Well, if you read last week’s piece, you guessed it. The secret is the same. Make your wife your priority. I know, you probably think you do already – but she has to experience it that way. What do I mean?
Before your job: First of all, you may love your job. You may thrill to the feeling of accomplishment. (You are even taking a secret pleasure that you are doing a better job and earning more than the guy down the street). Doing a good job makes you feel validated. Earning a lot of money is icing on the cake and really makes you feel like a “someone.” When your wife complains (perhaps not in the most loving and endearing way) that you are spending too much time at work, you may be shocked. “I’m doing this for you dear; to support our family and buy you what you want.” If that is truly your motivation (and this requires sincere reflection; is that really why you’re doing it?) you might be surprised to discover that your wife would willingly take a lower income in order to spend more time with you. That explanation (excuse?) no longer washes.
In addition, whatever your career, be it collecting garbage or trying to find a cure for cancer, your wife needs to feel like she comes first. Yes, the cause may be noble. Presumably she is supportive of it. But she needs to feel that in your eyes, she is in first place. And it’s not enough to say it, you must show it with your actions – by taking her call, by coming home in a timely fashion, by not working weekends, by family vacations, by calling her to check in, by suggesting a lunch date where feasible...
While there are certainly exceptions to every rule, I believe that many men work longer hours than necessary out of compulsiveness, anxiety, lack of efficiency and perhaps even some ambivalence about going home. Most jobs can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time if attacked with seriousness and competency. It’s a choice – and your wife knows it. You need to choose her first.
Before your community work: There is obviously a lot to be done for the Jewish community. Sometimes you are the only one that can do it. But it should never come at the price of your own marriage. There is no point in “saving” other Jews and losing your own family, God forbid. There is also tremendous pressure in the business world and from friends and colleagues to get involved, to attend banquets, to give money. This needs to be done strategically and thoughtfully – and discussed with your wife. Make sure she is on board with the organizations you wish to support. There is a tremendous ego boost to being recognized as a big giver and doer in the community, a “macher” as we like to say. But the most important place to be a “macher” is in your own home.
Before your male friends: Everyone needs friends and time with friends – but never at the expense of your spouse. Stereotypical male socializing occurs over sports events or sports activities. These can certainly be relaxing outlets. But they should be indulged in a very limited fashion. I recognize the appeal. It’s so much easier to shoot hoops with a bunch of guys and work up a good sweat or joke around in front of a televised football game than it is to have an emotionally involving and revealing and sometimes demanding conversation with your wife. But the payoff is much greater. (Even if your fantasy team wins!)
Before your needs: In essence, making your wife your priority means that her needs come before yours. If she is nervous, get up and check the locks. If she is tired, get the baby in the night. If she is overwhelmed, bring home take-out. If she wants to talk, listen. If she needs affection (and she almost always does), give it to her. You may not always be in the mood (she’s not always in the mood for the things you want either but I’ve advised her to be receptive anyway!) but it’s not about you. It’s about her. You may just want to come home and chill out in front of the television with a drink. Then you should have gotten a dog instead of a wife (actually even a pet needs to eat and be taken outside). Your wife deserves your best self and if that requires a little effort (well a lot of effort) and a little less relaxing, so be it.
A happy marriage requires work. It requires some acting skills. It requires smiling when you feel like frowning and listening when you feel like hiding away. It’s uncomfortable because it isn’t easy but that’s the only way you will experience the rewards of a true relationship.
You don’t have to do it my way. Many people don’t. But ultimately the person you are shortchanging is yourself.