Dear Dr Toby,
You seem to have a few things to say for yourself about family matters. Do you have any tips for a completely (ahem) imaginary situation in which you find a little bit of tension appearing in your relationship with your wife? Perhaps you’ve felt over a recent holiday season that she’s been a little bit shorter with you than normal, a little less patient. Any advice very welcome.
You have so come to the right place. Some words to the wise…
One: Be Open About Your Feelings.
Let’s deal with this one straight away. You’d probably expect me to say this. But no. As far as I’m concerned, it’s much better to skulk round the subject for a few days. In this way, your good lady can pick up on the fact that something’s not quite right, misinterpret it, and then become more negative in her own behaviour. Happy days.
Two: Keep Yourselves Busy.
You really don’t want to be spending time together on your own when there’s any tension between you. You’re far better off putting all your efforts into keeping other people happy – your parents, your children, your whole wider family in fact. You’ll find this helps a lot, particularly if your minor marital misunderstandings coincide with a nice relaxing time of the year like Christmas.
Three: Make Some Me Time.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending all your time thinking about others. Don’t. You need space. Space to connect with your inner child. Space to indulge in a little honest-to-god, cathartic self-pity. Because you’re worth it.
Four: Pick Your Moment.
Timing is everything. You may need to be patient. Wait for that special moment to bring things to a head. 2.00 a.m on New Years Day when you’ve spent the last seven hours feeding, watering and entertaining six other families, for instance. Even better if you add that little dash of something else – several glasses of red wine too many, perhaps.
Five: Get Her In The Right Mood By Being Nice About Her Friends.
A woman always appreciates it when you reaffirm her friendship choices. Be as positive as you can. Something like, “I thought Julia looked really good tonight. Don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking hotter, to be honest. And Emma – wow!” A tip for the advanced student here – it’s even better if she doesn’t really like Emma. It takes a special kind of husband to show that kind of consideration.
Six: Choose Your Words With Care.
When the time comes, don’t open up with something pathetic like: “I’ve been a bit worried that you may be finding me boring or irritating, and I think we should talk about it.” Take a bolder line. Suggest that she’s not been paying you enough attention. It’s bound to get things off to a good start.
Our fears are never very far away.
And my biggest fear with being alongside my wife as she goes through the profound experience of becoming a psychotherapist is that she may one day outgrow me, outgrow us. Over Christmas this bubbled to the surface.
Nothing major. Just a nagging feeling that she was finding me tiresome. And that this was a cause for concern.
It’s quite a demanding time of year for us – lots of other people to keep happy – and not one she particularly enjoys. And maybe she does move a little too quickly to putting on an air of martyrdom.
But she is a wonderful, wonderful wife. And we have a wonderful, wonderful marriage. And although I made every one of the mistakes described above, it wasn’t a big deal. We talked. And when I finally said what I felt, she said: “Oh, so that’s it. Your behaving like that made me feel exactly the same.”