Marriage, men, and mother syndrome

If you supervise your husband like one of your kids, you’ve got problems

When you lover acts like your mother

Roy Botterell/Corbis

Most unhappy marriages are unhappy for the same reason. The wife is angry and complains that she has to do everything for her lazy husband. The husband accuses his wife of nagging and bossing him around. Nothing he does is good enough for her, and she’s not affectionate the way she used to be. If this sounds familiar, help is here in the form of an in-depth guidebook called How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother: The Answers to Becoming Partners Again.

The book, written by Sara Dimerman, a couples counsellor from Thornhill, Ont., and J.M. Kearns, the Ontario-born bestselling author of Why Mr. Right Can’t Find You, helps couples identify the signs and symptoms of “mother syndrome.” One of the signs? “Absurdly, you have to break up fights between him and the ‘other’ kids,” they write. Symptoms include loss of sex drive. “There may be plenty of sexual sap running through your branches . . . but it isn’t going to be directed at him. The slacker who doesn’t come through as a partner and needs to be supervised like a kid—that isn’t the person who’s going to light your fire.”

When a wife no longer wants sex, she often sends anti-erotic signals to her husband to turn him off. In a conference call last week, Dimerman confessed that the turnoffs listed in the book spring from her own experiences as a married mother of two kids. “Yes, I do have to admit it,” she laughs. The signals include sitting on the toilet with the door open, picking your nose, and agreeing to take a bath with your man and then pushing your hair into a plastic shower cap just before climbing in.

“And I immediately agreed with it,” Kearns chimes in on the other line from his home in New Jersey. When Kearns first heard about Dimerman’s book idea, he felt guilty thinking about some of the women he’s lived with. In the foreword, he explains. “I thought about the many times I’ve watched a woman doing something that benefited me—preparing a complicated meal or scrubbing gunk out of a sink—and I’ve thought, ‘I should be doing that. Why aren’t I doing that? I should take over right now . . . No, maybe not.’”

The authors theorize that husbands would help more if wives would stop controlling the way in which a task must be performed to meticulous specifications.

“Don’t redo tasks that he has made a good-faith effort to do,” they advise. For instance, if he makes the bed—but not to your liking—leave it be, they urge. If he does the grocery shopping and buys parsley instead of cilantro, don’t freak out. “We aren’t suggesting that dialling down the anger will always achieve miraculous results. But when a spouse is expecting hostile behaviour, the lack of it can make a pretty dramatic impression.”

Another contributing factor to the “mother syndrome” may be that most men don’t realize marriage doesn’t mean household chores get cut in half. “To get married is to actually sign a contract to work harder, not to slack off and take it easy,” they write.

Take the thirtysomething bachelor who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment. He’s never scrubbed a sink with Comet or deep-cleaned a stove. He changes linens when he thinks a woman might stay over. Then he meets a “house-proud” woman who dusts, vacuums and scrubs. The bachelor’s first shock after marriage is finding there’s “a whole lot of cleaning goin’ on that didn’t exist in his former life,” the authors write. “There isn’t twice as much laundry. There’s five times as much. In every area of homemaking, his 50 per cent share of what needs doing is greater than 100 per cent of what he used to do.” The man who thinks he can ease off and enjoy a cushy deal once he has a new woman in his life is sadly mistaken, warn the authors.

The book includes step-by-step tips on how to reach a new agreement with a husband so he helps out more, freeing his wife from the mothering role. Tread carefully during negotiations, they urge. A wife might start by saying, “I don’t like the way I treat you. I nag you. I guilt-trip you.” When telling him you’re unhappy, make sure it’s a plea for help, not an accusation. “Tell him, ‘The joy has gone out of things.’ Say, ‘This isn’t who we are.’ ”




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Marriage, men, and mother syndrome

  1. Nice to see the headline changed for the internet. Too bad the magazine proof-readers didn’t catch the big bold mistake in their magazine. This same article came out this week as “when you lover acts like your mother”. Just reading the headline should make the mistake obvious to all but the illiterate. Not like you Maclean’s. We must try at least to keep up the standards.

  2. The assumption in this article appears to be that the wife’s opinion on housework is the correct one, and that the husband is just freeloading. It is more likely that the husband just thinks that this level of cleaning is a waste of time – for both of them. The husband doesn’t necessarily think “it’s the wife’s job” but that it’s nobody’s job: it doesn’t need to be done.

    • Over cleaning is a waste of time when it takes too much time out of the couple.
      I think we are too poisoned with religious guilt to have really happy marriages : a only serious as society family expects, having no fun at all, focusing 100% of time on cleaning and parenting is a dead couple.

  3. One of the things my husband had to learn was to stop supervising/criticizing the way I loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, hung up the laundry, etc. He’s a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes my eagerness to just get it done bumped up against his concern that everything be done exactly right. We came to a truce a long time ago, because any reasonable adult can see that it’s a bad idea to treat one’s spouse as incompetent. I’m actually surprised to see such a basic idea stretched out into an article.

    My question is: why is this only presented in terms of the wife making sure the husband’s housework is good enough?

    • What you said is very interesting and I think the very problem couples have is that when they are not married there are less issues, but then when married there is a lot of pressure from society, parents and religious beliefs as well for the couple to become “serious”. This pushes the spouses to be perfect (perfectly boring I dare say), to be “super parents” investing 100% of the couple time in the kids and nothing for other couple actives deemed as “less serious”. This surely kills the couple really quickly. A couple needs also fun and sex to exist but from our Christian education we are taught young that it’s bad.

      I think for a marriage to be successful the spouses must create their marriage and not just use the “model” they were give by society, religion or education. It should be a marriage where the couple keeps time for itself instead of trying conforming to a model not good for them.

  4. Personally I don’t understand what the big deal is. Doing laundry is pointless: 8 months later you just have to do it all over again.

  5. this is just a litany of outdated stereotypes about men and women and how they behave in relationships

  6. Ah, so it’s all the man’s fault. Good to have gotten that in writing.

    • Billiam Smith, are you perhaps my wife hiding behind a secret male ID? That’s exactly what she would say if she were here.

  7. LOL, perhaps I should stop “fathering” my wife too much then? Where’s my book?

  8. “The book includes step-by-step tips on how to reach a new agreement with a husband so he helps out more, freeing his wife from the mothering role.”

    The problem is that women are raised since childhood that their ultimate goal is to be a mother and nothing a mother and that she must be like Mother- Mary. And boys are aslo raised with a non-working in reality image of marriage. It’s like all our education, society and religious educations taught us that when marry the fun must stop.

    But a couple not keeping some time for fun and sex, and using 100% of it’s time in being serious can survive long

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