Ella has always thought of herself as a straightforward and level-headed person. At work she is known for always going straight to the point, and for holding very focused meetings. Her clients love working with her because she never makes excuses, she just get things done. But at home, Ella cannot ask her husband Jim to change a light bulb without turning into a bad-tempered shrew.
Like Ella, most Filipino women find it difficult to express their needs to their husbands. Often, we resort to nagging and whining without saying exactly what we want. According to Maribel Dionisio and Alex Mallari, marriage counselors from the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM), Filipino women are raised from childhood to be submissive and subservient. They are taught to help with household chores, and are praised for serving other members of the family. Rather than being asked what they want, they are used to being told what to do. Because of this upbringing, many Filipino women find it difficult to approach their husbands with their needs and requests. Consequently, when they do ask, their request often come out the wrong way, causing undue friction.
Dionisio and Mallari stress that there are two crucial elements in making a request: how to ask and when to ask. When women ask men to do things in a loving way, they generally are not turned down. Tone of voice is very important; when women demand, rather than ask, men are turned off. Timing is also an important factor, Asking your husband to clean the garage or to hang up a painting when he has just come home from a tired day at the office will not work.
Here are six common stories of how wives rub their husbands the wrong way and what we can do about it:
He’s a slob
Your husband comes home from work heads for the bedroom, takes off his office clothes, and dumps them in a pile on the floor. You are exasperated and start yelling at him to put his clothes in the hamper.
Why this doesn’t work: “He’s been treated like a little boy,” says Dionisio, “and men don’t like that.”
What he has to say: According to Dave, 28, “My thinking is that I will pick up the clothes, but just not right now. I don’t expect anyone to pick up after me.”
What she has to say: For Anna, 27, however, the mess is unbearable. “I hate it when things are not in their proper places. How difficult is it to put things where they belong?”
How to get your way: “You can nicely say, ‘Dear, the hamper is over there’ instead of blowing up,” says Dionisio. “Leave it for a while and then later on, show him how much of a nuisance the pile of clothes is. But don’t pick it up for him.”
He forgets to fix something
Every day for a week, you ask your husband to fix the toilet’s flushing mechanism and he still forgets.
Why this doesn’t work: “Men are problem-oriented. You say it once and they already know it,” says Mallari. “Women, on the other hand, are action-oriented. They want to be sure that they have been heard, so they repeat their request.”
What he has to say: “I will eventually do it as long as she stops bugging me about it,” says Joey, 32. “What I hate is that my wife always expects me to drop whatever I am doing to do what she asks. If I don’t, then she gets mad.”
What she has to say: Lisa, 29, feels that certain things such as house repairs are important and should be attended to immediately. “I don’t understand how Joey can let days go by without noticing that something is wrong with the house.”
How to get your way: According to Dionisio, women should recognize that men will do things at a different pace. If wives become impatient, they can try presenting to their husbands options such as “Will you have time to fix the toilet or shall I call a plumber?” But for simple household repairs, Mallari suggests that wives learn the basics to avoid unnecessary stress on the marriage.
He doesn’t take you out anymore
It’s been months since you and your husband have gone out on a date. You mention a new movie you’d like to see or a new restaurant you’d like to try out, yet he doesn’t get the hint.
Why this doesn’t work: “Men and women do not express themselves in the same way,” says Mallari. “What is a hint to women may just be a casual remark to men.”
What he has to say: “If she really wants to go out, see a movie or something, then she should just ask. I can’t read her mind all the time,” remarks Francis, 27.
What she has to say: “I want it to come from him,” complains Candy, 27. “If I’m the one who asks, I feel we’re going out to dinner only because I want to and not because he wants to spend time with me.”
How to get your way: While it is normal for the wife to prefer that her husband asks her out on a date or initiates quality time together, it is much better that the wife does the asking, say both Mallari and Dionisio. Dionisio further recommends that couples regularly spend two or three hours a week on a “date.”
He always comes home late
For the past week and a half, your husband has been coming home late from work. Although you know that work has been very hectic, you can’t help but feel bad and get angry. One night, you wait up for him and tell him you are upset and that he had better come home early the next day or else…
Why this doesn’t work: According to Dionisio, by giving the husband an ultimatum, he will feel that the wife does not understand and appreciate that he is working hard for his family.
What he has to say: “I already told her that I’m really busy in the office right now,” Ronald, 30, complains. “I’m running after a deadline. It’s not like I’m out drinking with my friends!”
What she has to say: “If we were not married, I would not care if he spent 24 hours of the day at the office,” says Therese, 29. “But the kids and I are here, so he should come home early enough to see us.”
How to get your way: “Getting mad at him for coming home late doesn’t say what you feel,” says Dionisio. “Saying what you feel or want, such as telling him you missed him or that you had planned on having dinner together, gets the message across to him better.”
He overspent again
After reviewing the expenses of the last few months, you and your husband decide to cut down on unnecessary spending on clothes, dinners out, CDs, and the like. Less than a week after making this joint decision, he comes home with a brand-new video camera. You are so shocked and angry that you scream at him for being so stupid as to spend money on such a useless item.
Why this doesn’t work: “Screaming releases your anger,” clarifies Dionisio, “but you will still have to talk about why the agreement was not met.”
What he has to say: “But it was a good deal,” says Dan, 33. “How could I pass it up?”
What she has to say: “I’m sacrificing and keeping my end of the bargain, and he’s buying something expensive without telling me—of course, I’ll be mad,” says Margie, 33.
How to get your way: “When you are both calm and ready to talk and listen, find out what’s behind the spending and talk about the agreement both of you had made. Tell him how you feel about what he did rather than blame him,” advises Dionisio.
He won’t spend time with the kids
Your husband promises the kids he will take the entire family to Enchanted Kingdom. When the children are out of earshot, he hands you cash and tells you to take them because theme parks aren’t his kind of thing. And besides, he says, they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even notice his absence. You are frustrated and angry at him, but remain quiet because you don’t want to disappoint the children.
Why this doesn’t work: “You may have kept the peace and not disappointed the children, but this doesn’t take away your own disappointment,” remarks Mallari.
What he has to say: “I don’t enjoy all these kiddie things,” says Noel, 46. “And the kids won’t have less fun if I am not there.”
What she has to say: “I hate it when he offers to do something and then passes the buck to me,” complains Marla, 38. “He never does things with the kids. He thinks they don’t miss him because they are too busy having fun, but that’s not true. The kids notice—they just don’t know how to tell him since he’s never there.”
How to get your way: Communicating expectations of each other is essential. “Both husband and wife should clarify their roles and family duties,” says Dionisio. “This should not stop after your first year of marriage, but should continue as your family grows.”
His own family background is also important. “Ask him what it was like in his family. Maybe his dad did not spend time with him when he was growing up,” advises Dionisio. “Then tell him what you expect of him as the father of your children, and that you believe parenting is a joint responsibility.”
When wives and husbands realize that misunderstandings and spats do not happen deliberately—that these are actually natural consequences of the differences between the sexes—then we can understand the need for open, friendly, and constant communication, say both Mallari and Dionisio. And it is only by regularly expressing their feelings, ideas, and expectations that couples can make a realistic division of duties. While not hard and fast rules, deciding on who-takes-care-of-who and who-takes-care-of-what are very important in the upbringing of the children, maintenance of the household, handling of finances, and all other areas the couple considers important.
If we invest as much energy on negotiating as we do on nagging, we will have a better chance of working together. Once we learn when and how to phrase our requests, our husbands will begin to respond favorably. Then, there’ll be a lot more loving and a lot less nagging.