Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coaching Lessons: How to Manage Your Spouse

Nothing in this life is quite as difficult as managing other people. Most of us have all we can handle managing ourselves. When it comes to organizing a group, motivating a team, or just getting another person to do his best... we often come up short.

Managing is so difficult that the business world pays very high salaries to those who are very good at it.

Yet, it would be a mistake to imagine that this skill only pertains to the shop floor or the dugout or the board room. When it comes to marriage, it is important that one understands the importance of management skills.

Take a specific problem, one that was asked of Emily Yoffe, who writes the estimable Dear Prudence column at Slate. Link here.

Yesterday a man wrote to Prudence because he had reached his limit with his wife. He proclaimed her a wonderful wife, a stay-at-home mother caring for two small children, who had one conspicuous flaw. Her personal appearance was a shambles. She wore ratty gym clothes all the time: tee shirts, gym shorts, hoodies, jeans. That was it, no matter the occasion.

Her husband was embarrassed when she accompanied him to a restaurant wearing gym shorts and a tee shirt. She went to Christmas mass in jeans and a hoodie. And she recentlly attended a wedding dressed in a sweater set and khakis.

He has tried to talk to her. He has encouraged her to go shopping. He has been more than willing to pay for whatever she wants to buy.

But every time he brings up the subject she becomes defensive and emotional. He is at his wit's end.

What should he do? How would he handle the problem if it were a management issue? We understand that he cannot impose a dress code on his wife.

It helps to know what the problem is. Has his insistence made her appearance a point of personal pride, to the point that she is offended by the implication that she, an adult woman, does not know how to address herself? Might he do better to follow the example of Prudence's husband, and simply not notice?

Not noticing might well be taken as a vote of confidence in a wife's ability to dress herself. Becoming a fashion critic is not necessarily the best approach. Besides, red blooded husbands are supposed to be thinking of getting their wives out of their clothes, not the other way around. Has he never considered that gym shorts are sexy because they come off so easily.

It may seem counterintuitive, but a man can tell his wife that she is beautiful no matter what she is wearing. Between "You look beautiful" and "I hate what you're wearing" the first will likely be a more powerful motivator.

But, I didn't need to tell you that.

One should mention that the wife in question should be checked out by a physician. I am not qualified to judge whether or not her behavior signifies an underlying medical condition, but there is no harm in having a checkup.

She seems to be suffering from some form of depression, perhaps postpartum, but that is a medical issue, one that needs to be identified as such before it can be treated.

That much said, Prudence recommended retail therapy before psychotherapy. I concur. She suggested that a woman who has lost her shopping skills might need the help of a personal shopper to guide her through the miles of fashion offerings on display in a department store.

This might certainly help, though, if the issue of personal appearance has become too fraught, the wife might easily see through the ruse. I would add that going shopping with a friend might also be helpful if this woman does not trust her own judgment any more.

If the wife rejects the offer of a personal shopper there are other ways to address the problem.

Let us imagine that this woman's appearance is saying something. Perhaps she is overwhelmed by the amount of work required to take of small children and a household. If that is true, then perhaps the services of a cleaning lady or a baby sitter would be more welcome than a gift certificate.

Beyond the virtue of having someone who will spell her in her daily labors, perhaps having a second adult around the house during the day will allow her a social connection.

Note also, that if she has a babysitter she might be able to find time to start an exercise program. Considering that aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to treat depression, this might also provide a mental health benefit.

So, after hiring household help, the husband should either buy a stairmaster, enroll them both in a gym, or hire a trainer for his wife.

If you would like a more bizarre suggestion, try this. The next time she decides to go out to a restaurant dressed down in a tee shirt and shorts, a dutiful husband might also dress in a tee shirt and shorts. That way they would both look like they are in costume, and, better yet, they would look like a couple.

If he dresses up while she dresses down, they will not look like they are together.

A man who is truly appreciative of the effort his wife expends on a daily basis caring for children and home has another way to show it. That would be: treat her to a day at a spa. He might even make it a spa day for the two of them.

A day's worth of pampering, including a new haircut, a massage, a manicure, and treatments with a variety of lotions and potions... might well give her back her sense of being something other than a household drudge.

If she recoils at the idea of a day at the spa, why not make it a weekend in Vegas. Perhaps as an anniversary gift. Vegas is full of spas, shops, shows, and other sybaritic delights.

You may not want to think that this woman is crying out for help. She might just be crying out for some adult companionship and some over-the-top pampering.


Robert Pearson said...

Thanks so much for the reminder, I am going to put some of these suggestions into practice!

Robert Pearson said...

I would also like to point your readers to this piece in CIO Magazine:

IT People Are From Mars: Why Your Marriages Are From Hell or Headed There

There, you also made some excellent points that are applicable to all people, not just IT executives.