Why Does My Wife Listen to Sad Songs?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 34-year-old man who has been married for three years. My concern is that my wife is always listening to sad songs, especially when I am not there in the house. These songs often involve stories of heartbreak and betrayal. Recently I discussed this with her and she pretended that she is happy with me and that she doesn’t know why she is listening to sad music most of the time.

Our marriage was family arranged, and according to some of our cultural traditions, when the family agrees, their daughter does not have a choice to disagree.

Are my doubts true? Is someone who always listens to sad songs necessarily feeling sad? Does it mean that my wife is not happy with me? Does it mean that she doesn’t love me?

Psychologist’s Reply

Despite the temptation to draw firm conclusions based on some aspect of a person’s behavior, we’d be wise not to. We humans are notorious for having little insight into our own behavior, although that doesn’t stop us from making attributions about why we do what we do. Trying to determine underlying meanings or motives for other people’s behavior is liable to be at least as tricky as having insight into our own behavior.

When it comes to preferences in music, people frequently experience variation across time, and what sounds appealing may vary simply based on whether it’s early or late in the day. Also, much popular music sounds sad and contains lyrics about heartbreak and loss. Sometimes those songs may be appealing not because the lyrics describe our own lives or how we’re feeling, but perhaps because there’s something appealing about the sounds that comprise the songs, or the general feelings they temporarily evoke in us as a listener.

One thing that struck me about your letter is your use of the term “pretended” to describe your wife’s declaration that she is happy with you and does not know why she listens to sad songs. Perhaps there are other signs that she is unhappy, or perhaps the difficulty in believing her assurances lies in your own nagging doubts. Given what you described about the arranged marriage, it sounds reasonable to be concerned that your wife did not feel as though she had much choice in the matter. Indeed, it sounds like the heart of your concern is not what her preference in music means but whether your wife desires to be married to you.

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Why not address your concerns directly with your wife, regardless of the issue of the sad songs? In other words, I encourage you to have an honest discussion in which you explain your concerns about her satisfaction and whether she desires to be married to you. Rather than couch the discussion in terms of the songs, you could simply describe how the fact that your families arranged the marriage leaves you wondering whether she is happy being married to you.

If you desire an honest answer, then it’s important to convey that you will not become angry or retaliate if you do not like what she has to say. If she assures you that she is satisfied being married to you, then it’s up to you to trust that this is the case and focus your energies on being a good husband. By being more direct, and vulnerable, you will have opened the door to more genuine communication that, hopefully, is much more satisfying for both of you.

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