As a couples counselor, I have been noticing a "thing" my female clients tend to do. I call it "saving him."
It's when I ask the man in the relationship a tough question or I push back on something he's said or a stance he has taken with his wife. It's almost as if I can see her ears perk up. Her body lights up and she almost always leans toward him. I can sense she is uncomfortable. Then she starts to speak for him. "Well, he..." or "I know it's because..." She starts to back-track on the thing that she literally just said bothers her. It becomes not that big of a deal, in that moment, even though it is a big deal to her.
What just happened is this, she jumped to a conclusion. The conclusion is this: he can't handle this. Let that sink in for a moment. I ask a tough question and she thinks he can't handle it. And by tough, let's be real. These are mildly tough questions. I'm a good therapist, I know how to lovingly and gently challenge someone in a way that shows we're on the same team here. I'm not really saying "hey fucker, you're an asshole." I'm saying "it sounds like you start a lot of fights when this topic comes up, why do you do that?" Let's return to that other idea though. During the pause, she starts to answer for him because she thinks he can't handle this tough question. Most of my clients have difficult jobs. They are engineers, sales managers, CEOs, lawyers, etc. They can handle a lot. They can figure shit out. If they can figure out how to build a skyscraper, have a sales team selling millions in product each quarter, etc., they can do this. But in their wives often protect them from being uncomfortable when it comes to their relationship.
I've had wives tell me that she doesn't think he can handle packing a diaper bag, washing the dishes, take care of sick children, or handle it when a therapist directly confronts him with the contradiction he just dropped in front of her. And I call bullshit. He can handle this. And he can handle a lot more than that what she is protecting him from. As you can probably tell, I get passionate about this. Why? Because it undermines a lot of relationships. It creates a dynamic that is not helpful in the relationship. She cripples him in areas he is perfectly capable, he willingly allows/accepts this, and then she becomes resentful while continuing to do it, and he even becomes a little resentful over the fact that he doesn't get to do some parenting he would like.
So here's my plea. Stop it! Stop saving him. He doesn't need you to. Trust that he can handle just as much as you can. Stop packing the diaper bag, feeding the kids and bathing them all before he takes them out so he doesn't have a thing to worry about. Trust he'll take care of any problem that crops up. He's more than capable and it's not good for your relationship. When this stops, she becomes less resentful and he relishes in the new space he has for just being. Win - win.
Also, note this. I realize we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I wholeheartedly believe in playing to our strengths in a relationship (example, he's better at being playful and she's better at structure, so accepting those roles and playing to those strengths) but I also believe this takes balance. She might be better at packing a diaper bag, but is she really? Could the real truth be that she just has more practice. And if he or you truly suck at something and royally mess it up every time you try, let's all just agree to humbly ask for help, not shuck the responsibility on to the other person.
Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist. She specializes in doing couples counseling, intensive couples counseling, discernment counseling and sex therapy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She lives with her husband, kids and extremely fat dog.
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