You’ll bring romance back in your marriage:
At least twice a month take your wife out for dinner. Not too expensive but somewhat kid-free. It doesn’t even have to be planned that far in advance (spur of the moment is great if you can arrange it!) as long as the dinner time does not interrupt anything she may have planned. Think of her first when planning these dinners out!
– Show her you love her:
Go to your local Hallmark store and buy some romantic greeting cards. I don’t mean one or two, I’m talking 8 or ten. Cards that make you feel romantic towards your wife. Cards that will speak your romantic feelings to her. These are cards that you will write at least 4 sentences of a love note into when you give them to her, on an ordinary day, stuffed in her robe, tucked into her bath towel. You will not give her the card face to face, you will leave the card somewhere for her to easily find. You can also instead of using a card every time (but the first 4 or 5 times should be a greeting card) just write a love note for her. Something that says you’re thinking of her. Drop it into her purse. Hang it in the shower. Stick it on the side of the toaster. Leave her messages that scream “I love you” just because you do, not for a holiday, birthday or any other reason than being married to her. You’ll do this at least once a week.
– Help out around the house more:
You’ve been a jerk leaving her to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping (maybe even taking care of the kids, you didn’t say if you have children). It’s time to do more that will give her some free time of her own. You will give up your time for her to have free time of her own. And you will never, ever complain about what you gave up for her to have some free time.
– Start reading:
After 12 years it’s likely that the both of you are so familiar with each other that you’ve become strangers. There is nothing to talk about anymore. No fresh conversations. Nothing new that you’d both be interested in. Change that by reading. Find some books and magazines that you’re interested in and start reading. And to make this work you must talk about the book or magazine stories with your wife. Now, I’m not talking about a 2 hour book-club discussion. Just a short “That last part (the article about) I read was great, it went like this…”
– Become a more responsible man:
Now, I don’t know what your career is and I don’t know what work you do around the house. But whatever those are, you’re to start doing more around the house. Cleaning, house maintenance, yard work. Getting rid of spider webs, whatever. You know what needs to be done that you haven’t been doing. Write yourself a list (that you keep to yourself) and start on those chores. This works because not only are you doing things around that house that has to be done but you are, at the same time, home with your wife and not out with your friends, partying like a rock star.
– Finances need to be fair and open
I am assuming that you are working and your wife isn’t. But this advice works either way:
You need to have a family conference about family finances.
You’ll need to show where currently money is earned and has been spent and how you’re doing as a family unit, financially.
Then, you’re to set up an allowance for both you and your wife. This is the “discretionary fund” or allowance that you both will commit to, to be able to spend without the other watching over the shoulder, the amount set weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This is money left over after bills are paid and a savings account has had a deposit.
If your wife isn’t working outside of the home it’s time to give her an allowance so she has money of her own to spend, not relying on handouts from you. If she does work outside the home then it’s time to redefine financial obligations, how money is spent and saved. And what the amount of “discretionary funds” you both have to spend on items that aren’t directly involved in the upkeep of your home and household. This is not where you say “I make more than you so I get more to spend on myself”, this is where you level out the playing field so that you both have the same money each week. This will curb your partying and help your wife save and have money of her own. You’ll be surprised with the results if you’re not already doing this!
This is extremely important.
Where you’re going to start:
– Not go out without your wife for the next month. Except for times you out with your wife you will not go out. You will not complain about it. You will not ask her for permission to go out. You are a changed man, an “at home” man for at least this first month.
– Love cards and messages start now! And at least once a week from now on, forever.
– Dinners out start Thursday or Friday. That means this week, not next.
– Helping around the house starts immediately. I don’t care what it is, but it’ll be whatever you’ve been leaving your wife to do around the house. After you read this email, grab the vacuum, empty the dishwasher, clean out the lint trap in the clothes dryer. Do something right now!
– The openness of finances and the setting of you and your wife’s spending allowances should be set as soon as possible.
And email me in two months, let me know how things are going for you, your relationship, your family.