Fox On Sex

When your mate turns into your mother

There's a fine line between caring for your husband and turning into his mother.  Dr. Laura Berman tells Dr. Manny how to fix a relationship when your mate becomes your mama


Nothing is sexier than a confident woman who embraces her own strength and power. However, if you are married to an alpha woman, you know all too well that it can sometimes be hard to get her to relax and let you take care of her, both inside and outside the bedroom.

A marriage to an alpha woman has its own unique set of struggles. On the one hand, she gets everything done and your house runs like a well-oiled machine. The dishes are washed, the kids’ homework is completed, the bake sale project is prepared, and on top of all that, she’s also organized her notes for the next day’s meeting. But in between all the scheduling and organizing and commanding, sex and romance can often slip through the cracks.

This is especially true if your mate channels her “take-charge” attitude toward you as well. It is not uncommon for women to start treating their partners the same way they treat their kids—as they're ordering their children to pick up their toys, it’s all too easy to use that same tone and command when telling their husband to pick up his dirty socks. And, after all, this is how many women were raised and socialized to behave.

We see shows like King of Queens, Still Standing, and Everybody Loves Raymond where the husband is nothing more than a hapless fool and the wife is the intelligent, hard-working commanding force who directs the entire house. Left to his own devices, the husband would barely be able to keep the kids alive, let alone feed them and clothe them and get them off to school.

Images like this become part of our social currency and part of the way that women and men think of their roles as wives and husbands. We start to believe that this is how spouses “should” act, and we begin to expect men to be helpless in the home and women to do it all. It’s easy to see how this can become very problematic.

For one thing, the woman is exhausted and overworked, meaning she has no time to take care of herself and no time for her sex life. She doesn’t have time to go to the gym or hit the salon or spend time with her friends. Suddenly, she no longer feels sexy and desirable and that means her sex drive is going to take a huge hit.

For another thing, the man begins to feel resentful. He gets tired of being constantly infantilized and talked down to. Men want to feel like strong, desirable mates, not like one of the kids, so it is no wonder that their sex drive takes a hit when their wife treats them like a helpless child. And, when she does so, it is hard for the husband to find her desirable—because instead of being a lover, she now suddenly comes across as a Mother Hen, constantly nagging him to pick up his laundry. Not very sexy for either partner!

So what’s the solution? First, the communication issues have to be resolved. Talk to your partner about using a different tone of voice when she addresses you. This might even need to be resolved in therapy if it has been going on for years. Second, you have to step up and make sure that your wife isn’t doing it all. If she’s always cleaning house and taking care of the kids while you watch the game, it’s only reasonable that she is going to get frustrated. Take on your share of the responsibility around the house and give her a break so that she has time to go to the gym and take care of herself. In doing so, she will feel more connected to herself and more in the mood for sex, so it’s a win-win for you!

Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."