Read an Excerpt
My Wife’s Six Husbands
In a way, I’m my wife’s third husband. And if we keep doing everything correctly, I’ll be her fourth husband sometime very soon. After that, as long as I keep working on it, I will have the opportunity to be a couple more husbands in the years to come. In fact, if I try really hard, by the time she’s in her sixties, she will have had at least six husbands—and I will have been each one of them.
This may seem a surprising (if not disturbing) way to begin a book about marriage. But it’s really quite simple when you think about it. As people grow, they invariably change. And as they change, the things they need from life and from their relationships change as well. That means the person most spouses need their partner to be when they’re in their twenties is considerably different from the person they need their spouse to be when in their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond.
That’s why my wife will need a new husband soon.
Sixteen years ago, when we got married, my wife needed me to be a certain kind of husband. I was fun, carefree, headstrong, and full of dreams and potential. I made her laugh and helped her feel good about herself and her future. She did the same for me. We loved each other and loved how we felt together. That’s why we got married.
Then life changed.
Time went by and we grew up. And what was important to us in the beginning was replaced by entirely different priorities. In our thirties, my wife no longer wanted me to be fun, carefree, and the life of the party. She now wanted a guy who was settling down to build a life together with her. She was looking for me to focus on establishing a stable career and to begin preparing for a family. In short, she needed me to grow up.
Then, when we had kids, I had to evolve once more. The husband she needed during the baby years was almost completely different from the husband she first married. This husband had tremendous humility and patience, whereas the one she married was cocky and in a hurry. This guy agreeably changed diapers, watched cartoons, and engaged in long conversations about the virtues of breast pumps. The husband she married couldn’t be bothered with those things. The new husband made it a point to be home as much as possible and scaled back on almost all his extracurricular activities. The guy she married spent most of his free time away from home.
As our sons grew, I changed even more. Eventually, I became the kind of husband who enjoyed staying at home on Saturday nights wrestling with the kids and doing horribly messy and pointless kindergarten art projects. I also began to look forward to spending Sunday afternoons (time previously reserved for watching hours of football on television) chasing children through germ-infested habitrails at our local Chuck E. Cheese. During those years, my wife needed me to be more focused on the kids than I was on her because she longed for a guy who loved them just as much as she loved them and who thought of them first—just like she did. Those were years when she needed me to be “daddy” more than she needed me to be “honey.” The husband I was at that stage of our marriage believed his family came first, no matter what. The one she married put himself first.
It was a lot of work, but I was up to the challenge. Of course, by the time I had this husband mastered, our lives changed again and she needed me to be somebody else. As the years went by and our relationship continued to mature and our children continued to grow, I needed to keep pace. When our children were very young, I needed to be a hovering dad who kept an extremely close eye on the kids. Eventually, as they continued to grow up, I needed to morph into a dad who trusted them to make good decisions and supported them as they ventured further into the world of school, friends, and gradual independence.
As our marriage and our family grew, my relationship with my wife grew as well. Through the years, she became a more confident, assertive woman who had progressively less need for a strong-but-silent man she could lean on. Instead, she wanted a vulnerable and sensitive man who could lean on her at times and value her as an equal.
As she matured, I did the same.
I also began to realize, much to my chagrin, that many of the characteristics she initially loved about me—things of which I was very proud—were slowly becoming the very things she no longer liked! In other words, as we were growing and changing, the reasons she loved me were changing as well. When we first met, she used to look warmly and lovingly at me whenever I said or did something she thought was funny or smart. In those days I knew I could always win her over with a smile, a joke, or a thoughtful gesture. But after a few years of marriage, I started getting those same looks for different reasons. Whenever I would connect with her parents or grandparents, or when I demonstrated how responsible and trustworthy I could be with her feelings and our marriage, I could feel her beaming at me. Then, when we had children, I would catch her looking lovingly at me when I was playing with the kids or changing diapers. Eventually it became clear to me that that’s what turned her on in those days, not that I was cool, fun, or smart!
That’s why I like to think of myself as a stock on the stock market. When my wife said, “I do,” she wasn’t really marrying me; she was marrying my potential. She bought low and counted on me to mature through the years (and to pay a handsome dividend). She was investing in my future gains, not in who I was at that particular moment. And who would keep a stock around that didn’t improve, mature, and grow through the years?
Of course, I’m not a stock and this isn’t about financial paybacks. It is about interpersonal paybacks. Marriage is about forming a lifelong relationship that continues to feed your emotional needs as your needs change. The hard part of relationships isn’t all the arguments about dirty socks and unbalanced checkbooks; it’s having the courage and maturity to change yourself as your marriage dictates.
Soon, my wife will need me to be a husband completely different from the one I am today, and I am eagerly looking forward to it. By the time we’re in our sixties, if I’m lucky, I will have been all the different people she needed me to be, when she needed me to be them.
My job as a partner is to constantly reinvent myself, maturely and without resentment or regret. Doing so not only makes my marriage better, it makes my life fuller and it makes me a better person as well as a better husband. If I didn’t face and make these transitions, my wife wouldn’t want me. Not because I wasn’t a good guy, but because I didn’t grow up.
I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE
When they marry, most people say things like, “I love you just the way you are; don’t ever change!”—and they really mean it. The notion that their spouse might change is scary and nonsensical to most newlyweds. Furthermore, popular opinion supports this idea, dictating that marriages fail because people change. But of course people change! All healthy people grow and change as they mature. It’s those who don’t change who find themselves trapped in unhealthy marriages. The truth is, most marriages don’t fail because people change, they fail because people don’t change.
Couples need to change and grow in order to invigorate and rejuvenate their relationship. Despite all we’ve been told about the power of love to surmount all odds, successful marriages don’t happen because two people fall in love; they happen when two people fall in love over and over again with each other. That can only happen when two people change together in whatever ways their lives and their marriage require.
If you accept this basic premise, a lot of the seemingly contradictory pressures of modern marriage make a lot more sense. As a marriage counselor and psychologist with more than fifteen years of experience, I often see men and women who feel like they just can’t win. It’s as if they’re living a life filled with relentless pressure: pressure to stay home with the kids and, at the same time, pressure to go to work and make more money; pressure to drop some of their old friends and old habits and develop new friends and new habits. They also feel pressure to be tough and in charge, but also to be sensitive and vulnerable. They think that if they could just eliminate these pressures, their life and their marriage would be okay again.
Women often say things like, “He knew what I was like when he married me, and now he wants me to be different. He knew that I had a lot of hobbies and interests and that I didn’t like spending weekends at home being a couch potato.”
“It sounds like he wants a different wife,” I usually comment.
“Absolutely!” is the common response.
Men often say things like, “She knew what I was like when she married me, and now she wants me to be different. She knew that I liked to drink and hang out with my buddies and that I wasn’t particularly interested in talking about my feelings and stuff like that.”
To this, I usually respond, “It sounds like she wants a different husband.”
“Absolutely!” is the common response.
“So what am I supposed to do?” they both want to know.
My advice is usually the same. “It sounds like it’s time for a change,” I say. “It’s time for you to become the new spouse he (or she) is looking for—the one you both deserve.”
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This book is based upon a simple but extremely important fact of life: since healthy people’s needs are always growing and changing, the things spouses need from each other repeatedly grow and change as well. With that in mind, in the pages that follow, you’ll learn something that usually seems both fundamental and fascinating to people once they’ve heard it: over time, most marriages actually need both spouses to become six different people in order for their relationship to survive and grow.
First we need to prepare you a bit for making whatever changes you decide you need to make. Therefore, in part 1 we will look at why many men and women either resist change, fail to change altogether, or believe that change has a negative effect on relationships. Explaining these misconceptions—and how to overcome them—will help prepare you for developing a productive way of thinking about your own marital evolution.
In part 2, we’ll describe how most marriages go through six different major stages and outline each of the six different spouses most successful partners become as they transition through these stages. I will include specific guidelines for how effective spouses can modify their communication, transform their identities, change their activities, and produce new ways of achieving intimacy through the years. By the end of this section, both spouses will understand what it takes to become a great partner and enjoy a long and healthy marriage.
In part 3, you’ll learn specific tips for dealing with reluctant spouses, and you’ll learn how to customize the information covered in the six stages to fit your unique situation. I’ll provide a short quiz to help you identify your readiness for making these changes yourself. Then you’ll learn step by step how to create a climate in your home and your relationship that is conducive to healthy change by learning exactly what steps to take. In the appendix, you’ll find a Change Worksheet to help you and your spouse work together to identify the specific change(s) you want to make and make the process as smooth as possible.
Throughout, here’s my promise to you: I promise not to provide you with superficial platitudes like “communicate better” or “treat each other better,” nor will I provide trendy quick fix tools like the “Top Ten Romantic Things to Say to Your Spouse” or the “Five Ways to Get What You Want in Your Marriage.”
We all know that tools are only as effective as the person using them. That’s precisely why my expensive new golf clubs continue to produce the same dreadful shots as my previous set. It’s also why, even when I spend top dollar on paint and brushes, every picture I paint still looks like it was done by a seven-year-old. Tools don’t fix problems; people do, and life’s most successful people are the ones who best know how to use the tools they’re given. I want you to be the best when it comes to using your relationship tools.
I’ve found that when couples learn better ways to communicate, it’s kind of like having a brand-new tool: at first they feel better equipped and newly energized to work on their relationship. But if they have no idea what to do about the underlying problems in their relationship, many end up using their newfound communication skills to express their dislike for each other in a more sophisticated manner than before, ultimately giving up on the new technique altogether.
I don’t want that to happen to you. I will show you how mature spouses approach their marriage, and, with some specific tried-and-true methods, how they (and you) can keep love interesting, active, and alive even after many years of marriage.
To achieve these goals, only one thing is needed, but it’s an important thing. You will have to be prepared to change yourself, sometimes even when you don’t want to.
So open your mind to gaining some insight. When you do that, every tool you use will produce a miracle.
© 2010 Steven Craig