When I hear anyone speak of being bored in a relationship, my first thought isn’t to treat the boredom (and I always go crazy when experts say, “Perk up your marriage!”or “Put the “spark” back in!”). “Spark” exists in any and every connected relationship, so my first question is, “What happened to the connection between these two people? When did they stop being authentic with one another? When did they start speaking in shorthand?”
Because unless you or your husband has been lobotomized, the causes of the dullness and ennui you experience as boredom is, I promise you, simply severed connection: You’re speaking to one another, but the conversation between you—the prospect of feeling more connected– has somehow vanished. You’re talking, but the gist is “What time will you be home? Will you pick up dinner? Is someone going to do the laundry around here, ever?” That sort of thing. You’re gone. He’s vanished. It feels as if no one seems to care what you think or feel as long as you get the house cleaned. The content of the conversation has become as impersonal as if two office workers who’d never spoken before are now sharing a home. You’ve resorted to exchanges; getting by, rather than what is going on with either of you, or what you feel or believe or think.
It’s no coincidence that married women are three times more depressed than single women, despite our fantasy that marriage is the most heavenly of all places for a woman to be. It’s no coincidence that husbands are five times happier in marriage than wives are—a miraculous anomaly when you consider that they’re living in the same marriages! Nor is it a coincidence that two thirds of all divorces are initiated by wives. Something deeply embedded in our culture has made loving, fun, sexy wives deeply dissatisfied with this institution and so “bored” that they are leaving it. Spark? Fizz? Please. Asking a woman to add spark and fizz only makes her feel more like the sexual failure we’re convincing her that she is! Whose pleasure is at risk here, after all? Not the man’s, apparently. Who is unhappy in marriage? Not the husband, statistically.
Who’s LEAVING? Wives are.
So the question isn’t how to please a husband—it’s how to please a wife! How do we make a wife happier? How do we make her want to stay in a marriage? And one answer is not to sit here and tell her she should get a cute thong. That idea is to disrupt the pattern that started the “boredom” problem for her in the first place.
When a woman comes to me after being married for six months and says, “I love him, but don’t feel like me in this relationship and I don’t know why,” we always find out that somehow she has unwittingly changed from the woman she was six months before. She was once the adorable, sexy girlfriend and now she has taken on some other persona—one that she neither wanted to take on nor knows how it took her over. She’s become the Good Wife. She oversees her husband’s drink and food intake. She dresses a little more modestly because she’s married. She doesn’t sing with her friends at the bar on Wednesday nights like she used to ….because she’s a wife, now, and wives don’t do that. She no longer plays tennis because her husband doesn’t. It goes on like that….subtly, but surely.
When we continue to trace these incremental changes in her and in her life, we see precisely where that “me” she can’t find—her self—went. It went into becoming that weird cultural icon, the good wife.
Now I want to ask you something: Have you ever heard of a sexy good wife? No, of course not, that’s an oxymoron. Girlfriends are sexy, wives are something else again: Great cooks. Good moms. Terrific housekeepers. Fabulous coupon clippers. But I promise you, “sexy” has long vanished from the Wife definition.. And trust me, racing out to Victoria’s Secret isn’t going to do it.
So, my advice to women and men (because men sometimes collude in helping to turn a girlfriend into a wife) is, Resist that path. Refuse the role of the good wife.
Women: Tell your husband how terrible it is for the relationship if you follow the path to becoming a saintly, perfect, cookie-baking, icon. Tell him the statistics; share with him how many women are leaving. Get him in on the act of sharing the responsibility for staying connected verbally, emotionally, sexually. Share with him your internalized list of shoulds (seeing to the needs of his mother, your mother, everyone’s mother) and let him know how crazy it is—but how strong it is in you, and in the culture. (If you want to know where it came from, read my book, Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives.)
Examine all the “shoulds” that have crept into your thinking since you married—that hideous never-ending list that begins: “I should be a better cook. I should exercise more. I should be nicer to his mother. I should be more organized. I should have more dinner parties. I should make more money. I should learn Spanish. I should have thinner thighs…..”Oh God, it’s just amazing what we do to ourselves in the name of bettering ourselves. Tell him this list, so he sees what you—and all women—have inherited as “good wives.” He will tell you he likes you the way you are; that you don’t have to be “better.” Believe him.
Men: Tell her she doesn’t need to be pleasing in order to please you. That you like her as she is, not as the idealized wife the world asks her to become. Tell her you want the relationship the way it was before you got married—fun, sexy, unconventional. I can’t tell you how grateful she’ll be.
The way to treat boredom is to understand that the best way to please your husband is to please yourself. No, it is not selfish. It is the way to keep a self. Please yourself and you’ll definitely please others. Call if self-FUL. Say what you have to say. Do what you like to do. Do NOT change into that woman we all think we should be—that selfless creature who kills our relationships as surely as she kills our selves.