After getting their youngest child settled in at college for her freshman year, Phil began to notice signs of restlessness in his wife during their first few weeks of being empty nesters. Phil thought things were going great in their marriage—Leslie was a wonderful mom, a great wife, and his best friend. But now that the house was a lot quieter and she wasn’t running from one high school activity to another, now that it was just the two of them, her assessment of where they were as a couple didn’t match Phil’s. In fact, she broke down in tears one evening and blurted out that she thinks they’ve “settled” for a mediocre marriage.
Phil was caught totally off-guard. He tells Leslie he loves her every day, but sometimes she’ll say things like, “Do you really love me?” When he asked her why she would even wonder that, she said that there’s no sense of connection anymore and she thinks he’s just going through the motions. Phil has no idea what to do. He’s wondering how he can get back a “connection” with someone he thought he had already been connected to for more than 20 years.
Phil loves his wife, and he has the best of intentions. But, like many men, he needs to understand a bit better what women most need from their husbands, during the emotionally difficult adjustment to an empty nest and in every season of life.
Women constantly question whether they are loved and loveable.
While a guy rarely questions whether his wife loves him, most women never get that sense of certainty. My husband, Jeff, and I found in our research with women that 80% of women—even confident women in great relationships—have a subconscious daily question about whether they are loved and loveable. So guys, you can put a ring on her finger and vow to love and cherish her forever, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to feel loved and cherished as long as you both shall live unless you do things every day to show her that you would choose her all over again.
I have a friend who says being with her husband is a bit like being a lonely radio receiving tower. She’s sure, mentally, that her husband loves her, but if he doesn’t broadcast that message on a frequency she can receive, well…she’ll never receive it. So she simply doesn’t feel loved. It sounds like that’s true of Phil’s wife, and it might be true of yours.
Your wife needs you to communicate your love for her every day.
If—like Leslie—your wife is feeling like you’ve lost the powerful connection you had when you were younger, if she feels like your marriage is just mediocre, that doesn’t mean (or just mean) that she’s tired of the same routine. It’s quite likely that she just wants you to start broadcasting the same message every day that you did when you were dating: that she’s amazing, that you love her, that she’s your best friend, and that you want to spend the rest of your life with her. Husbands, you can’t stop sending the message that you want her simply because you already have her! Your wife needs to see your love for her, every day—in every phase of her life.
Here is my husband, Jeff’s, analogy for this: Think about your first car. Even if it was an old rust-bucket with doors that were painted a different color from the rest of the car, you loved it, right? Not to mention the nicer car that you got when you could finally afford it. Because that was your baby. You put all kinds of time and money into shining her up and making her look nice. And remember… you put all that time and money into the car after you bought it. Once the deal was already done. Marriage isn’t all that different. Because in your wife’s mind, her “I do” will always mean, “Do you?”
Start pursuing your wife again.
So, it’s time for Phil—and you—to do the things you did to win your wife’s heart in the first place. She needs you to affirm her timeless vibrancy and priceless value. It’s time to start pursuing her again.
Now, at this point, Jeff tells me I have to reassure you: Don’t freak out. This doesn’t mean planning the big gestures you found so exhausting when you were dating! You don’t have to start jumping out of airplanes or planning a second wedding. You’ll be relieved to know: it is the little day-to-day things that pack the biggest punch. When was the last time you wrote her a text message that told her that you love her and that you are so amazed at what a great mom she is? When was the last time you took a five minute break during work to call her and ask how her day was going? Have you put your arm around her recently, when you were out at a restaurant with friends? If she needed to talk about her problems at work, have you learned how to listen to her feelings so she feels heard? Those small gestures of love make a big impact.
Learn to do little loving things every day.
So learn to do the little things every day. And pay extra attention to her when she needs extra care! If it seems like your wife is having a rough day, mute your football game, put down the remote and go talk to her. Plant a smooch on her cheek as you walk through the kitchen. Phil set up a surprise FaceTime call with their daughter when Leslie was feeling a little blue that brought her to (happy) tears.
Doing a few little things that show your wife how much you love her will make her feel wooed and pursued all over again. And when you see her start to perk up and say she feels happier about where she is in her life right now and where the two of you are as a couple… don’t stop! Do it more. You’ll be glad you did.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.