Love

Husbands, Your Wives Are Exhausted

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exhausted mother and wife

A tree falls in the forest. If no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Instead of the tree, it’s your wife. And she’s not in the forest. She’s in your house. You are there. She has been carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders for as long as she can remember. Finally, the overwhelm from all her responsibilities is too much. She is still physically standing, but emotionally, she falls. She cries out.

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Do you hear her?

Weighed down by her obligations, a woman falls in her home. If someone is there to hear her, but no one cares, does she make a sound?

Years ago a guy wrote a viral article about how his wife divorced him because he left dishes by the sink. What he eventually realized, albeit too late, was that it wasn’t about the dishes. It was about how his wife felt unseen and unheard. It was about how his wife believed she didn’t matter to him because if she mattered to him, he would have put the dishes in the dishwasher like she repeatedly asked him to.

Most men struggle to understand this concept. Men have brains similar to bento boxes, where they can separate all the different parts of their lives, and they would not be bothered by something like this.

Women have brains like spaghetti. We cannot separate the different parts of our lives. All parts of our lives are all mixed up together and each part impacts the other.

A man thinks a dish is a dish. But to a woman, it’s not just a dish. That dish, repeatedly left next to the sink, will permeate through the woman’s relationship with her partner, and impact everything from how she shows respect and appreciation for him (or doesn’t) to their sex lives (or lack thereof).

As a man, you probably believe this is ridiculous and makes no sense, and you believe a woman should not feel this way. But regardless of your disagreement with this thought process, you can’t make your wife, or any other woman, not think this way.

As discussed in the books, The Male Brain and The Female Brain, men and women have biological and physiological differences in their brain structures along with hormonal differences. This causes men and women to perceive the world differently from each other and care about different things.

Often both men and women expect the person of the other sex to think and behave the way they do. But men and women are different, and this line of thinking contributes to relationship conflict.

Instead of seeking to understand each other, many times partners dismiss and invalidate the other person’s thoughts and feelings, as if by dismissing and invalidating, their partner's thoughts and feelings will change or go away.

But all this does is damage the relationship and create resentment. The partners still think and feel the same way they did before. And they have the growing feeling that they are unseen, unheard, and don’t matter to you.

Each partner doesn’t want to try to understand the other because they don’t want to put in the effort necessary to change their behaviors. Recurring cycles of these interactions will lead to contempt, which is what John Gottman considers to be the number one indicator a couple is headed towards divorce.

Both men and women contribute to relationship issues. Both men and women dismiss and invalidate each other’s feelings. Both men and women communicate in emotionally reactive or passive-aggressive ways that damage the relationship and destroy a sense of safety for the other partner.

I am not putting all the blame for relationship problems on men.

But there are many men who harbor a belief system that they should not have to help their wives simply because they are men. They believe that women should have to bear much more of the burden, and the woman should accept it and do it and stop complaining about it.

The issue with this is that this is a belief system based on inequality. In this belief system, the man believes the woman is worth less than him and deserves less than he does. This translates to a belief system of superiority and entitlement.

A belief system of superiority and entitlement is the foundation of an abusive relationship, as it will lead to one partner devaluing the other. And male privilege, the actions that stem from the belief that the man is superior to and entitled to more than the woman simply because he is a man, is a form of emotional abuse.

Belief systems are unconscious unless they are consciously examined and brought into awareness. Belief systems are very hard to change. If two people in a relationship have conflicting belief systems, their relationship will have continual conflict.

There is nothing wrong with adhering to traditional gender roles if that is what works best for your family dynamic. There are definitely family situations where it makes sense for the woman to take on much more of the domestic and parenting responsibilities than the man.

The question is, have these roles been determined under the belief that both partners are equals? Have both partners agreed to these roles and the distribution of household labor?

An issue exists when one partner needs her partner to contribute and the other partner refuses to contribute because he believes he is entitled to more than his partner is.

I’m divorced, and when I tell people I’m divorced, they often like to tell me about the reason they or their friends are divorced.

“He didn’t help,” is the most common reason I hear.

I’ve also had many of my married girlfriends tell me that if they ever got divorced, they would have no interest in remarrying or living with a man again.

Many women would rather be alone than with someone who does not support them.

Women want to be treated as human beings who matter and who have needs. But the message we hear is that our needs don’t matter, and we need to sacrifice our needs for the sake of everyone else around us.

This mindset is not working. This way of life is not sustainable. We can’t keep living this way while retaining any semblance of our sense of self.

Women are exhausted. Even before COVID, women were exhausted. And now it’s much worse.

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Recently there were a bunch of women who got together and went to a field to scream. I sent the below image to a bunch of different girlfriends, all of who said they would want to go. Several of them said they wanted to scream and also smash stuff.

Author’s image

Women are so exhausted and burnt out that the idea of screaming and smashing stuff sounds wildly appealing to many of us.

If a bunch of women scream in a field, but no one cares, do they make a sound?

When the topic of my divorce comes up, along with my 50/50 custody situation, many women have commented, “You must feel like you can breathe.”

Although my married friends do not want to be divorced, many of them envy the amount of kid-free time I have. They feel like they can’t catch their breath, and they wish they had the space to breathe as I do. They wish they could rediscover themselves the way I have post-divorce.

And although I feel much less burdened than my married friends, being divorced is hard in other ways. When you divorce, you lose much more than a marriage. The most difficult loss I have struggled with is the loss of my hopes and dreams.

But divorced women aren’t the only women who lose their hopes and dreams. That woman you married, the exhausted one standing at the sink doing dishes after repeatedly asking you for help, has lost her hopes and dreams, too.

What are your wife’s hopes and dreams? Do you know? When was the last time you asked her?

She may dream about going to the bathroom by herself. She may dream about going to Target alone for an hour. She may dream about being in a relationship where she feels safe and supported.

She may dream about the woman she used to be when she married you.

Do you ever look at your wife and wonder what happened to the vibrant, loving woman you married? Are you wondering what happened to the woman who respected, appreciated, and desired you?

When she looks in the mirror, she wonders the same thing.

One of the deepest needs for a woman in a relationship is to feel safe and supported by her partner. She may struggle to communicate this to you in a healthy way. And so she may be emotionally reactive or passive-aggressive. She may communicate in ways that are critical, disrespectful, and feel emasculating to you. She may speak to you in ways that cause you to withdraw and shut down.

I’m not saying this is ok.

But it’s much harder to change belief systems than it is to change communication patterns.

If she were to communicate to you in a way that is softer and more vulnerable, would you hear her?

Maybe the answer is yes. But maybe your belief system would still shut her down. If you believe your value is higher than hers, it won’t matter how she communicates with you, as you will use male privilege to avoid changing your behaviors.

There are some men who believe they should be able to lay on the couch while their wife cooks, cleans up, packs lunches, and handles all of the childcare and bedtime activities. They also believe that once she is done with all of her domestic and parenting responsibilities, she should want to gleefully jump into bed with him for some sexy time.

This is a delusional fantasy.

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In the above scenario, you are treating your wife as a function, not as a human. And if you treat her as a function and not as a human, she will feel used. A woman will not respect, appreciate, or desire sex with a man who she feels is using her.

She may not consciously understand she is feeling used, but deep within herself she will sense it, and she will react out of that place of feeling used.

She will react out of that place of feeling unseen, unheard, and like she doesn’t matter to you because you are demonstrating, through your actions, that she does not matter to you.

Does your wife matter to you?

Do you see her? Do you hear her? Do you know her? Do you seek to understand her?

Do you want the best for her?

Do you show her through your actions, that you value her?

How would you describe her? Don’t describe the roles she plays in life like wife and mother. Describe who she is at her core.

How would you describe her heart?

How have you been treating her heart? You know, that heart she entrusted you with years ago.

Have you been protecting and cherishing her heart?

Do you think she feels like you protect and cherish her heart?

One of my best friends is exhausted. But she is supported by her husband. And that makes all the difference.

There is a big difference between feeling exhausted and supported vs feeling exhausted, unsupported, alone, and abandoned by the man who vowed to love and cherish you.

My friend is in an exhausting stage of life. She is the mother of four young children. She and her husband own a family business, and she manages part of the business.

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There are consecutive months when her husband works very long hours, and the main responsibilities of the childcare and domestic responsibilities weigh heavily on her, in addition to her business responsibilities.

Much of their division of labor adhere to traditional gender roles. But when her husband is able to help her, he does.

I have spent weekends with them. I see the way he helps her and treats her kindly and respectfully. I see how they are a team and how he sees her as his partner in life. He sees her as his equal.

I see how he helps with bedtime, as he has been ever since she had their first baby. I see how he helps with dinner, setting and clearing the table, and doing dishes.

One evening she sent me a picture of him holding a lunch box.

“He’s making the lunches because he knows how much I hate it,” she texted me.

I see how he protects and cherishes her heart.

My friend rarely gets any time for herself. Due to the stage of life, she is in with four young children, along with the challenges of running a business, my friend is exhausted. But she is happy. She is married to a man who loves, cherishes, and protects her heart. She feels safe and supported.

And that makes all the difference to a woman.

When your wife asks you for help, be it with the dishes or laundry or bedtime, what she’s asking you isn’t just about those things. What she’s asking is for you to show her that she matters to you. She’s asking you to show her that you see her as a human being with her own needs.

The expectations placed upon women, and especially mothers, are unreasonable. We were pushed past our breaking points before COVID. Now with COVID, we are running on fumes. We are drowning.

Your wife asks you for help because she is drowning.

How do you think she feels when you refuse to help her? How do you think she feels knowing that the man who vowed to love and cherish her is laying on the couch and watching her drown?

“What do women want?” is a question that baffles most men. So I’ll answer it.

Although how this looks will differ between women, what we desire is to be in a relationship with a man who makes us feel safe and supported. We want a man who is our partner and our teammate. We want a man who treats us as equals.

We want a man who is trustworthy, reliable, consistent, and who has our backs.

We want to know our partner values us. We want to feel that we matter to him. We want to feel seen and heard. We want him to attempt to understand us, even if we know he will never fully understand the workings of the female mind.

We want a man who treats us with kindness and respect. We want to know that when we give a man our heart, he will protect and cherish it.

Women and men are both humans. As humans, I believe we desire many of the same things in a relationship. But it’s the way we want our partner to express those things that are different and contribute to misunderstandings and conflict.

We have a tendency to give love in the way we want to receive love, even when our partner wants to receive love in a different way. You may not have realized it, but in all of your wife’s pleas for help and support, what she is really asking is for you to show her that you love her.

She wants you to show love to her in the specific way she wants to receive your love. This is probably different from how you want to receive love from her, and so you haven’t understood how much these things mean to her because they wouldn’t mean as much to you.

But they mean the world to her. And that is what matters.

Remember this. Ultimately, a woman wants to know that if she falls, you will catch her.

A man who sees his exhausted wife staring at a sink full of dishes and says, “Babe, I’ve got this,” is a man that a woman will respect and appreciate. This is the kind of man a woman wants to gleefully jump into bed with.

If you want to get a sense of what a woman wants to feel with her partner, go listen to some Gabby Barrett.

“And tell me no matter what
You’ll be by my side
Everything gonna be alright
Make the world go black
How you do me like that?
Wanna climb up in your truck
Just pick me up”

~Pick Me Up

There are fallen women all over the place right now.

How is your wife doing? Do you see her fallen over? Maybe you’ve missed catching her for a while. Maybe your marriage is kind of a wreck right now.

You can’t change the past, but you can make a better future.

Your wife is exhausted. She has fallen.

Go pick her up.

Julie Martina is a divorced mother of three who writes about love, relationships, and emotional wellness. Her writing is based upon psychology research, life experiences, and listening to others tell their stories.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.