Fray began by sending Tom a questionnaire, which contained questions such as: What is your greatest struggle or source of frustration? During their phone session, which Tom taped and I listened to later, Fray talked to him as a friend would. He made jokes. He occasionally swore. He listened as Tom relayed his version of the dishes argument, which ended with “she tends to overreact.”
“I did the same thing,” Fray said. “But when I would tell my wife that she was overreacting about something, it became about me — about my perception of her reaction. I couldn’t see that my approval or agreement was not needed or requested.”
He gently suggested that Tom first practice not judging my requests. “Instead of listening to their partner, digesting the information and caring about why they feel bad, I’ve found that guys invest their energy in one of three ways,” Fray said. “They dispute the facts of the story their partner just told; agree with the facts, but believe their partner is overreacting; or defend their actions by explaining why they did it. In all three cases, his partner’s feelings are invalid.”
During their hour and a half session, he and Tom ran through exercises around noticing and heading off invisible labor. A running theme was: What do you think this issue looks like from your wife’s perspective? What are some ways, Fray asked Tom, to be proactive with family logistics, such as meals? “You have dinner every night, so you know dinner needs to be prepared. It shouldn’t come as a shock, right?” Are there any visual reminders you can use to help you remember to clean up? How can you pitch in without being asked? The sexiest thing a man can say to his partner, he said, is “I got this.”
Afterward, Tom said that he saw the value in their session. “It was kind of like the organic conversations you have at a bar, or watching your kids’ soccer game, or something,” he said. What was even more effective, he admitted, were Fray’s tales of sobbing for months after his divorce, not caring if he lived or died.
“I tell guys, ‘Dude, I’m not sure if you checked the calendar lately, but it’s not 1960 anymore,” Fray said. “Step up and show up.” He will keep spreading his message, one client at a time. “I tell my story,” he said, “so that maybe other people won’t get divorced like me.”
Jancee Dunn is the author of “How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids.”
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