Thursday 25 May 2017

Dear Patricia: My husband flirts with so many women but never praises me

Patricia Redlich

I have a problem with my husband's wandering eye. Time and time again, I have addressed this issue with him. Don't get me wrong. He is a wonderful person and does a great deal for me.

However, he never says I'm beautiful, and is never proud of me in any way. And I could accept that, accept that he is introverted about such things. What I do not understand is that he seems to have no problem saying that so and so is beautiful, or so and so is nice, or sweet, or wonderful.

If he can express himself freely when it comes to other women, why is it so hard for him to say such things to his own wife? He keeps telling me that he has feelings for me in his heart, pointing to the said heart in the process, and it appears I am to be content with that. He never says anything nice to me, but then wanders around looking at other women, even flirting with them, and I am right there. That hurts so much that I now wonder if this marriage will work, because I can no longer take it. I know I'm not here to change him, but if he has no respect for me, what is the point of staying in the marriage?

Patricia replies:

YOU clearly need a crash course in power politics. And yes, they most certainly do exist in marriage. But before we start, this is not a hanging offence, your husband is not a bad man, and it's not about a failure to respect you.

Of course your husband could tell you how wonderful you are. And of course it's crappy nonsense for him to point to his heart, and remain wordless. Worse, it's ham acting -- boring and ridiculous. The reality is that he doesn't want to praise you. His power lies in withholding. He is an insecure man, who feeds off your need to hear nice things. Yes, that is pathetic, and sad. But the truth is, he feels psychologically safer saying no. As long as you desire praise, he feels reassured that you need him.

Yes, of course we all desire praise. But to need it, as you do, to constantly ask for it, despite all the refusals you receive, displays insecurity on your part.

Do you understand? You are handing your husband the power to say no. And weak as he is, he's exercising that power. If you like, it's a form of masochism on your part, constantly putting yourself up for another mean refusal. And the sadistic little bit of your husband, born of his own low self-esteem, rises to the occasion, and he withholds the praise, simply because you want it.

The same applies to his comments on other women. He's playing games, exploiting your vulnerability, trying to make you feel jealous -- and all so that he can feel better about himself. Please understand. This is not a consciously planned strategy. He's not thinking "now I'll make her feel bad by saying how nice this other woman is". He's instinctively using the power you give him. And he's not doing it out of pure badness. He's using that power because he needs to.

You can see for yourself what has to be done. First of all you have to stop asking. You then have to work on your own self-esteem so that you reach a point where you would like his praise, but don't actually need it. Because of course your husband will still sense your need, even if you no longer articulate it. So you have to learn to stand on your own two feet -- emotionally, I mean.

That's one side of the equation.How much praise do you dish out? Your husband clearly needs reassurance himself. He needs you to think he is wonderful. And at the moment, my guess is that you don't feed that side of him. You're too upset.

Could you find it in your heart to rise above your own distress and try and make him feel good? Could you show your appreciation of all those things he clearly does for you? I mean, could you be generous enough to do what he doesn't do, namely reassure him, with words, smiles and cuddles? Could you, in short, break the subtle game the two of you play, by opting out and doing things differently?

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