My husband and I have been married for 3 months, and before that were together for 7 years on and off. The whole time we’ve been together, there’s been one major issue: what happens when he goes out with his friends. When we were in college, he played football and was always out with the boys on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes he wouldn’t be home until 5 or 6am. You can imagine where my head goes at that time. After we graduated, I thought the late nights would end, but he still would spend most weekend nights out. Then I convinced myself it would change once we got married – but that didn’t happen. I feel like I’m panicking and am considering ending things with him. I’m 31 and want to have kids soon, but I don’t want to do that if I can’t be sure I’ll get the support I’ll need from him. What should I do?

I can certainly understand your frustration considering the length of time you’ve considered this the “everything’s great except ____” issue. Of course, in the same breath, it’s a testament to the strengths and values of your relationship that you’ve been together for the better part of a decade (most relationships dissolve before the 5-year mark). Your concern is a common one, as women in our culture are socialized to be relational, while men are more socialized to be independent. As a result, women tend to want to connect and are viewed as “needy,” while men feel pressured to retain a sense of autonomy and independence. Another interesting tidbit? During times of stress, women have an additional response to the fight/flight/freeze instinct — one which motivates them to connect, and referred to as “tend and befriend”. Their brains secrete more oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”), urging them to desire closeness and connectedness. However, men in general (not exclusively by any means) are more likely to close off in reaction to this response, creating what’s known as a demand-withdrawal pattern.

Now, if this has been going on for seven years, my guess is you’ve had a conversation about it before. However, it’s common for couples to share a way of communicating about a contentious or chronic issue that gets immediately dismissed. For example, it might be that every time your partner comes home at 5am, you sleep on the couch and give him the cold shoulder for the next day. Sometime in the afternoon when he gets up, you have a disconnected conversation in which he tells you to stop controlling him and points out all the evenings he’s been home that week. You end up feeling powerless, dropping the issue, and slowly connection builds again until things are good. Now, that’s just an example — I have no idea what your “pattern” is, but my guess is that there is a pattern of sorts. It’s important to try to communicate in a different way, so that your partner really hears you, rather than dismissing it right away.

First, I encourage you to explore the issue internally to really understand the impact it has on you, and the impact you believe it has on your relationship. Some questions to consider: What exactly is the issue? What is the emotional impact the issue has on you individually – how does it make you feel when your husband stays out all night? Angry? Hurt? Disrespected? Jealous? Resentful? What message does it send you? That he doesn’t care? That he’s interested in other women? That he’s not committed? What’s the impact it has on your relationship to your partner (e.g. feelings of disconnection, resentment)?

Then, really explore realistic expectations for change. If we have unrealistic expectations, they will not be met, and we’ll continually be disappointed. What would realistic change look like? What would compromise look like? Is there a possible solution that can meet both of your needs, and the needs of the relationship? What are concrete behavioural changes that you’ll be able to measure/see change? Is there anything you can change internally, with regards to your expectations or your perception/interpretations that can be clarified or changed? Is there anything getting in the way of change right now (e.g. resistance, egos, lack of resources, addictions, etc.)?

Finally, as you two continue to transition from young adulthood to middle adulthood, whereupon the relationship dyad becomes primary (as opposed to the peer group), my guess is that you will notice less nights “out with the boys.” That being said, hoping for change is not enough. If you aren’t getting the cooperation you expect from your partner, there might come a point where you need to make a decision as to whether or not this is a “deal-breaker,” or whether or not you can accept this behaviour or find a way of managing your frustration around it. This is not to say that you should take that route; however, when we feel powerless or hopeless towards a behaviour of our partner’s, and don’t want to remove ourselves from the relationship, it is generally less painful to work towards expecting, accepting, and finding a way to negotiate this behaviour rather than struggle against it.

Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC

Although many individuals share similar concerns relating to their relationship advice, no two persons or couples are the same. Romantic Reminders’ Registered Clinical Counsellor, Megan Bruneau, provides professional advice that some might find helpful influencing how they consider approaching their concern; however, her advice is by no means a substitute for couple’s therapy or one-on-one professional help. Megan advises all of her clients to seek relationship support in the form of a trained professional if their situation grants them the opportunity to do so. Additionally, if physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or mental illness are present in your relationship, this advice likely will not be suitable or sufficient for you. Instead, individual and couple therapy are strongly recommended.

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