Marital Stress

(part 2 from July edition)

By Marc Bissonnette


“It is both the words you choose, as well as your tone that makes the difference.”

“Look, I work all day, I bring in all the money, I pay for everything in the home, as well as your vacations – I don’t think it’s unfair that I ask you to pull your own weight” Guys, (or gals, if the roles are reversed) if you’re thinking that my response was perfectly reasonable – Bang your head against the wall, because it’s about the worst thing you can say. How do I know this? Because I had a very, very well respected psychologist and marriage counselor tell me so. We went to see her, many, many years ago and I will admit up front that I went in there, fully expecting to be vindicated, to have this counselor tell my wife that she was being completely unreasonable and that it was only fair for her to “make up for” the massively imbalanced financial contributions to the marriage. One of my complaints was the lack of intimacy in the marriage, amongst other things. Don’t get me wrong: She did have issues that needed to be dealt with, but, the counselor responded with this:

“So, Marc, let me see if I understand, before I make a comment, okay?

Your wife gets up in the morning, makes the children breakfast, ensures they’re bathed, including your severely handicapped, wheelchair bound son, gets him dressed, gets the other two on the bus, pushes Liam to school, then comes home, cleans up the house, washes, folds and puts away the laundry, then gets the kids home, which includes pushing Liam back from school in the wheelchair, cooks and serves dinner, washes the dishes, helps the kids with their homework, gets them into bed, makes sure Liam has his medication, cleans up the house from the mess made from the kids coming home and then… You expect her to want to be intimate? Is this an accurate summation? “To put it mildly, yes, I felt like an idiot. It took a professional to teach me what should have been blindingly obvious: I could earn a million dollars a day, but if my spouse looks at the house as nothing but a never ending workplace, then the very idea of sex was just another job.

Folks: If sex and intimacy becomes a job, you are in serious trouble. That is the key to understand: Contributing to the marriage isn’t just about the money that you earn or about the housework you do: It’s about feeling that you are an equal in the partnership. Even when the circumstances are difficult. That saying that “money can’t buy happiness” – It’s true. It may well buy you some additional options in life, but it absolutely will not buy happiness.

So how, exactly, do you get happiness? Believe it or not, the answer is very simple: You get happiness by giving happiness.

This isn’t a Kumbaya moment: This is about giving your partner what makes them happy. Yes, ladies, I am about to talk about sex. (Guys, don’t start pumping your arms in victory: I haven’t gotten to us, yet); Ladies, unless your partner has specifically and emphatically told you that they are not interested in sex, the chances are very good that they’d like to see a little more of it.  The chances are even greater that they’d like to see a little more of it without always being the one to ask, initiate, bribe or beg for it, either. Now: Some readers right now are shaking their heads and thinking “Hmph. Men. That’s all they think about: Sex.” Wrong. Here is why you are wrong. “Getting” sex is easy. There are plenty of women out there who are willing to “give sex”. There are plenty of websites where the only purpose is to hook up for sex. (Yes, Virginia, women enjoy no-strings sex, too). But here’s the rub: According to “”Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity”, The New York Times, October 27, 2008”, the largest, longest running and most consistent surveys done with regards to extra marital affairs, the infidelity rate for men is 12% and women, 7%. It can vary by year and by age group, but the numbers are relatively similar. If “all men want is sex”, the infidelity rate should be higher – a lot higher – as in, closer to 90%. Yes, men do tend to want intimate relations more often than women (though, as it turns out, not by nearly as wide a margin as historically thought),

BUT: They don’t want sex with just any woman: They want sex with their spouse. Sex, for men, is an emotional connection with their partner. To be fair, many men do not say as much out loud, but it is indeed a lot more than just the physical sensation. So yes, ladies, it is YOU, specifically, that your man wants to be intimate with – to feel special, to show you that he thinks you are special, to show you, in his way, that he loves you and only you.

Now, guys: Although many of you are reading the above and thinking “YES! THIS! THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY!” – Hang on a sec: Sex, to us guys, is important for our emotional well-being and the feeling of connection to our spouses: There’s no denying that (I’m speaking in generalities, here: I am well aware there are exceptions, please don’t bombard me with email about that which I already know), BUT: That is OUR emotional connection with our spouses: It is not necessarily THEIR emotional connection with US. One of the most frequent complaints I have heard from women is that they want to be physically close to their partner without the expectation of it always leading to sex. Yes, one of those women I’ve heard it from was my own wife, I’m not going to lie. So guys: A kiss hello and a long hug when she walks in the door, followed by “Can I make you a coffee?” or “Come in, I’ve got dinner on the table” is a really good idea. A neck massage and only a neck massage every now and then, also a good idea. Sitting side by side, holding hands, or arms around each other, watching a TV show or a movie together; +1 for that, too.

And guys, I have to point this out, because I was guilty as sin of it, myself; if your spouse spends all day in the home doing work, she actually will be tired at the end of the day. So how do you help make sure she’s got the energy for a little excitement when the kids finally get to sleep? Easy: Reduce the work that’s making her tired. Do the dishes. Help with the laundry. Take over cooking a meal. Bathe the kids and get them to bed. My mother had an excellent saying: “There are no such things as ‘womens jobs’ or ‘mens jobs’ – it’s all work that needs to be done. The laundry really doesn’t care what your internal plumbing is – it just needs to be done”. So here we are, with two simple solutions to showing each other how easy it is to show the other that they matter, but why isn’t it done more often?

The answer, sadly, is often “the tally system” – “He hasn’t mowed the lawn in a month, it’ll be a frosty Friday before he sees me without a bathrobe on!” – “She hasn’t shown me any lovin’ in a month – It’ll be a cold day in aich-ee-double-hockey-sticks before I mow that lawn!”

See? Vicious, self-feeding, eternal circle. Someone has to man – or woman – up and give the happiness. You can’t think of your “tally” for this week or even this month. That’s a lose-lose proposition. Life simply does not work that way. Guys, maybe you do go out and mow the lawn or make dinner or take the kids out during her favorite show without being asked more often in the summer. Big deal. It’ll turn out that there will be a period in time where you come to bed more than a few times in a month, expecting to hit the sack just to wake up to face the grindstone the next day, only to find your lovely wife in a negligee, with candles lit in the bedroom. The point is that you have to create the conditions – and you have to be willing to do it not based on a schedule, not based on a “who’s done more this week”, but to do it because by making your partner happy, you become happy.  And why do all this? Is it to get more sex, or to have the dishes done so you can watch Greys Anatomy? Is it to reduce stress, get rid of the ulcers or lower your chances of divorce?

Let’s be honest: The answer can be yes for all of the above, but, more importantly: At the very beginning of this article, I listed just some of the stresses of an AS family: You make your partner happy so that they make you happy so that when you face these stresses – and you will – you are not facing them alone. Waiting for your child to come out of surgery or come out of a seizure sucks – But it sucks a little less when you’ve got someone at your side, letting you know that you’re not the only one worried.

Cleaning up puke for the fifth time in a day, scrubbing poo off walls, or picking up two loaves of bread that have been turned into confetti and mashed into the sofa is absolutely no fun at all – But it’s a little less “no fun” when there’s someone right there beside you, helping clean up the mess (not to mention it gets done a lot faster)

At the end of the day, both partners are facing – and dealing with – daily stresses that most people absolutely could not handle. That fact alone should be enough to make you look at your partner and think “I’m going to make him smile, today, no matter what!” – It should warm your heart and make you think “She’s obviously just had a really bad day – I’m going to turn this evening into something she’ll remember forever with a smile!”

Because, folks, you chose your partner: Your partner chose you: You are both raising an Angelman child together and that, even though this has so many worries, frustrations and terrible moments also has many, many moments of joy, triumph and pride.