Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: and
Dear Dr Margie and Mr Jeremy,
Ever since I’ve come across your column in my feeds in FB, I have been dying to write you. I started with my wife as live-in partner. We were okay back then. She took care of my physical and sexual needs and never caused emotional stress because she was understanding and caring back then.
After we got married and had children, I started to notice some changes. Our relationship got worse when I had to work far away. The last time I came home, I started to feel that she’s taken me for granted. She takes less care of me. I demanded the kind of care I deserve, being away for so long. I am also not sexually happy anymore in our bed times. I communicated to her my needs to make sure she knows about it. But still I was not satisfied.
She gives too much meaning to the people around me and it pisses me off. This has been our issue for a while and cause of our fights. I started to look back on the old person she is – the understanding partner and the partner willing to give her best shot in bed to make sure I’m satisfied.
I am pretty sure there’s no other party involved. She’s honest. She’s faithful and I am also to her. We are married for seven years. Could it be she’s just bored about the act? Could it be she just lost the desire for it, being in her late 30s? Maybe just hormonal? Could it be this is really her true self? That the person she was before was just for show to make me fall for her? By the way, we met in the phase of her life where she really wanted to get married and have children. Or is this just a phase that every marriage goes through and will eventually just pass?
Not So Happy Husband
Dear NOSH (Not So Happy Husband),
Thank you for your email and your desire to hear our views.
I thought your description of your situation was brutally efficient in highlighting the way you see your relationship with your wife (let’s call her Marie): you have needs, she has to understand them and take care of them; you work far away so when you come back you are entitled to demand the care you ‘deserve;’ she has to be an understanding partner and give her best shot in bed to ensure your satisfaction. It is, in effect, a one-way street – all about how Marie has to look after you and how, if you are unhappy, it must be Marie’s fault.
You seem to view the role of a wife as a mixture of serf and sex slave. Admittedly, this has been a view shared by millions of men for millennia but we are now in the 21st century and quite a lot of us – though obviously not you – have made some progress towards treating women in general, and their wives in particular, as equals.
Relationships are difficult at the best of times. They require the partners to play a number of roles: lovers, friends, parents, providers, etc. You have chosen Marie to be your wife and the mother of your children – and, while you are away, she is also head of the household. This means that you are entrusting her with the upbringing of your children – which inter alia covers their academic education, their moral orientation, their social activities and their religious leanings – the administration of your household and finances, and no doubt much else.
Yet when you return home, far from recognizing her as a fully fledged adult capable of carrying out all these tasks single-handedly, you demote her to serf/sex slave for the duration of your visit. There is of course an inherent contradiction in this behavior. You have to recognize that it must be apparent not only to Marie but also increasingly to your children as they get older.
Clearly, Marie is not impressed by your behavior, as evidenced by her declining standards as your serf and sex slave. Perhaps the time has come to treat her in person the same way as you treat her when you are absent – as an adult and equal. You might even take the opportunity to reflect on the undoubted fact that she does not see you as a returning hero, to be fêted and pampered for the duration of your vacation. At best, you seem to be a minor irritant, disrupting the smooth functioning of the family; at worst you are an egregiously demanding Neanderthal.
Marie may be adult enough to fight her own battles, but you must take heed of the contradictory messages that both you and she are sending to your children. For the greater part of the year, they see her in her role as head of household, then suddenly you show up and she becomes, or at least is supposed to become, someone totally different. What will they learn from this? How will they interpret the roles of mother/father and wife/husband?
We have received more than a few accounts of conservative and traditional fathers returning once a year from abroad and quick to impose curfews, dress codes etc, only for a liberal normality to return once they depart for the airport. If no attempt is made to reconcile the contradictions that ensue, it is not surprising if a) only token adherence is paid to fathers’ strict guidelines since these are merely transient and b) failure to take fathers seriously warps children’s understanding of the true meaning of the role.
So perhaps the time has come to consider the true impact of your views and behavior not only on your wife, but also on your children, and at the same time join the rest of us in the 21st century.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. There are many things about Mr Baer’s answer that I agree with wholeheartedly. For example, his view that a) your unsatisfactory sex life is primarily your fault and b) it is totally unfair and, more importantly, unhelpful, when you discuss sexual pleasure, to think that you alone should have it and Marie alone is responsible for giving it. Mr Baer says: “It is in effect a one-way street – all about how Marie has to look after you and how, if you are unhappy, it must be Marie’s fault.”
Let me try and answer all your questions regarding sex:
1. Could it be she’s just bored about the act?
Maybe, but one possible explanation is that the two of you have made it boring. Since, traditionally, women are supposed to be sexually “innocent” (which, alas, traditionally also seems to mean ignorant) when they get married, then if we were to use the traditional definition of masculinity, it is your responsibility, not hers, to make sure sex remains exciting.
2. Could it be she just lost the desire for it being in her late 30s? Could it be this is really her true self? That the person she was before was just for a show to make me fall for her… We met in the phase of her life where she really wanted to get married and have children.
Again, if she simply lost her desire in her 30s, traditionally, it is largely your responsibility to bring back her desire. Alas, it is possible that her initial much-higher sexual desire was just an act; but many times feelings can turn to real desire, real anticipation, and real pleasure, as literature (both scientific and literary) confirms regarding arranged marriages.
3. Is this just a phase that every marriage goes through and will eventually just pass?
You have been married 7 years and the stereotype is this is when the temptation to be unfaithful is at its height; hence the phrase “the 7-year itch.”
But you yourself have no concerns about infidelity. Also, some men are never tempted – at least, not to the point of actually considering infidelity. The opposite is even more common – where the itch happens (and is scratched) in less than 7 years – sometimes in less than even half a year or less.
This only goes to prove that so-called phases in marriage (or anywhere else) are not good guides for everyone, especially for someone like you, with a marriage like yours. Thus, more thought is necessary to deal with it and I am thankful that you have made writing us the first step in getting a good handle of what is happening in your marriage.
There are, however, a few things Mr Baer said that I disagree with quite strongly. The most egregious (at least for a student-of-gender-relations-aspiring-to-be-expert like myself, though not necessarily for non-students) is his following statement: “You seem to view the role of a wife as a mixture of serf and sex slave. Admittedly this has been a view shared by millions of men for millennia but we are now in the 21st century and quite a lot of us – though obviously not you – have made some progress towards treating women in general, and their wives in particular, as equals.”
On the one hand, what he says is true, but on the other, what he implies – that this necessarily leads to unhappy marriages – is not. There are many reasons I say this, both based on clinical experience, but the research that is up is even more interesting and engaging.
I shall discuss this in greater length in a Clinical Note to be published later this week, if my editor allows. 🙂
All the best,
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