"She Needs to Stop Texting and Start Talking to Me"
The Counselor's Turn
Brett had every right to be angry about Heidi's incessant texts and e-mails. It only takes a few seconds to call your spouse and say, "How's it going? I'm thinking of you." So if you can't find those few seconds, it's time to take a look at your priorities.
Still, Heidi had a legitimate beef about Brett. He wasn't lazy but he had grown comfortable with a low-pressure job while the kids were in school. Heidi was okay with that at first -- she'd asked him to do child care, after all -- but now she wants a partner who lives up to his potential and makes a decent living so she can start to find some balance in her own life.
I was blunt with Heidi: "Electronic communication can be great for business but you can't run a marriage the way you run a company. E-mails and texts are impersonal. You lose the emotion and nuance and words can easily be misinterpreted." Heidi got defensive, insisting that texting is a necessity because their schedules are out of sync. But I continued to press her: "You're giving more time and energy to a job you could lose any day than you give to your husband and kids. It's your choice: Talk to Brett about life and save your marriage. Or text him orders and lose it."
Heidi agreed to stop texting Brett and to phone him every morning and evening -- just to talk. Instead of the constant texts about chores, every Sunday she and Brett write down everything that needs to get done and on Wednesday they discuss the progress Brett has made so far. This system keeps Heidi in the loop without turning her into a taskmaster and it gives Brett a sense of accomplishment while keeping him accountable.
Heidi also agreed to disconnect her laptop for one day of each weekend, so she's available to participate in family activities. And she now keeps all technology out of the bedroom. Monthly date nights have strengthened her bond with Brett and also jump-started their sex life.?
I've been seeing a lot more clients lately where the wife is the primary breadwinner. It's often hard for these women to leave their boss hats at work and let their husbands take charge of the household and social planning. In many ways the bossiness is an attempt to assert control over the home situation, which can be chaotic and unpredictable. But the micromanaging that might help with a chaotic situation at work tends to backfire at home.
Heidi's dad was an army officer, so she'd learned how to give orders and run her life with military precision. At work that was an advantage. But I reminded Heidi that Brett was her husband, not her subordinate. If she could put things in perspective and stop criticizing Brett -- about everything from the towels to his job -- they wouldn't fight as much. It hasn't been easy, but Heidi hasn't refolded a towel in months. And when Heidi backed off about his career, Brett realized he had his own reasons for wanting to take it a step further. He has recently landed interviews that seem promising.
The couple's marriage has improved steadily as they spend more time together and communicate better. Heidi tells Brett that she loves and misses him -- simple gestures that have drawn them closer.
"Counseling was the wake-up call I needed to stop taking Brett for granted," Heidi said. "It's great to have my marriage back."
"Can This Marriage Be Saved?"® is the most enduring women's magazine feature in the world. This month's case is based on interviews and information provided by Jonathan Alpert, a licensed professional counselor in New York City. The story told here is true, but names and identifying information have been changed to conceal identities.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2011.