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February 01, 2006

Improving Marriages For Men

Scott Halztman is a psychologist and Brown University professor who studies marriage and men in relationships. The article Marriage success possible if men bring work skills home looks into advice he gives men about marriage. He has a new book out, called "The Secrets Of Happily Married Men". Haltzman's suggestions as described by the author of the article are boxed. My comments follow.

1. Make Marriage Your Job.

Premise: Guys have skills and habits developed at work that can be successfully applied to marriage.

Details: If men are to accept marriage as a job, they need a job description. Here's Haltzman's: Love, honor and respect her; be sexually and emotionally faithful; listen without being judgmental; support her ambitions; try to understand how she is different emotionally; be honest at all times and keep promises; share in child care and domestic work; be as attentive, fun-loving and adoring as you were during courtship; and be affectionate. This is no part-time gig.

How disappointing, viewing marriage as a job. Lots of people view their jobs as drudgery, and it would be a mistake to view marriage that way. I wish he would have chosen a different gimmick to describe how to improve your marriage. Still, I understand why he has chosen to take on the issue in this manner. Many men find their identities through their jobs. This article is using job language to speak to men, but I feel it is limited by doing that. Maybe the next time he can compare marriage to how guys treat their cars. Check the state of the marriage every 5,000 miles like they get the oil, oil filter, and air filter changed in their cars. Give their marriages a tune-up. Take on more of the household chores and childrearing with the same gusto they use when washing and waxing their cars, and cleaning the inside of their cars with Turtle Wax Leather Cleaner. Lots of guys can identify with their cars. Yeah, it's a stereotype, but such an article would have an interesting gimmick.

Despite those points, his advice is sound. The key to a good marriage - or any good relationship, for that matter - is to be attentive to your partner. Communicate. While I agree that partners should be honest with each other, most people have a circle of privacy that should be kept private. I believe that circle of privacy should be respected. Fathers must do more, though, than "shared in child care and domestic work". For them to do this to the extend mothers do it, they must be willing to make sacrifices. Primary caregiving moms give up salary, opportunity, and career perks to properly raise their children, and those sacrifices will affect them for the rest of their lives. Despite taking on those costs, most married mothers work outside the home. The Whirlpool study found that "...in 55% of married households, wives bring in half to all of the family's income." I believe that men will live more well-rounded and enjoyable lives if they properly devote themselves to their families.

2. Know Your Wife.

Premise: You think you know your wife, but you haven't really been paying attention. Do your research.

Details: Haltzman urges guys to do what guys do: Collect data. Observe her in mundane situations where she reveals herself: at the sidelines at a kid's game; at a restaurant or coffee shop; and before, during and after sex. Here is where you will discover who she really is, not who she says she is. For detail and accuracy, Haltzman recommends creating a "Daily Observation Chart" (!) to record her activities. He appears to be serious about this.

Your wife is not a Powerpoint chart that can be broken down into specific boxes. Don't treat her that way. I think that his main point is to pay attention to your wife when she is not focused on you (not counting before and after sex). She is an individual human being, not an extension of her spouse. She is her own, unique, person, and she deserves to be treated that way.

3. Be Home Now.

Premise: Guys evolved as prowlers and hunters, not home-tenders. But to make a marriage work, you've got to spend a lot of time around the cave.

Details: "To... build a lasting marriage, you have to be there, in person, day by day, Mr. Regular, at home, in the building - and that's that." And why don't more guys do this? Haltzman says men need to be honest about why they often leave the cave, returning only to feed, sleep and lie with their mate: to avoid conflict, loss of control, domestic responsibilities, intimacy or...having to grow up. But if men are sufficiently present at home - and attentive while there - the payoff is "direct and bountiful... love, friendship, support, emotional nourishment, peace of mind, fun, intimacy and sexual satisfaction."

How much is a man willing to give up in the work sector to do right by his family? As I have already stated on this blog repeatedly, mothers are most often the primary caregivers of their children. They tend to take on a "second shift" of housework that men don't take on. Mothers also take on opportuntity costs, salary losses, career losses, and life costs that are necessary for taking on the main responsibility of the care of their children. Are men willing to take on these same costs? These costs cannot be regained. Not many men are willing to take them on. Even if they aren't willing to take on those kinds of losses, they can still be important and vital members of their families. What they need to do is to acknowledge the sacrifices their wives have made in order to care for their families, even if their wives work outside the home. I agree that the benefits of focusing more on their homes will only benefit men. They will end up with a more well-rounded and pleasant life if they spend more of their time and energy on their families. The Timberlawn study found that the main factor in helping children grow up to become healthy and happy adults is the quality of the relationship between the parents.

4. Expect Conflict; Deal With It.

Premise: Fights are inevitable, but you can control them.

Details: "You can...stop the mounting tensions in their tracks," Haltzman says, not by doing what guys are inclined to do (dig in and fight to the death) but by using various higher cerebral strategies. For instance, take advantage of a woman's natural inclination to nurture by softening your tone. And stymie escalation by not letting emotion drive something you say or do.

"Woman's natural inclination to nurture"? Women aren't hard-wired to nurture. Nurturing is learned. I'm not an essentialist. This suggestion is rather stereotypical and vague. Married people have disagreements just like anyone else. It's how you handle those disagreements that will determine the strength of your relationship.

5. Learn to Listen.

Premise: Listening does not come naturally to guys, who are more inclined to act. But it can be learned, to great benefit.

Details: Stand still while she talks. Turn off the TV. Look directly at her. Use verbal nods to show that you're listening. If it's important, seek clarification. If not, just let her talk.

More essentialist talk - listening is something that both men and women can learn to do. I wonder what kind of man Haltzman is talking to if he paces while she talks or focuses on the TV when she's trying to talk to him? That kind of behavior is learned. I think he was more on the right track when he told men to listen to their wives. Actually take in what she is saying and respond to her in kind. Communication is not a one-way street. Communication is key in any good relationship.

6. Aim to Please.

Premise: "In the workplace...men are masters of relationship-building." So: Bring this skill home.

Details: Treat your wife at least as well as you would a valuable client, co-worker or employee: Greet her warmly, see what she needs and how you can help. Do thoughtful favors, anticipate desires and offer gifts as appropriate.

What kind of man treats his clients better than his wife? I know that he is giving his advice in this manner because some men are used to functioning in a work environment in a certain way. While some of his advice to men to treat their wives like valuable clients makes sense, it must be remembered that wives aren't business clients. They can't be treated as if they are slots in a Dayplanner.

7. Understand the Truth About Sex.

Premise: Men. Women. They're different!

Details: Haltzman planks out a by-the-numbers program consisting of five "gears" that men need to move through, sort of like a sporty transmission. First gear is holding hands, kissing, etc. Second gear gets more emotional and private. Third is playful. Fourth is getting awfully close, and fifth is where guys usually wanted to be from the beginning. Attend to the earlier stages, the author says, and the fifth is more likely - and better.

While good, this kind of advice is limited. When a husband and wife are already communicating well, the good sex follows. I don't agree with taking "proper steps" leading to great sex. If the fifth step - which I assume is intercourse - is what guys "usually wanted from the beginning", they are missing out on some great sex play. Pack up the kids with the grandparents for the evening. Couples can use sex toys and good women-friendly erotic movies or a good, sexy romantic movie. They can read sexy passages of erotic stories to each other. They can set up a fun bubble bath with sexy music and a bottle of champagne. Go for a walk on the beach before coming home to a great evening of sex. Try something new. Give each other massages with new massage oil. Use flavored body gels. Tie each other to the bed if you'd like to try that sort of thing. Have sex on top of the washer while its on the spin cycle. Have sex on the living room rug in front of a roaring fire. There are limitless possibilities for having great sex. It doesn't have to be holding hands, then kissing, then playful, then fucking.

8. Introduce yourself.

Premise: Enough about her.

Details: Take inventory of who you are, Haltzman says, which is something that can get lost in the shuffle. Then, assuming you've mastered the seven "secrets" above, your efforts to meet your own needs - doing stuff together that you like, hanging with the guys, taking occasional solo sorties, playing sports, cultivating hobbies - won't be greeted as if they are threats or acts of abandonment.

This should have been the first step, not the last. There is no reason that a man who takes inventory of himself and his needs should "get lost in the shuffle" when it comes to being there for his wife. Successful couples make room for each other's personal space. The key is communication and keeping things in balance.

Posted on February 1, 2006 at 09:28 AM | Permalink

Comments

I am a stay at home mom and wife...I worked the first couple of
years that we were married, but after kids we decided that the
bread winner would work and the other would stay home. Well gues
what? the bread winner was not me, anyhow we have been married
over twelve years. We have had our ups and downs, we have different
views of the world. Sometimes he calls me the feminist treehugger, but that is ok with me...he calls it like he sees it..We have two boys,so
I have to fight for all my rights(haha). My point is I would smack
my husband if he ever treated me like a job... he treats me as
an equal, differences and all. THe key to marriage is respect, friendship
compasion, passion , and the list is endless. Be open with your feelings and listen with an open heart and most of all comprimise. It is also important to let your spouse be an individual and love them for that even when their opinions might differ, it just makes things spicy.

Posted by: pink at Feb 1, 2006 1:40:50 PM

Premise: Guys have skills and habits developed at work that can be successfully applied to marriage.

Example: the maxim "look busy" can be applied usefully to any number of household situations.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at Feb 2, 2006 9:10:42 PM

Chris, does that mean when a guy's wife catches him looking at porn on the computer, he has to learn to switch quickly over to Tetris? ;)

Posted by: The Countess at Feb 2, 2006 9:41:40 PM

By the way, if a man can ace Tetris, he can learn to put his clothes in the dresser. He already has learned how to fit things into little boxes in an efficient manner. There's a new article - how to get guys to pay attention to the household by using game jargon.

Tetris - put your clothes away.

Space Invaders - get rid of the dust bunnies under your desk.

World Of Warcraft - destroy the trash in the garbage disposal and take it outside.

Operation - put your gack away without piling it on a heap of other gack.

Hmmm.... I should take my own suggestions. ;)

Posted by: The Countess at Feb 2, 2006 9:45:33 PM

Chris, does that mean when a guy's wife catches him looking at porn on the computer, he has to learn to switch quickly over to Tetris? ;)

It means he should place his computer in such a position that his wife won't ever catch him unless he lets her. If he can do it with his boss, he can do it with his wife, no pun intended.

Alternatively, he can use the maxim, "Screw the workers for money" for other meanings of the word "screw."

Posted by: Alon Levy at Feb 3, 2006 12:41:22 AM

In my humble opinion, I believe that most marriages fail because people don't want to accept the notion that successful couples make room for each other's needs as well.

Posted by: Masculiste at Feb 4, 2006 5:18:53 AM

what was the song played at the last scence of without a
trace on feb 9 2006

Posted by: k at Feb 10, 2006 7:08:39 PM