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Young Man Lost in Thought

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How did I get here? Five years into my marriage and the woman I still dream of spending the rest of my life with has told me she’s lost respect for me as a husband and has put in me in the “friend zone.”

My wife’s honesty cuts deep and brings worries to my spirit. In her own words, she recently told me I’m “God-fearing,” “loyal,” “supportive,” “attractive,” “nice,” and “a good father.” Yet when we sit down to talk, she tells me I’ve never been the person that she needs. She says her love bank is empty, she deserves more, she refuses to settle, and she should have demanded more from me from the very beginning. She tells me she needs someone to take care of her in a way that I apparently never have. I try, honestly I do, but that seems to be a part of the problem — that doing the things she needs is hard work for me, and not a natural part of who I am as a person.

The painful way my wife treats me now doesn’t seem like the woman I married. I imagine, like many couples, the extra time spent at home due to the impact the coronavirus has had on society has forced us to have conversations that confront our relationship’s most profound issues. Now, as a married man in my mid-30s, I find myself still wondering, what exactly am I supposed to do to be a good man and husband worthy of respect?

The past month has been one of the most challenging of my life. I still have my full-time job, but it now feels like I’m on a dating reality show every day that I sign on to work. With frequent announcements of lay-offs, cut-backs, and changes, I feel like I’ve received a glass of champagne from Ray J after every meeting as I watch new co-workers lose their jobs each day, and I advance to survive for at least one more. I work in an industry which has taken a tremendous hit due to the coronavirus pandemic and I can’t help but feel like I’m one of the final crew members trying to prevent the Titanic from sinking. The work is overwhelming and my salary has already gotten trimmed– twice. Still, after a decade of service to the best company I’ve ever worked for, I’m trying to do everything I can to prevent it from dying.

Shortly after I began working at my current job, I met an amazing woman that would eventually become my wife. Things seemed to flow so well when we were together. In my eyes, our relationship was amazing. After more than two years of dating, I proposed, and a little more than one year later, we were married. Around that time, several of my friends also got married. We were all in that late 20s to early 30s time of our lives when society seems to tell us marriage is the thing we should do next. An older mentor of mine used to always tell me: “You and your friends will all start to get married around the same time, and then eventually, one-by-one, most of them will get divorced. I never understood why so many marriages fail. Maybe most people are more in love with the idea of being married than they are with the idea of being a good husband or good wife, I always thought. So often, people look for someone else to complete them when they aren’t happy with themselves, which I actually still believe is a huge contributing factor to the high divorce rate. I never believed you could expect another flawed person to make you whole and neither did my wife. So, regardless of the statistics, that wasn’t going to be us. We weren’t going to be one of those couples with a failed or loveless marriage.

Yet here I am in that tough place. I still love my wife as much as I did the day I read my wedding vows to her. On that day, I stared into her eyes and told her I would give her my unconditional love every day, and I meant that. In return, my bride said to me that she would “take me for who I was, then and in the future.” But my wife’s tone these days is different. I can’t help but notice a lot of things drastically changed after the birth of our first child together more than two years ago. As a man, I have no idea what it’s like to be a woman and give birth to a child. I can’t even imagine going through the physical, emotional and psychological effects that childbirth can bring. But because she doesn’t seem open to the possibility of postpartum depression, I’m left to wonder if it’s something else. Though there has never been any infidelity in the relationship from either side, I question is there someone else in her ear that she thinks will make her happier? In the darkest moments I ask, was I never good enough? And if not, why did she marry me in the first place?

During one of our talks, my wife said that I missed the mark on my gift-giving and planning several times in our relationship, one of which left her feeling heartbroken on our second-anniversary. She said I don’t make her feel special, I don’t do a good enough job taking care of her car, making sure she has extra money, and I don’t try to sweep her off her feet. When I hear these things, everything just sounds like it’s all about money. I don’t like keeping score, but we both earn close to the same income, amounts that I once would’ve thought of as good money, but a rich man I am not. We split most of our bills, and while my wife has spent more money decorating our home and purchasing clothes for our child, I’ve contributed more to things like maintaining the yard, pest control, and trying to invest and save for a rainy day. Before the birth of our child, we still found plenty of time and money for fun, now it seems it’s never enough.

I’ve always tried to show my wife love and respect, but I’ve never been the type of man to try to buy a woman’s affection. What I can say is that my income has increased substantially since we’ve met; however, as our household income has grown, so have expenses, expectations, and life’s complications. When my wife mentions that I don’t sweep her off of her feet, I think about a few things. Yes, I could do a better job, and yes I want to do better; however for her to withdraw respect and intimacy from me because she says I’m lacking in this area is very concerning. It upsets me thinking how everything I’ve done in our relationship is now only viewed as something I’m just supposed to do – something regular. I think of the house we bought together and how we’ve traveled and seen some of the most beautiful places in the world together overseas. I think about the wedding ring on her finger that cost at least 20 times more than the one on mine, but you can’t bring up things like that, right?

When my wife told me to step-up before, I stepped up, at least by my definition, and got another job. But I also told her we can’t have it all; there’s a trade-off for everything. The extra work I began doing before the coronavirus pandemic cut off that source of income required a large number of hours that, quite frankly, didn’t match up to the amount of money that came in return. I was often left exhausted and it cut into our time together, but we had more money, right? It now feels like no matter what I do, the standard keeps changing. Now I face the challenge of being called to step up again, be a man, do a better job taking care of my wife. It’s been hard to control the anxiety around my marital issues while at the same time suffering a pay cut, temporary loss of my second job, and the dilemma of possibly losing my employment altogether at any given moment. My wife is still amazing to me. Yet as a man, the idea of possibly needing to rely on her to carry the family financially, even if it’s for a short period of time, is a terrifying, yet very real possibility, if the Coronavirus continues to tear down the industries that pay me.

I still love my wife as much as I ever did and I will fight for my marriage. But as much as I love my wife, I don’t want to compromise my values and self-esteem to be loved and respected by her the way I deserve to. I also don’t want to be in a relationship where I feel like my value is based solely on what I can provide financially. Although I have much higher goals for myself financially, I don’t want my value as a man attached to them. I also don’t want to do things to receive something in return. I don’t want to trade money for sex, and I don’t want to have to fight for my wife’s respect.

As I find myself at a crossroads, fighting for my marriage, my career, and my dignity, in a weird way the coronavirus epidemic is providing my wife and I more time to deal with our issues head-on. I hope one day I’ll be able to look back as this situation as just another life obstacle that made me and my marriage stronger. As for the moment, I must admit that I’m just a man trying my best to hold everything together without showing my fear of what lies ahead.

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