Marriage was the second-most mentioned thing when men talked about what was harder in their lives than they had expected, only behind financial pressures. And while men rated “being a great spouse” as the second-most important characteristic they could have, they didn’t feel they were as successful at it as they should be. In fact, this was the greatest disparity in our survey results—70.47% of men rated its importance as 10 out of 10, but only 11.27% of them ranked their success at the same level. And several men commented how difficult it was to keep their wife happy in another part of our survey (get the full article in our magazine by purchasing a copy or subscribing), and if a man thinks his wife isn't happy, that can make him feel like a bad husband.
“Men do feel responsible for their wife’s happiness,” says Dr. Jonathan Swinton, a marriage and family therapist. “If a man’s wife is struggling and he tries to do something to buoy her up, when she doesn’t feel better, he gets frustrated with her, he gets frustrated with himself, and he gets frustrated with the marriage.” Swinton says one of the best ways for a man to make his wife happy is to just listen to her.
Which brings us to this:
Men rated “being a good listener” in the middle of the list of characteristics important for a Mormon man, and they rated their success at it exactly the same: 7th of 15 characteristics. However, women find being a good listener to be one of the most important qualities in the men in their life, putting it at #3—only after being a good parent and spouse.
But while 90.23% of women gave “being a good listener” the highest or second-highest rating possible in importance, only 41.22% of men rated their success at being a good listener on that same level. “A big thing I talk to a lot of men about is their tendency to try to solve the problems,” says Dr. Jonathan Swinton, a marriage and family therapist. “Listening and validating goes a whole lot further. Most of the time, what the woman wants, as least initially, is just somebody to listen and understand where she’s at.”
Though men admit they could be better listeners, they still want women to tell them what they need. “I really want to be helpful, but I need you to tell me if you want me to help (or just listen) and how you think I can best be helpful,” wrote one man. Others wanted us to remind women that men aren’t telepathic: “I can’t read your mind” was a common statement.
Parenting vs. Marriaging
Part of the problem may also have to do with one surprising statistic we found in our survey results: men and women alike rated "being a good parent" higher in importance in both themselves and their spouses than they did "being a great spouse."
“Parents in the Church I think perceive this idea that putting family first means putting kids first. And it’s easy to do,” says Swinton. He cautions against doing so, however.
“There have been several studies that have shown people who put their kids first are worse parents than people who put their spouse first,” he says. “Across the board, the research has shown that those who put their marriages as their top priority, they’re the better parents. They’re better employees; they have better mental health; they have better physical health; they make more money; they live longer—on and on.”
But Swinton says that doesn’t mean spouses always need to do everything with each other instead of the kids. “It means you partition out moments and activities and rituals and traditions with your spouse that you never miss,” he explains. “Those things may only take five percent as much time as it takes to spend time with your kids. But if you always sacrifice that five percent, the marriage is going to struggle.”
Several men acknowledged that it was a struggle to spend quality time with their wives. One wrote, “I have four children and am doing all that I can to establish positive and effective relationships with my three girls and son. On top of all that, I cannot neglect my wife, who is sometimes left to ‘wait in line’ for my attention.” Conversely, another man pointed out, “I should be as important to you as the kids.”
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