Episode 34: Are Men Invested in Making Marriage Work?

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

“Why isn’t my husband invested in making our marriage feel good? Why is it always on me?”

This is something I hear from women all the time! It’s something I’ve asked myself.

In this episode, I’ll decipher this very real phenomenon and explore ways you can work to change this dynamic in your own marriage.

Be prepared to dive deep… We’re going to consider the very real foundations of society’s unequal expectations for men and women (and what we’re willing to do about it!)

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • 2 reasons women are more invested in relationships than men
  • Why you cannot avoid this conversation around expectations
  • Why your man SHOULD change… (and why you should, too)

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Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?

Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.

Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.

Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. We're going to tell some truths today, and we're probably going to ruffle some feathers today in this conversation, but I think it is an important conversation to have because men and women, if we are going to be in an intimate relationship with each other, it really helps if we understand one another better.

And I think sometimes as women, we will look at our partners and wonder, why aren't they more interested in making the marriage work, in making the marriage feel good? Why is it always on me to do that? To make sure that we're getting along, when there's a disconnection, that I'm the one that brings it up, that I go looking for solutions? Why isn't he looking for solutions? Why isn't he actively seeking out answers? And I totally get that. And we're going to go there and we're going to talk about why that is.

There are actually some very logical reasons on how we got to this point, but we are now at a different point. So it's time to uplevel the conversation and start speaking really truthfully about where we're at and where it is we want to be so that we can understand one another better.

Now, whenever you start talking about, “Well, men do this and women are like this,” those are obviously broad generalizations that are not going to apply to every single person on the planet. And there will probably be some things that I will say that you'll think to yourself, well, that's not me, and that's okay. That's totally okay. I have worked with some men who will change any woman's mind about a man not caring about their relationship. And I have also seen some women where they're not doing everything right.

I don't have that idea that, oh, men are the bad guy, and women are always the hero and they're always doing everything correct. I don't have those generalizations in my mind. So I always say, keep what resonates and ditch what doesn't. The one thing I will add to this conversation is to challenge yourself. I'm going to say something that your initial reaction is going to be, oh, not me. That's not me. Just rest into it a little bit and just think, is there something here for me? Is there something there for me to see?

And if you get triggered – well, my friends, your triggers are your alert mechanism that there's something there for you to heal. There's something there that is getting your back up and getting you irritated, and that means that there's something there for you to look at. All right? So let's just go there and start having some honest conversations about how we got to where we are and how to move forward, shall we?

So I'm going to reference a book. This is The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner. It's an amazing book. If you haven't read it, go get it. She also has The Dance of Anger and several others. However, here's the caveat. I got to page four in chapter one before I read something that really pissed me off, and I'm going to read it to you. And honestly, it should piss all of you off too. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. Here's what she says.

“Perhaps we should first take time to contemplate why tending to relationships, like changing diapers, is predominantly women's work; caring about relationships, working on them, and upgrading our how-to skills have traditionally been women's domain. When something goes wrong, we are usually the first to react, to feel pain, to seek help, and to try to initiate change.”

So I think that is the reality of the situation. Oftentimes people will ask me, “Well, Sharon, why don't you target men?” Or, “Why don't you work with men?” You want to know why? Because men aren't usually the ones awake in the middle of the night Googling, “Why can't I love my husband?” “Can my marriage be fixed? Can my marriage be saved?” They're not out Googling for answers as much as women are. So I think this is one of the things that really makes women beautiful human beings, is that when they notice that something is wrong, oftentimes they will get to a place where they're ready to do something about it, and they start taking action.

They don't usually bury their head in the sand for years on end and pretend like nothing's wrong. They usually want to address it doesn't mean they always address it in the perfect way or in a way that their partner can hear and receive. But one of the reasons why it looks as though men aren't as invested is because taking care and tending to the relationship has been traditionally women's work.

Now, think about why that would be. We'll talk boys and girls. Boys grow up to be men. Girls grow up to be women. Boys are socialized very, very differently than girls are. Girls are taught to be nice and to share. Boys are encouraged to compete and debate. The other thing is that in general, men are socialized that what it means to be a successful man primarily will operate around their career or their profession and or how much money they make.

Although those two things don't always go hand in hand, it's generally around what they do for a living and how they contribute to the world. That is primarily when they look at their life and if they feel like they're being successful, what they're looking to. Not every man on the planet, many men on the planet.

Whereas for women, that's not really the case. There's a good percentage of women that the way that they identify if they are successful in their lives is based upon the quality and health of their relationships. So if there is a hierarchy in a woman's life, many times relationships are at the very top of that hierarchy. They genuinely care about the quality of their relationships.

When relationships start to disconnect, when family members get upset and we have to stop talking to one another, and there's arguments and infighting and all that kind of stuff, that break in connection is really, really damaging to women because we were built for connection, whereas men aren't necessarily built for connection in the same way that women are. So there are a lot of even physiological reasons for that, but certainly psychological and social reasons for how we got to this place.

Now, the other thing that I want you to think about – and I'm going to spend a minute here just talking about it, because I think it's important to note – if you think about your mother's marriage, your mother's generation, or even your grandmother's generation, they probably could not have divorced even if they wanted to. Because if you think about it, my parents got married in the late sixties, and it wasn't until the seventies that the government passed a law saying that women could do no-fault divorce, which means you didn't have to prove abuse or infidelity. Then, the government also passed a law in the US that said that women could have their own checking accounts. Isn't that lovely? And they could have their own credit.

That doesn't mean that banks wanted to lend money to women or open a checking account without a man co-signing on it. This was only in the 1970s, folks, so 50 years ago. But there were at least laws that were passed. So while it was legal that yeah, I guess my mother or my grandmother in the seventies or eighties could have left their marriage, it wasn't practical because women at that time still needed men. They still needed men for providing and for protecting. Now, providing primarily is income because he was able to work and get paid more.

And so my mother, she went to work after I went to kindergarten, and then she worked for many years, many, many years after that. So she always worked. But that was unusual. My grandmother, she was a crossing guard and a mother. So she needed my grandfather, who was an engineer at Westinghouse. She needed that providing because she wasn't going to be able to support four children on her, on her own. And there was no salary for crossing guard that was a volunteer. So that was the arrangement that they made, was that her contribution to the family was staying home and taking care of the kids and the family and him, frankly, and his contribution to the family was working at Westinghouse.

Back then we had these very distinct and clearly defined roles where then when women wanted to get into the workforce. To be honest, I don't think we did a great job renegotiating at home. Because we never said, “Hey, okay, now that we're both working full-time, we've got to have some conversations about how we're going to divide things up.” And we might have had some of that conversation before we got married. But then did we renegotiate that once kids came along?

Anyone who's had kids knows that that will throw a loop into things. And whatever you thought you had to do before kids, it just went up exponentially in terms of all of the things you have to think about and worry about and do once you have kids. And then obviously that just compounds when you have multiple kids. But I don't think we've done a great job as a couple to come back together and go, all right, how are we going to divide and conquer?

So there's still a bit of a feeling that a lot of the heavy lifting related to parenting, related to taking care of the home, related to anything domestic in nature is primarily still women's work. Now, I don't know that anyone would ever say that because you might get slapped, but it's sort of this understanding. I kind of joke my dad, when I was born, he was across the street getting a sandwich. And I would bet money that he probably never changed a diaper during my entire childhood. So that just wasn't a thing.

Now, in one generation, we expect our men to be equal partners. We expect that. However, who taught our husbands how to be a man? What does it look like to be a man? What does it look like to be a husband? What does it look like to be a father? Their fathers or their primary male role model — what did they teach them? What it looks like to be a successful man is to go to work every day. That's your responsibility; your wife, she'll take care of everything else.

That is not the case today, clearly. But we've not done a great job sort of renegotiating all of that. And so it leaves a lot of women with a lot of resentment about the level of contribution, and it feels unequal. And that's okay. Not everything is going to be equal, and it's certainly not going to be equal all the time. But we do have to have some deeper conversations and not just assume that for anything that looks domestic in nature that the woman's gonna handle and take on all the heavy lifting.

So in this way, we have not expected much of our men, we've not made it a requirement to be in relationship with us, to be married to us. I want an equal partner. And here's what that looks like to me here. Is that how you see our marriage playing out? We don't have those kinds of conversations all the time. And people are always going to meet you at your level of expectation.

And so if our level of expectation is that, well, they're probably not going to do it anyway, and then you throw in the type A female personality – don't ask me how I know this except that I am one – is that we want things done a certain way, we want it done on our timeline, and that leads to being kind of controlling, but it also leads to a lot of over functioning. And when we over-function and we overdo in terms of the quantity of tasks that we have to accomplish in any given day or that we choose to accomplish, it invites our partner to then under function.

But then all that happens is that we get resentful with one another, but we don't communicate that. And then he's very confused as to why you're always angry and he's thinking he's doing a good job, he's thinking he is doing all the right things, but it's because we've never had those open, honest conversations.

Now the other thing that I will say is that we still to this day will say about our young boys, “oh, boys will be boys,” right? We write off a lot of things that boys do related to boys will be boys. I have a client right now where she was sharing with me, now she has two grown kids, they're in their twenties, both boys, but her husband was very old school in nature, and he was like, I'm gonna go to work. And that is my contribution to the family. And he traveled a lot for work, but what was taking place at home and all that was needed – I won't go into it, but just trust me when I tell you whatever you think it is, it's probably times 10 is what she had on her plate at home.

But the reason I bring this up is because now her sons are kind of chauvinistic and they don't treat mom with respect. They don't treat mom as if she's an equal to dad because that's what they've learned in their environment growing up at home, because dad held the purse strings. Dad was who you pleased. And because mom was busy with the many, many other things she had going on, now her grown sons have learned how to be a man by what their father taught them, which wasn't in some ways the best example. And now she's worried that they're going to have problems in their relationships, and they will because young ladies today are not going to put up with any of that for too terribly long.

But that's okay. It's in those challenges that we grow and that we learn how to do it differently. And with every generation, we have to learn how to do this differently because the expectations, my friends, are changing very, very quickly. So men may look or appear as if they're not as invested because they haven't had to be as invested in the relationship. Once we elevate that level of importance and our expectations around that, we're willing and able to have open honest conversations about what that looks like and ensure that we're getting buy-in from our partners so that we are still a good match.

Because if he's like, no, look, all you're ever going to get from me is I'm going to work from 8:00 AM, I'll be home at five, and that's all you can expect ever… Or I have one client where her husband just quit his job and decided he just wanted to stay home and play video games all day. And she's supposed to just be down with that.

So sometimes life will throw those curve balls at us, but it's a time to reevaluate and say, wait a minute, are we still a good match? Do we still want the same things? And that is a healthy conversation. Avoiding it and assuming or hoping that your spouse will come around and see it the way you see it, I can just promise you, it doesn't work very well.

So the other reasons why women are more invested than men. I told you that for women, relationships are really, really important in terms of having a happy life. But the other thing is that we are really good at relationships in a general sense. I can stand here and say, in general, women are better at relationships than men. Now why is that? So women communicate more. Because there are plenty of studies that would say that we use more words, we use more language, we speak faster, and we're able to multitask.

And one of the ways that we will process something is – let's say that there's a problem, and then I'm trying to get to a solution. For women, we can talk to someone about this problem. We can factor in 12 different variables. Like, wait, what does my mother want me to do? What do my kids want me to do? All of that kind of stuff. We can factor in those variables and talk our way through to a solution.

That's not typically how the male brain will process something. They're not usually going to be able to talk it through with you. That's why they often will need to step away and be able to really think through something before they come back to you with, here's what I've thought about and here's the solution. So we process things differently. We communicate very differently. Men are more direct than women are. Women tend to have more empathy and compassion for another person's experience than men do.

So in this way, we are also very well equipped. We're more in touch with our emotions. Not always; I'm not saying we're perfect, but we are more in touch and usually more able to access and express and understand our emotions than men are. And that is a socialized thing because we have not given men permission to access their feelings and talk about their feelings without it meaning something about their manhood.

So now they're in a marriage where we're desperately wanting their vulnerability and their big open heart and we want to know all the things. And this is sort of foreign territory because that's not something they were ever taught nor encouraged to do. And so it feels very, very foreign to men.

But for women on the receiving end of that, we look at that and say, oh, he doesn't love me, he doesn't care about me. If he did, he would want to do those things because that's how we view love. When we love someone, that's what we do. But men and women love very differently. This is why it's so, so important for us to understand one another.

So ladies, if you have ever said, why me? Why do I have to be the one to do the work? Well, I'm going to tell you two things. Number one, you're probably better equipped to help evolve the marriage, to help evolve the relationship. Because when you show up differently to that relationship, your partner's reaction and response to you will also change. Because all we do is dance together, right? One person takes the step, another person's got to take another step.

But if you've been stuck in toxic patterns, then what you've got to do is interrupt that by showing up differently so that then the downstream impact starts to change. So I would argue that you are well equipped, maybe even better equipped to be able to take the lead on evolving the relationship.

And the other thing that I will say is, if you are the one that wants change, why not you? Why not you? We could sit here and wait until your spouse identifies that there is a problem, understands what the problem is, researches, and comes up with solutions. Maybe it's people who can help you overcome these challenges in your marriage. We could wait for that. You just might be waiting a lifetime though, right? And I don't want you to have to wait a lifetime. So if you want change, let's see if you can create change. Let's just do the work. Someone's got to step up, why not you?

Now I want to share why I think men should be more interested in making a marriage work. Men, I'm speaking to you here. I told you times have changed. And I have a heart for men in this regard because, like I said, what they were taught about what it looks like to be a husband and a father and a man, a lot of that isn't really as very valid in today's world. But no one really pulled men aside and said, by the way, you were never taught this, but the expectations have gone up for you, or they have changed for you, and I want to equip you. I want to help you navigate that. No, they just have to keep stubbing their toe and getting in arguments with their spouse and trying to figure out what the heck does she want? And they're getting frustrated.

So I have a heart, because there was no class here that they skipped or that they failed. They just were never taught any of this. And so they don't know what they don't know. Like any of us, we all have blind spots. And so this could be a blind spot for men.

So two things I wanna share on why I think it's important for men to be more engaged around the health of their relationship. Now, the first thing I want to share with you is also from The Dance of Intimacy. And here's what she says. “Contrary to popular mythology, research has shown that women do far better alone than do their male counterparts and do not benefit as much from marriage. Yet men often seem unconcerned about improving or changing a relationship once they have one. Men are rarely concerned about improving their people skills unless doing so will help them move up or measure up on the job.”

Now that speaks to everything that we just spoke about in terms of how we very logically got here. Think about it. We work really hard to find that mate, but once we walk down the aisle, once we say “I do till death,” we kind of stop trying in a way, don't we; both men and women do. I call it you put your marriage over here on a shelf and you assume that everything's going to be great, that it'll just take care of itself. And since there are no problems, we don't need to pay attention to it.

And inevitably, problems arise and disconnection comes about because we're not paying any attention to it. You can't turn your back on anything on this planet and expect it to thrive. I don't care if we're talking about a kitten, a child, a bank account, or a house plant. If you ignore it and you turn your back to it, it is not going to thrive.

Therefore, we should not be surprised when we sort of turn our back on our marriage, and we start pouring all of our energy and effort into other things like our careers and our kids and our home or whatever it is that we want to accomplish and ignore the relationship, and then it starts struggling. We shouldn't be surprised by that.

And then the other aspect here that I think is important is where she talks about how, if it meant you would get better at communication and it meant you would get promoted – like let's say you take a six-month long course on becoming a better communicator and a better leader. Those are things that people want to be seen getting done. No one wants to be seen struggling in their marriage, but they want to be seen as a great leader at work. They want to be seen as a great communicator or a good speaker. If it meant they get a promotion, they would do it all day long. If it meant they would get a happy wife, would they still do it?

And here's what I can tell you, men and women. First of all, every single person on the planet can get better at communication because it's really, really hard. And if you do get better at communication, it will improve every single relationship you have. It doesn't matter if it's with your spouse, with your kids, with your peers or boss at work, it doesn't matter. We'll improve every single relationship you have if you can get better at communication.

So in my perspective, it is always worth it. But this is the reality. And we can say we don't like the reality or the reality pisses us off. But until we consciously choose something different, this is what the default is because this is what's been learned and this is what's been taught. And so we're in this place right now where a lot of women are feeling like this marriage is not working for me for a lot of good reasons. And they're going to their partners literally two-thirds of the time. It's now the woman that's asking for a divorce, where one generation ago they couldn't even really divorce at all. Men could divorce, but women couldn't.

So times are changing and they're changing very, very quickly. And men don't do very well when they're not in relationship. And that's often why men will, after a divorce, will move on maybe much more quickly than women, because women have more community. We have usually more friends and deeper friendships than men do. It's one of the things that I used to say – in my next life, I'm going to come back as a dude. I actually don't want that anymore. I don't think that, and I don't say it like that anymore. And one of the reasons is because men don't have the community that women do. Women tend to have more community. And so they can thrive being single where men can thrive. But the statistics would show that they don't thrive as well as when they're in a relationship.

And now for a little bit more tongue-in-cheek and a little bit of levity. So the other reason why I think men should be very involved and invested in making their marriage work, or at least in understanding women, is because it will help you get what you want. It'll help you get your needs met.

So I'm going to share this with you. This was written by a woman named Gina Caruso Hassar. I don't know her. It was just on Facebook and I thought it was pretty brilliant. So here's what she says.

“Do you want to know what turns me on? What makes me burn for you? What makes us breathless? What awakens every passionate instinct and unwraps every layer of fiery feminine sensuality? Go to freaking therapy. Do your inner work. Heal yourself. Lead yourself. Be brave enough to get uncomfortable for the sake of wholeness and depth. Be willing to build your emotional muscle so your arms are strong enough to hold the fire of an awakened woman. Be open enough to lean into a level of depth you've never experienced. Talk. Be humble enough to admit that you don't know everything. Go deep. Get real. Stop hiding behind surface-level sex. Evolve. Confront what you need to confront so you can move forward without the shadow of your past. Stop thinking that vulnerability is weakness. It takes a giant of a wild man to get vulnerable and it's hot. Stop running from magic when it's exactly what you need. Stop telling yourself she's too much when the reality is you're just afraid to be enough. Lead yourself so you can lead me. Women want to be led by the way. Believe that you can handle it. Act accordingly. Be the safe space, the strong ground, the calm for her storm. Do this and you'll find your goddess. Do this and you'll be taken to a place of wholeness and ecstasy you didn't know existed and likely wouldn't have found on your own. Do this and you'll be home.”

It says, “P.S. Sisters, do the same or stop complaining.” And I do want to emphasize that at the end because it's not just about men. Yes, men avoid therapy. There's no big secret about that. Brene Brown's work says that the number one and number two shame trigger for men is number one, not having the answer, and number two, having to ask for help. So therapy is both of those things. I don't have the answer and I need to ask someone else for help to get that answer. So of course they're going to avoid therapy. It also asks them to get introspective and to understand themselves at a much deeper level. It might ask them to face some traumas and feel some emotions. And all of that feels terrifying.

So I get you're never gonna wake up on a Tuesday and be like, yeah, I want to heal all those childhood traumas. Today's the day I'm doing it. It's not fun. You don't do it for fun, you don't do it for enjoyment, you do it for deep, healthy, loving, connected relationships. And if that's important to you, then that is a path forward. But you know what she talks about in there? An awakened woman that is also a woman who has done a crap ton of work on herself.

So it's not just about, hey, I'm going to tell you who you need to me to be so that I get to feel the way I want to feel. No, no, no, no, no. That's not how relationships work. We keep trying that. You see how well it's working with our 50 to 73% divorce rate. It's not working. So we both have to be invested in our own personal growth. And we both have to be invested in making a marriage work and feel good. And we can't just put it on one person.

So you know how we were talking about how it was our husband's fathers who taught them how to be a man. And it is they who are teaching our sons what it looks like to be a husband and a father and a man. And if they evolve, and as they evolve as men and human beings, they now have new material to be able to pass along to their sons. And I have very high hopes for future generations. Because even when I talk to someone who's in their twenties or early thirties, their perspectives on relationships are entirely different. Now they're going to have their own set of challenges, but this whole workload imbalance thing is not going to be the enormous challenge that I would say that our generation has been facing.

So look, ultimately, I think that when we are on our deathbeds and we look back over our lives, what's really going to matter is, did I love and was I loved? It's all about our relationships. So relationships are really, really important to a happy life. And what I will tell you, for those of you that genuinely care about success and that being the pillar with which you follow to have a happy, successful life, when you're happy and things are functioning really well at home, you can crush things at work.

But when you're distracted at home, when you're unhappy, when you're stressed, when you're worried, when you're feeling insecure, are you at your best at work in whatever you do? Never. So these are not compartmentalizations. It doesn't have to be either or. But when we have a really loving, connected home life, there's almost nothing that life can throw at us that we won't be able to meet and move through.

So I hope that that was helpful for you. I hope it gave you something to think about. Whether you're a man or a woman, whether you're in a heterosexual relationship or some other relationship, it's all good here. But I just want to be able to bring up the conversation about why men haven't been as invested. Because there are very logical reasons that got us here. But in order for us to evolve, we've got to have some more conversations and be able to move beyond that. We've always got to evolve, right? Life doesn't wait for anybody.

All right, I hope that was helpful. Until next week, take really good care.

If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.

Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.

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