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Marriage & Conversation: Some Rules for Men.

by Dear Jon
January 29, 2002

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Sort 113_Dear Jon-Marriage & Conversation: Some Rules for Men. ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Okay, how does one tell his wife that he needs some time alone?

Someone who asked the question


Dear Someone,

Women understand that the rules change as circumstances change. Men do not understand this. What men discover is that, for some, reason, it is easy to have a conversation about time alone on some occasions, whereas at other times the conversation will turn into tears for no reason, or a big fight.

For two employed spouses with no kids, the conversation may actually be easiest. In this case the wife may be as ennervated and stressed as the husband, and want to create personal space for herself.

If the husband is working and the wife is not, and the wife has limited human contact, the husband's need for time alone will not match her need. This might turn into the "You never take me ANYWHERE" argument. If the wife is working and the husband is not, and the husband has limited human contact, but says "I need some time alone," this will profoundly irritate the wife, particularly if she wanted to talk about her difficult day with him. This leads to the "You're always alone anyway" retort, which, depending on the empathy in the relationship, may also deteriorate into aspersions regarding the man's zest for life and his employability. That is typically not a humor-filled conversation.

If the husband and wife have young kids, time alone is only a wish, the expression of which will only be enormously frustrating to everyone involved, since it has nothing to do with reality.

Parents of adolescent kids find that their teenagers want to be left alone and want to leave their parents alone, if shipping parents to Siberia is not an option. Dads who feel guilty about being uninvolved with their families often become a very nerdy and humiliating presence in the lives of their teens at about the age of 13. Then they give up when the kid is about 16. Around this time, wives will be expressing the need to be alone every now and then.

This is when husbands feel like nobody loves them anymore. They will experience a regression in fashion taste as, in their emotional isolation, they begin to exhibit such rash, unwise behaviors as dressing themselves. Black socks will be worn with shorts. They will try to mix brown with gray. They will develop an affinity for hair-pieces and polyester and cowboy boots. These are just cries for attention. As any 14 year-old girl will tell you, "Dad" is always the goofiest looking person at his daughter's eighth grade graduation.

Empty-nest marriages work best when both the husband and wife have hobbies. In this case the request is communicated by the husband saying, "If you need me, I'll be in the garage." He may be surprised at the amount of time his wife leaves him there.

Business trips and jobs involving travel are sensitive areas. It is not good for any husband to come home after 2 weeks of infrastructure research in Thailand and say, "I need to be alone."

The most important thing for all husbands to remember, is that their wives want to feel like they are the most important people in the husband's life. The request for time alone must be worded in such a way as to communicate the essential need the husband has for his wife.

There are some rules binding on all husbands at all times.

1. Time alone is never a right. It is a privilege granted only to the deserving when and only when the wife also would appreciate space as well.

2. Never, ever ask your wife for time alone if you have not completed the chores she has assigned you, whether those chores were assigned as specific requests in terms of a list on the refrigerator, or if those chores were assigned only in her head.

3. Your wife will have suggestions for you to occupy the hours of solitude she has graciously granted. These suggestions may include fixing a faucet, trimming hedge, or cleaning the oven. Or, she may recommend an exercise regimen to take care of the spare tire around your waist. All of these are, to her, "great ideas." Fail to comply at your own risk.

4. The only thing potentially more dangerous than the "time alone" question is the "Going out with the guys" question.

5. Never, never, never, break a date with your wife for the sake of "needing time alone." Basically, a "date" is anything that you planned to do with her in advance, or that she planned in advance but may have neglected to inform you about, or that was planned by her and her mother in a phone conversation 3 weeks earlier while you were reading the newspaper but you should have been paying attention to your wife's half of the conversation, or that she planned in advance, such as a candelight dinner with your favorite meat-loaf, as a "surprise."

6. The following days of the year are not times to request "time alone:" Her birthday, your birthday, birthdays of your kids or her parents, your wedding anniversary, the anniversary of your first kiss, the anniversary of your engagement, Valentine's Day, Easter or Passover, Mother's Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Week-end, the entire month of December.

7. It is safest to "find" time alone without asking, typically by getting up earlier in the morning than she does. She will not begrudge you that, and might even respect you a little bit.

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