Mending a broken relationship

Mending a broken relationship
Picture of Suvi Mahonen

Suvi Mahonen

Suvi is a journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications in Australia and overseas

Some of the advice was confronting. To call it politically correct would be misleading. If I hadn’t wanted to rekindle some of the spark we once had for each other, I would have written the content off as misogynistic and moved on. Still, with an open mind, I’ll share what I discovered from the plethora of advice out there.

My husband glanced up as I approached him in the bedroom, a look of “I’m outta’ here” on his face. I jabbed my finger towards the loungeroom where our infant daughter was crying in her bassinet.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

His face hardened. “Stop being so melodramatic,” he said. “Just pick her up and cuddle her.” He turned back to the mirror, adjusting his tie.

I lost it. “I can’t do this anymore!” I yelled. “You’re always at work while I’m stuck in this stink-hole and I’m expected to do everything!”

“Everything?” he said. “How do you think the bills get paid? And when was the last time you vacuumed the floors or ironed the laundry?”

I watched him snatch up his phone and keys and walk down the hallway. “Call in sick,” I pleaded as he went over to our daughter and planted a kiss on her forehead. She quietened immediately. A smile even broke out on her tear-streaked cheeks. But I knew as soon as the front door closed that she would start screaming again. “Call in sick,” I said again, as he sat down in the foyer to put on his shoes.

“I’ve got an all-day clinic full of patients who are actually sick,” he said, yanking his laces with unnecessary force. “I can’t stay here just because you’re having a wobbly.”

“Why don’t you look after your family for a change?”

“Why don’t you show some appreciation for a change?” he said, opening the front door.

“Appreciation!” I shouted at the narrowing sliver of white shirt and black pants as the door closed. “For what?”

It was almost as if he was a stranger to me, even though we’d been together for more than 20 years. You’d be forgiven for thinking that with all that history we had, we’d have the communication skills required to conquer our new landscape of parenthood. But our default form of communication these days seemed to be fighting.

I looked around our apartment. So messy it was overwhelming. I didn’t even know where to begin. I looked at our daughter. She was bawling again.

I knew things had to change. I began to listen to relationship podcasts while I breastfed. I played YouTube videos on couples’ advice. I stumbled upon a bunch of relationship experts who were giving women dating advice such as “What men want” and “How to attract a top-quality man”.

Some of the advice was confronting. To call it politically correct would be misleading. If I hadn’t wanted to rekindle some of the spark we once had for each other, I would have written the content off as misogynistic and moved on. Still, with an open mind, I’ll share what I discovered from the plethora of advice out there.

One: Looks matter.
I know, ouch. But it’s not as bad as you think. “Attractiveness” to a man is not necessarily gravity-defying breasts or a pear-shaped body. It can be as simple as a smile. Yes, a man wants his partner to look after herself, but he’s really not too fussy. It’s the effort that counts, not the end result. With a smile on your face, your man isn’t going to notice or care about any perceived “flaws” that you think you might have.    

Two: Sex is important.
No brainer, right? But again, there’s more to this than just the physical aspect. Women need to feel connected to their partner before sex. Men, on the other hand, need sex before they feel connected. Not only that, but sex is an important way a man shows his love for a woman. He wants to please her, and her enjoyment is important for his own. A woman rejecting her partner’s advancements hurts a man because she is effectively rejecting his love.

Three: Respect is vital.
Many men crave respect even more than they want love. And no, respect does not mean a woman must be a 1950s-era Betty Crocker. Far from it. A man is more likely to be attracted to a woman who has her own opinions and can stand up for herself. But a man feels respected by his partner when she trusts in his ability to get the job done, even if it’s not done exactly how she would do it.    

Four: Men want to make women happy.  
This was a revelation. Most men like helping women. It makes them feel good.

Five: Men need to feel needed.  
Many women these days can happily live without the demands and expectations that come with a relationship. These days we are free to study what we want, work in whatever field we want and even lead a nation. So how do we make a man feel needed when sometimes they’re not? It can be simple: asking him to help you open a tight jar or reach for an object on a high shelf. Or being receptive when he offers to carry a heavy bag for you.    

 Six: Appreciation is the fuel that men run on.
Appreciation is a motivator for men. If you say thank you to a man for doing a task – even if it’s a mundane chore that you do all the time with no gratitude from him – he is more likely to want to do that task again.

Seven: Men want women to have their own life.
I thought about how lonely I’d been at home with our daughter. How I hadn’t been going out because I found it overwhelming. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d greeted my husband with a smile. I didn’t trust him enough to even mash our baby daughter’s vegetables. And sex was a distant memory.

I began to slowly incorporate some of the advice I’d spent hours listening to. I started going out more with our baby and texting him happy selfies of the two of us down on the beach esplanade. I went shopping with my daughter more and I bought both of us new outfits. I made a point of smiling at my husband when he came home from work and asking how his day had been. I let him mash our baby’s vegetables and resisted the urge to criticise him when they were lumpy. And yes, I made more effort in connecting with him in the bedroom.

And, sure enough, things changed. He started opening up to me more. He started texting me from work to share some interesting news snippet he’d heard. He planned family outings for us to enjoy on the weekends. And he bought me a gift voucher to a beauty spa when I told him I’d love a facial.

Like our daughter’s vegetables our relationship remained lumpy at times. I’d by lying if I didn’t admit that, but things had definitely improved. One day I came back from a late afternoon walk with our daughter to find him already home.

“The pram’s steering funny,” I said when he came over and unbuckled our daughter and gave her a big hug.

He handed me back our daughter, soggy nappy and all, and bent down to squeeze the tyres.   

“This one’s a bit flat,” he said. 

He rummaged in the cupboard and returned with the bicycle pump in his hands. I watched him remove the cap on the valve and briskly pump the tyre back up to load capacity. Then he screwed the cap back on.  

“That was really thoughtful of you,” I said.

He looked up at me.

“Thank you for the way you take care of us,” I said. As my message sunk in, I saw a shift in him.

“And thank you for taking care of us,” he added.

The book Building Positive Relationships is available from the Majellan Bookshop for $27.95 (postage included). 

Listen to Valuable information on relationships on the Figuring out Families podcast.

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