Can Wives Also Be Friends?

They tell us about men in their own words — what they feel deep inside. Underlying each of these vignettes, though not stated explicitly, is a feeling that many men share that their wives are not really their friends. Men’s sadness and disappointment is palpable when they talk about feeling alone and unsupported in their marriages because of this missing aspect of connection, common in each of these examples. For men, a “friend” means someone who likes you, is happy for you when you make it, and who encourages you in your career and personal goals because in spite of all else, they really do want you to be happy.

Research on marriage has found that celebrating your partner’s success is an essential ingredient of a good marriage, and actually more predictive of a good marriage than being supportive when your partner is unhappy.

At face value, it seems as if it should easy to believe in your man and his triumphs. So then what got in the way of these women recognizing the good and rejoicing with their husbands in those events that their men felt to be positive and inspiring?

Promoting your man and encouraging his personal development requires allowing him some autonomy – which means recognizing and fostering the aspects of your man and his life -independent of you- that bring him joy, and giving them room to grow. Encouraging your man’s personal development and successes requires not only love, but courage and letting go because it can feel risky to the relationship. In order to take this leap of faith, women need to feel a sense of security and security within themselves within the relationship.

Women such as Karen, Josh’s fiancee, who feel insecure because of their own psychological issues, act possessive to manage their own unacknowledged anxieties, such as fear of separation and abandonment, or to mask emptiness in their own lives. They may interpret any sign of separation as betrayal, such as when men reject a request or express differing feelings, interests or opinions.

Other women who feel insecure may also unconsciously hold on too tight but may be reacting to legitimate relationship issues affecting trust and security, such as a past affair or other dishonesty. In all of these situations, women may react by trying to hold their partners back, keep them down or punish them, in the hope that this will secure them. Not surprisingly, this approach usually backfires, leaving men feeling trapped and wanting to break out, and limiting what they share with their wives.

Steve’s wife, Sonya, was competitive with him. She treated him as if she did not believe in him, often putting him down. This ultimately created a profound feeling of hurt in Steve and led him to doubt their marriage. Though from the start Sonya challenged him to be as successful as she was, and claimed to need this from him. When he did match and even surpass her, she refused to acknowledge his accomplishments and did not seem happy for him.

Both Sonya and Karen experienced their husband’s outside interests and successes as taking away from them and compromising their husband’s devotion to them. Sonya’s resentment about feeling less taken care of in the marriage increased over time as Steve became healthier and for the first time considered his own needs. This resentment contributed to her jabs and muted reactions to his success, reactions which existed all along but over time were exacerbated, as well as experienced differently by Steve.