What makes a woman happy in a relationship? The answer is just as often sex as it is spending time with their spouse. In “Connect to Love,” family counselor and relationship expert M. Gary Neuman compiles the voices of different women and explores what makes a marriage work. Read an excerpt:
Chapter 3: Enjoy your time together
Most people I spoke to about my study believed that women would report that they were very unhappy or cheating for emotional reasons and sex was a distant, secondary issue. Generally, women are seen as the less sexual gender. Yes, we know women enjoy sex, but most people assume they don’t miss it the way men do. If a man goes days or weeks without sex, it’s assumed he’s going to explode. If the same happens to a woman, somehow it’s assumed she’ll keep busy and not actively miss it. Marital jokes are frequently about how little sex the husband is getting. And I think I read somewhere that given a choice between finding great shoes or having great sex, most women choose the shoes. Five hundred and five women from around the world say these assumptions are all wrong.
Among the women in my study, faithful wives who were unhappy in their marriages gave equal weight to sexual and emotional dissatisfaction as their primary issues. Likewise, with cheaters, the number one response when asked what issues factored into their infidelity was “Both emotional dissatisfaction and an unsatisfying sexual relationship figured about the same in my decision.” Forty-four percent responded this way, almost double the number of women who answered that emotional issues were the driving force (26 percent). Similar to my study of men, only 7 percent said that it was largely sexual dissatisfaction that led them into the arms of another.
So women are not exclusively emotional beings but actively need both emotional and sexual intimacy. Clearly, sexuality is far more important to women than most people think. Both unhappy women and cheating women reported that their number one sexual issue was infrequency with unsatisfying sex coming in at a close second. I’ll explore female sexuality and what my study uncovered in this area in chapter 7.
What you can learn from women who stray
The issues that factored into infidelity can best be summed up as:
Both emotional and sexual dissatisfaction in the marriage figured about the same: 44%
Emotional dissatisfaction in the marriage was the primary factor: 26%
Sexual dissatisfaction in the marriage was the primary factor: 7%
Jane’s story: I wanted to feel passion in my marriage
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I worked hard during my marriage until I started having children. I made decent money, but my husband and I decided I would stay at home to take care of the children. It worked okay until we decided to sell the large house we lived in when the housing market was still a little strong and move our three children into a tiny temporary rental apartment until the housing market dropped enough for us to get the best deal on a new house. The rental was a very frustrating place to live because it was so small and I had a new baby and two other little ones.
I wanted so much to be a homemaker but found it impossible when we were only staying for a few months. We ended up renting much longer than anticipated because my husband refused to commit to buying a new home. We had the money, but the market was still dropping and he wanted to wait for the best deal. When he got home from work, I had to get out from the crying children and the home I hated. And since we weren’t having sex, though I’m still not sure why, I would go out and play golf or bowl in a mixed league while my husband stayed home and watched television and surfed the Internet.
After spending so much time together with another man in these leagues, trouble just happened. We connected and he made me feel so desirable, beautiful, and sexy. I didn’t leave my husband for another man, and I didn’t have sex with the other man until later. I left my husband because another man made me feel something that was so lacking in my marriage that I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to it and never feeling that way again. I would rather be alone and have the chance to feel that way than be trapped in a marriage to a person I know I’m never going to feel passionate about. I still see this man, but have dated other men as well.
Jane’s story, like most I heard, spoke to the fact that women who have remained faithful or have cheated are quite dissatisfied in both their emotional and sexual lives at home. Many suffer quietly, feeling stuck and unable to make things better. There is a collective desperation to their tone, but this desperation can be resolved quickly with the information this book is about to explore.
Women want more time with their men
For the women who participated in my research, the number one emotional issue was not having enough time with their husbands, but feeling underappreciated followed closely behind. Lisa’s and Tom’s stories are similar to many stories I heard during my study: simply not spending time with your spouse will often have a severely negative impact.
Lisa’s story: Time may not be on my side
When our kids were small and I complained to my husband that we never spent time alone together, he’d always say that we’d have plenty of time for that when our kids were grown and out of the house. It was as though I was the bad one for even asking that we go out alone or take a vacation without the kids. Naturally, I didn’t want to get away from my kids. I was a good mom. But his mom lived down the street and was more than willing to help us out. He just never wanted it.
That was my life for years. We both worked and came home and it was all about the kids. We had some sex just because we needed it, but that was something else we’d be able to do plenty when the kids were gone. It was like I was expected to wait about twenty-five years for time with my husband. I became like a sister to the nanny, to the point that I even took some trips with her and left my husband home with the kids and his mother. I probably would have just continued, but God showed me a different plan. At forty-one, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. Suddenly, waiting for a future time seemed stupid and I was mad at my husband. He probably got more anger than he deserved, but I promised myself that if I got through it, I wouldn’t beg my husband for his time anymore.
By chance I ran into an old college friend and when we had dinner, I was astounded at how good it felt to actually be having time and attention from a man. We were practically strangers, so I was astonished that he was giving me a lot more in one meeting than my husband had for twenty years. It wasn’t long before I just told him everything and he was there for me. We got sexually involved within a few months. I couldn’t believe he could find me interesting and attractive with everything I was going through. My husband doesn’t know, and frankly, my life is too complicated to change anything. At least through this horrible experience, I’m receiving some love I sorely miss, and I’m holding on to it until I’m stronger.
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My husband did not spend enough time with me: 20%
I felt underappreciated: 19%
When I shared my feelings and thoughts, my husband did not understand or address my concerns: 17%
Other aspects of my husband’s life were more important to him than our relationship: 11%
My husband often lost his temper and was frequently moody or angry: 7%
We were no longer interested in the same things: 7%
Tom’s story: No time for my wife
Looking back, I was a real arrogant SOB. I don’t have a good reason for it. I just thought that marriage was like that. I was at the top of my firm, lecturing nationwide, and was just really good at focusing on myself. I was good-looking and so was my wife. When she first got pregnant, I just shot out of there and found every reason to stay away. I had plenty of legitimate excuses to work late and I enjoyed being a workaholic. But I also went out late to some clubs, strip joints, whatever I wanted at the moment. I never cheated, at least nothing more than some mindless close drunk dancing and kissing.
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I laughed at friends who were henpecked. I had it all. A beautiful wife who respected my job, the money I brought in, the freedom I needed. She even agreed to bring another woman into our sexual play to satisfy my curiosity. She figured better that than have me stray. Then we stopped having sex for a while and I went to Hong Kong on business for about three months. When I returned, everything was different. My wife had seen a therapist, and for a long time I blamed the therapist for turning my wife against me.
I still did nothing, and then she told me she had seen a lawyer and was serving me with papers the next day. I went crazy. I was completely taken aback. I just stood there and began to cry, really cry. How crazy that it wasn’t until that moment that I really wanted to save my marriage. My wife didn’t get it. She assumed I knew it was coming and had already begun to play financial games to cheat her out of money. I don’t know where I was. I just thought this was marriage. We go along until we don’t, but I never thought she’d be the reason it stopped. I began to beg for another chance and agreed to go to the counselor, where I learned for the first time how much I had hurt my wife. She really felt like she wasn’t attractive anymore or that I really didn’t like her. It took her decision to divorce me to turn my head around and realize what a horrible husband I had been.
As I went through therapy, I made lots of changes and was able to become much more of a husband to her. She was skeptical every step of the way, but I was determined to spend the rest of my life with her and now I was really spending it with her and not everyone and everything but her.
Obviously a time investment is necessary to start a relationship. What we do with our time once we’re in the relationship may change, but nothing happens without spending a proper amount of time. And here is perhaps the biggest difference between men and women as it relates to marital satisfaction. Men seem to be content with less time with their wives. What time means to a loving relationship for a man is miles apart from what it means for a woman. One woman summed it up best when she wrote to me, “When my husband spends time with me, that tells me he finds me attractive and lovable.”
Women seek time with their husbands to connect with them and to feel they are an important part of their husbands’ lives, whereas men do not even look at time with their wives; it’s not really on their radar. Men are also looking for a way to connect with the women they love, but they factor time into that only as a practical tool. For example, for a man, sex is connecting, as is an appreciative comment, a hug, a thoughtful gesture — time doesn’t weigh into that. If the dinner, sex, and appreciative comment are all completed in thirty-five minutes total, he’s good to go.
For men, time is only a means to an end. For women, the time is the gesture. This doesn’t mean that just sitting in the same room is all a woman needs. But even if she has a great thirty-five minutes, that doesn’t mean she’s done and wants to run off to do something else. Men are trained to accomplish tasks. Men go to work to get a job done much more than to put in time at the workplace. Men might have to stay a certain amount of time at work to collect a paycheck, but the goal is accomplishing objectives. For men, time itself has little meaning except that certain amounts are needed to get things done. We don’t use time to make a statement. Even if a dad takes his son to a ball game, how much time that takes is irrelevant compared to the action of seeing the game itself. Thus, if the home team is losing badly, the dad will probably leave early with the kid. He typically does not hang out until the end just because it’s nice to spend time with his child. No, the task of seeing the game has been accomplished.
Women desire their partners’ time in order to develop their relationships. They feel that no matter how many tasks have been completed, partners still need to spend time together regularly in order to feel close. On this topic, women are absolutely right, and not spending enough time is one of the most unfortunate mistakes men make. Men forget that life is not only about tasks. Love relationships involve much more than just completing tasks.
Children are a prime example. A man can make great money so his wife can stay at home and take care of the children. He can send his children to the best schools, give them the best camp and travel experiences, and yet be the most emotionally distant dad on the block. He can accomplish so much, but having a close relationship with his children will never be about anything other than putting in consistent time. He may be a really loving guy, but his children will not feel comfortable enough with him to share their truest feelings unless Dad is there for them consistently. A son may know Dad loves him and would do anything for him, but he still doesn’t come to Dad with his emotional highs and lows, because Dad can’t possibly get him. True understanding about what makes a child tick — what his dreams are, his fears, and his sense of purpose — cannot happen without time. Dad can’t walk into his child’s room and say, “Okay, we’ve got six minutes. Tell me about your dreams and aspirations.” A child only reveals these deep thoughts when sitting around spending time with someone on a regular basis.
That’s why children tend to share a great deal more with Mom. It’s not necessarily because Mom is a better listener or has better responses. It starts with the basic fact that Mom values time as a message of love in and of itself. Time doesn’t have to be about getting something done. Maybe moms are better listeners because they spend enough time truly understanding their children and then can respond to their children from being inside the loop instead of sounding like they don’t get it. Children will share their deepest thoughts with someone they feel gets them. They also tend to share their biggest fears and concerns when things are calm and they’re just hanging out with Mom. Commonly, a young child will ask the big questions when lying in bed next to his mom, who is just reading or spending quiet time with no other purpose than to show love by being next to her child. That’s when she hears the really deep, hard questions, like “What happens when we die?”
Men do not see the correlation between spending time and creating a great marriage. They have difficulty readily seeing how having dinner together or reading side by side, discussing news events and laughing, is going to directly affect their lives. On the other hand, every hour a man spends working gives him a concrete sense of how useful that time was. After that time spent, he’ll have fewer calls to make, will have finished the e-mail, will be closer to sending in the report, will have made more money working overtime. This allows him to measure his use of time in a way that he can’t when spending it with his wife. Yes, men could measure the time they spent with their wives last night by whether they had sex. Again, a clear accomplishment — and an attitude that drives women mad because it looks like the reason he spent the time was to accomplish that objective. Most men are being nice not only for sex. Rather, they’re always looking for a concrete measurement of success, and having sex is a pretty good one.
Men need to learn from all of the women in my study that the true measure of a relationship is the good feelings of being loved and loving another. It’s not something anyone can just make happen with a single gesture. If a man buys his wife a beautiful present, he shouldn’t be surprised that she’s complaining just a few days later that he’s not paying her enough attention (yet many men seem shocked if this happens). One big gesture isn’t going to do it. He wants her to understand how many hours it took him to work in order to make the money for that present. She wants him to understand that she’d rather have him to herself for all of that time he spent working to make the money for the present. That would be her most precious present.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from “Connect to Love: The Keys to Transforming Your Relationship,” by M. Gary Neuman. Copyright © 2010 by M. Gary Neuman.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive