At marriage conferences my husband and I tell the story of a couple that had been married for thirty years.
The wife was very unhappy. Her husband didn’t communicate well. He wasn’t mushy. He wasn’t overly affectionate.
Finally, on their anniversary, she broke down and said to him, “I just feel so distant from you! I don’t even know if you love me anymore!”
Flabbergasted and annoyed, he replied, “I told you on our wedding day I love you. If it ever changes, I’ll let you know.”
A lot of men, I think, would identify with that scenario. They wooed their wives, they got them down the aisle, so now the romance is done.
But before you women get all judgmental on these pathetic, Neanderthal men, is this attitude really so wrong? The man did love his wife, he just didn’t see a need to tell her all the time. He assumed she knew. Why else would he have married her?
She, on the other hand, wanted the constant reassurance that he did love her. She wanted to know that he cherished her, and she needed affirmation to believe it. She couldn’t just rely on a wedding service years ago.
So who’s right, and who’s wrong? That’s the question that Dalrock asked on his blog last week, citing several movies showing this “endless courtship” demand, where a man has to prove his worth over and over again, even after he has already wed her. He has to keep winning her. He writes:
This also plays into the endless courtship fantasy. The husband is essentially forced to reprove his worthiness to her all over again. Typically he is required to perform a feat of daring or great cunning (or both) in order to rescue her, or at the very least prove himself to her. He is also shown actively seeking her affection in the process.
Dalrock criticizes these movies. (And I think he has most of them right, although I would question his feelings about the movie Fireproof. In that case, the husband had, in my view, violated his wedding vows by using pornography constantly, and she was preparing to leave him. It wasn’t a “prove yourself to me in our everyday marriage” scenario; it was a “you’ve already lost me because of something you did”, and he did need to woo him again. I think the issue there is that some may not consider constant pornography use to be violating the marriage covenant, but I do, and so I think the point made in Fireproof is valid. But that’s an aside.)
Anyway, my take on this is that Dalrock is both right and wrong. It really depends on how you frame the question.
He’s right in that many women do enter marriage with a fantasy that it will be an endless knight on shining armour, where he will prove his love over and over, and be utterly romantic, and continue to sweep his wife off of her feet, and that this is right and proper and expected. In fact, in these movies the husband has never conclusively “won” his wife, even after the altar. Sure, they’re married, but he has to keep doing stuff to show her that he is still worthy of being married to. And then, when it doesn’t happen, women get grumpy and resentful and unhappy and find fault with everything men do, and even, eventually leave.
That scenario does occur, and it is wrong. An unromantic husband is not an excuse to withdraw from your marriage, let alone leave your marriage. It is not an excuse to complain about your husband or to withhold your own affection.
Our culture has established that the basis of marriage is this lovely romantic feeling, rather than a simple commitment. And we need to get back to the idea that you made a commitment. So stick with it. Absolutely.
I’m with him there.
Here’s where I depart from him (although, to be fair, he may agree with what I’m saying below. He just didn’t mention it in his post).
While I firmly believe that a woman should stay in a marriage and love and accept her husband even if he is not romantic, I do not think this is the ideal situation. I don’t want to settle for a mediocre marriage. I want an amazing marriage. I want a marriage where both spouses have their legitimate needs met, and God did make us with some very legitimate needs. For men, sex tends to be a need and affection a choice. For women, affection tends to be the need and sex the choice. Women do need affection. That doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to leave if you don’t get affection; it simply means that we are made with this, at our core. We need to feel emotionally and spiritually connected to our husbands at a very deep level.
So here’s the question: what do you do when you don’t feel that way? We’ve already said you’re not allowed to leave, nor is it wise or proper or good to withhold from your husband. So can I suggest another option that is much healthier?
Focus on building up the friendship. If all couples simply learned to have fun together and laugh together, a lot of this bickering over “am I getting enough sex?” or “do I feel loved?” would go away. When you have a strong foundation of friendship, you can usually work out the other stuff. And when you’re friends with your husband, you will tend to feel love, even if he doesn’t say it.
In marriages, too often the only conversations we have are about logistics: who is going to pick up the kids; who needs a dentist appointment; I think the car is due for an oil change. Too many days and weeks of nothing but this and you’re going to feel distant. You’re going to wonder if he does really cherish you.
But if, in the middle of that, you also go for walks, or do a puzzle, or play tennis, or go for a swim, or toss a football around, or have a water fight, or anything where you’re actually doing something together, you’ll feel more connected.
And here’s the key, ladies: don’t wait for him to create these scenarios. If you feel distant, you take the lead on forging a stronger friendship. Don’t resent him and wonder if he still loves you. Just do stuff together, and once you start to laugh, you’ll feel connected again.
One more thing: often men aren’t affectionate because their primary needs aren’t being met. If you feel like he’s not meeting your needs for relationship, maybe it’s time to take a hard look at yourself and figure out if you’re meeting his. I’ve got an in-depth post–and a challenge–on that right here.
So that’s my take: we do expect endless courtship, and not receiving it is not reason for divorce or for resentment. At the same time, we do have a legitimate need for connection. So if you have a need that you don’t think is being met, do something about it! Your husband wants to feel connected, too. Change the dynamic in your marriage, rather than waiting for him to change, and you both will likely feel much better about the relationship.