Getting the Attention you Want

There's a common saying, "Be careful what you ask for; you might get it!" When a spouse is inattentive, we usually want more. But if they pay too much attention (yes it's possible), we may want less. One woman, who was originally married to a man who paid her little attention, desperately wished he focused on her more. Later, when they were divorced and she remarried a man who was extremely attentive, she felt she was being smothered. She frequently wished to be left alone, and even fantasized about running away.

Of course, "smothering" is not really a reflection of caring; it's more likely related to a desire to control another person. It's difficult to determine whether an effort to control is based on concern for a person's well-being or a desire to exert power over them. (The person on the receiving end of this kind of behavior can usually sense the motive behind the actions.) But whatever the motive, it doesn't feel good.

One common reason for men behaving in this protective (possessive) way is that they're afraid of losing their wife to another man. Most men fail to understand that for many women, their desire is not for another man but for freedom for themselves. This is reflected in a passage from the book, "Playing After Dark" by Barbara Lazear Ascher:

"I have a friend, happily married, who says that she can't imagine leaving her husband for another man. What she can imagine is leaving him for solitude. It's harder to win than a lover, but it may better nourish the soul. If my friend left, her husband might find it hard to believe that it was a quest for solitude rather than sexual adventure that called her away."

While there's no solution in knowing that personal feelings and desires to "run away" are common among women, it can nevertheless allow for a certain recognition of both the good and the bad of our role as "caretakers" of the family. We may value our contribution to the well-being of those we love, but we need to balance this with finding ways to increase our own well-being as well.

Sometimes if a spouse understands that being "boxed in" can lead to desperate thoughts (and potential actions), they can appreciate that there may be more risk in trying to restrain their wives than in accepting more mutual independence within the relationship. It's better to strive for "interdependence," that balance point between stifling dependence and fearful independence, where each appreciates that they are two whole people who choose to come together rather than two halves trying to make a whole.

For more information about how to develop and maintain a solid, lasting relationship, see Making Love Stay.

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