In my previous post, 10 Things To Look For In A Husband, I discussed observations from my counseling practice, where women often reflect on red flags during dating that signaled, in hindsight, that their then-boyfriends wouldn't make the best husbands. Here, I will describe some of the common red flags that unhappily married male clients recount when recalling their courtship, and what they wish they would have taken more seriously before deciding to marry their wives. Note that this is not a 100% PC article, as I mention things like attractiveness. I am trying to be honest more than PC, so keep that in mind before emailing me about how if guys want an attractive wife then they suck and I'm perpetuating the patriarchy. (Obviously,I am a feminist, which means I consider males and females equal, but that doesn't mean there are no gender differences; read my thoughts on that here.)
- Sexual openness. Note that I don't say sexual desire, because women's desire can sharply nosedive within a long term monogamous relationship. Desire also waxes and wanes over time and throughout different life stages (for instance, women's sex drive when nursing is particularly low). A higher level of hormonally-fueled honeymoon stage sexual desire can also mask a deeper level of anxiety or closedmindedness about sex. Then, when the woman's hormonally-driven sexual desire decreases, the husband is left with a woman who may indicate disgust for him and for sex in general. If a woman is open about sex, including discussing her attitudes about it, her sexual history, then she will likely continue to be more open toward sex even when her desire is lower. Some men want a woman with a very limited sexual history, to play out a fantasy of the husband being the only one who unlocks the wife's sexuality. Unless this couple meets in high school, a woman having a very limited sexual history and a general timidity toward and/or shame about sex is going to predict issues with sex later on. General rule: if you're a guy with a high sex drive who wants a lot of sex within marriage, find a woman who has already had a healthy sex life and discusses sex openly. Then you can weather the ups and downs of sex drive and not fall into a sexless marriage.
- Attractive. This is subjective of course, but guys who feel they have lucked out by marrying attractive wives end up happier overall. It's science! Attractiveness isn't everything, but, particularly for males who are more visually oriented, it is something that can keep a man feeling happier and better able to withstand monotogamy. Note that if you are marrying a woman primarily for her body, her body may change drastically after kids. Try to marry someone who has a "margin of error," so that if they gain weight or go gray or anything else, you still think they are pretty hot. This goes for men and woman both, although women seem to mind men's general aging-related deterioration less, as we aren't as visually-oriented, biologically.
- Intelligence and education level similar to yourself. When a man feels like he has married a woman who is less intelligent or educated than himself, this only stays "cute" in the initial dating phase, or possible early marriage. I have many intelligent male clients who married women whom they always, in the back of their minds, considered less intelligent than themselves. They felt other variables compensated, like the aforementioned looks and sex, and kindness or a fun personality. However, later in the marriage, men find it very hard to let their wives make key decisions about child rearing, money management, and more, if they doubt their wives' intelligence. In the 1950's, many women played the "ditz" card with their husbands, who may have found it endearing. This worked when the husbands were expected to have the final word in all important decisions. Nowadays, women want, and should have, an equal voice in childrearing and home management, and if their husbands look down on their decision-making capacity, this will lead to extensive resentment and conflict.
- Inlaws that allow the woman to become a separate adult. Many men are very frustrated with a wife whose family keeps her in a "little girl" role (and this is true for women whose husbands are treated as cutely irresponsible boys far into adulthood by their parents, as well). Read about this dynamic here, for both genders. Some guys are fine with marrying "Daddy's girl" who always calls her dad for financial advice and if she has a flat tire, even after marriage. Some guys are not, and always find themselves competing with their wife's dad (or sometimes brothers) for their wife's admiration and respect. In couples counseling, I have had women outright compare their husbands (unfavorably) to their own fathers. This is a dynamic that will not resolve ever; even when the father passes away, you'll be compared to his memory, which will become even more idealized over time.
- Not much drama. Now, many guys are attracted to dramatic women, because their parents likely had this same type of dramatic relationship, and dramatic women are their imago. But, after you have kids, your wife throwing stuff at you and screaming about how you're a jerk is going to be a lot less stimulating, because of two key variables: (1) there is no make up sex with kids around, and (2) you will realize that you are traumatizing your children. If you have a dramatic girlfriend who is the best sex you ever had and you can't live without her, then you can take her to couples counseling before you propose and/or stop doing the things that make her crazy. Also, if at least 66% of the women you've dated (and 100% of the ones you've loved) have been dramatic/"crazy", it is time to do some internal work with a therapist and figure out why you keep insisting you hate drama but yet you're drawn to it. And also read this book.
- You both want kids, and the same number. Many women will resent you forever if she always pictured having three kids and you are firm on sticking to two. And don't even get started on if you don't want any kids and she does. Make sure you both are happily childfree, want one, or want five, whatever the case may be. Also, if you're in a dynamic where you're eventually going to have more kids if she really wants them anyway (many guys are in this dynamic), then it's better to make peace with this and plan for more kids with an open heart versus with sulkiness and grudge-holding.
- You're both on board with whether she will work after having kids. This is a big source of resentment for many men. They feel that they married a smart woman with good earning power, and then they are flummoxed when she chooses to be a stay at home mom. Frequently, they end up criticizing her, which of course leads to bitterness and distance. If having a two income household is extremely important to you, it is essential that you state this from the beginning of any discussions about the future. Also, does your wife genuinely love her career? If you marry a woman who hates her job, then, at least subconsciously, she may be hoping to quit it when she has kids. This isn't to "trap" you in any way, but because she likely thinks that she can be of better use to the family and the world by raising awesome kids than by working in a job she hates. Incidentally, if you want to be a SAHD (stay at home dad), this should be discussed as well. More women may be open to it than you would think, and the number of couples like this will only increase over time, as people move out of traditional gender roles and more into what roles suit them as individuals.
- Financial compatibility. Many women choose to be stay at home moms because they believe that the family can get along on one salary, whereas the man wants more money, for spending or saving or both. And sometimes, the woman wants a "better" lifestyle (meaning more money) than the man does. No matter who wants more money, this can become a massive area of contention for spouses. If your "fancy" dates still don't seem to impress your girlfriend and her parents live a lavish lifestyle that you don't even want to have, this will likely be an area of conflict between you guys forever. Similarly, if your wife is cool with clipping coupons and you want to have yearly trips to tropical islands, this will also not fly, especially as costs mount post-kids and you want her to go back to work or work harder to get a promotion.
- Extroversion or introversion that you appreciate. Here is a key axiom of marriage and kids: having young kids amplifies your basic personality tendencies. An introverted wife may become someone who cannot stand being touched or spoken to after the kids go to bed, because she has had extensive physical and auditory stimulation from them (and/or from work and then kids) all day. An extroverted wife may turn into someone who has playdates, Moms Night Outs, and huge family BBQs all the time to get social support, and if you want to hang out just the two of you and watch TV without other annoying people around, then you may be frustrated. If you secretly think that having kids/growing older will mean that your introverted wife "comes out of her shell" or your extroverted wife calms down and becomes a homebody, then you are setting yourself up for regret. However, this doesn't mean your spouse needs to match you on introversion or extroversion. If you're an introvert that is amazed and impressed by your girlfriend's ability to host an awesome party, and it reassures you that your kids will always have a social network that your own introverted parents never made for you, then by all means, marry her.
- Sex again. This is so important for men that I am giving it another position on the list. Specifically, look out for these key issues, as they will never, and I mean never, improve: if she doesn't like to kiss you, if she finds your penis disgusting, if she says sex isn't important to her (and it is to you), if there is sexual abuse in her past that she refuses to get treatment for or acknowledge as potentially important, if she jumps up to shower after sex and never really seems to like it, if she has told you that she has done "more" sexual things with previous partners than she does with you, if she laughs about men's "need" for sex and seems to condescend to this as animalistic in some way, if she exhibits zero public displays of affection (a woman who won't kiss you goodbye on the lips in front of her friends at age 25 is unlikely to kiss on the lips in front of her kids at age 30 and unlikely to want sex when the kids are anywhere in the house at age 35). And if you know, deep deep in your heart, that you are marrying her HOPING that she develops a healthy sex drive one day due to all of your effort, versus marrying someone who already enjoys sex, then please recognize that this working out to yield a mutually enjoyable married sex life is very very improbable.
Please leave your comments! And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, If You're Married Reading This And Your Wife Hits 7 Or More Of These, Send Her This Article And Flowers!
Learn about Dr. Rodman’s private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. Order her books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage, and How To Talk To Your Kids About Your Divorce, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.