Version Date: May 4, 2012
It turns out that men and women are quite different, and these
differences affect the way they interact with--and often
misunderstand--each other. However, there are some excellent resources
available to you that you can use before you need to go to counseling.
If you want to have a happy marriage or a successful relationship, read
on. Here you will find some book recommendations, together with some
personal advice based on experience.
John Gottman and Nan Silver, The
Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the
Country's Foremost Relationship Expert. New York: Three Rivers
If you can read only one book about marriage or male-female
relationships, read this one. It's not just another advice book based
on what someone thinks sounds good. The book presents the results of
many years of observing men and women interacting--and arguing--and how
their relationships can be healed. Dr. Gottman is the guy mentioned in
Malcom Gladwell's Blink, who can observe a couple interact for five to
fifteen minutes and predict with more than 90 percent accuracy whether
they will stay married. The good news is that by learning about what
toxifies and destroys marriages, you can alter your understanding and
behavior and not only prevent marital failure, but actually find
happiness and contentment with the spouse you were about to divorce.
That seems like an exaggerated claim, but if you read the book, I think
you will see how dramatically some changes in interaction style will
For example, one of the most devastating blows to a relationship is the
eye roll. When one partner says something the other disagrees with, and
the other rolls his or her eyes, it's like a hatchet through the
heart--because rolling the eyes is a sign of contempt, and no
relationship can continue--much less grow stronger--when one partner
holds the other in contempt. The same is true of sarcasm. Sarcastic
remarks are signs of disrespect. And relationships cannot succeed when
there is a lack of respect.
Just as a sample to show you why you need to read this book before any
other about marriage or relationships, here is Gottman's list of
behaviors that, unless they are changed, will doom any relatinship:
Harsh Startup. If one person
begins an argument with accusations, sarcasm, or personal attack, there
is likely to be no resolution to the issue. In fact, things will be
Criticism. Instead of
complaining about a specific issue ("The trash didn't get taken out
last night. Weren't you going to do that?") the problem is generalized
to a personality defect: "Look, the trash is still there. You never do
what I ask you. You never listen to me. Why are you so stubborn and
Contempt. Sarcasm, eye rolling,
demeaning questions, condescension. Any of this holier than thou,
better than thou, smarter than thou type of behavior shows contempt for
the other person.
Defensiveness. Blames the other
person for the problem. "Why didn't you fill the car with gas, as I
asked?" "Well, because you had the keys [or credit card, or garage door
opener, etc.] so I couldn't." Translation: It's your fault.
Stonewalling. It's mostly a
male thing. The silent treatment.
Flooding. When someone feels
ovewhelmed by the argument, he or she will feel "flooded" and shut down
emotionally. Men like to leave the room and go to the garage or the TV
room to watch the game. Women might stop talking (which shows how upset
Rejected repair attempts. When
one person offers a concession or make a move to de-escalate the
conflict--such as reaching out a hand or trying to hug or saying,
"Let's drop this for now till we can be calmer about it," those are
repair attempts. When those attempts are rejected by the partner, the
relationship is further damaged.
The names of the Seven Principles themselves (such as "3: Turn toward
each other instead of away") are less important than the content they
title. Even if your marriage is strong and happy, you will benefit
greatly by reading--and applying the principles and behaviors described
John Gottman and Joan DeClaire. The
Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage,
Family, and Friendships. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
This is a book for people who have trouble creating or maintaining
emotional connections with others. There has been a lot written about
"emotional intelligence," the ability to recognize what emotions others
are feeling and how to control your own emotions. But this book is
about sending, recognizing, and receiving what amount to positive
messages that others send when they want to establish or tighten a
bond--of love, friendship, or collegiality.
The basic theory Gottman advances is that people are constantly
offering bids for connection to others. For example, "Would you like to
go to lunch?" "I finally finished the XYZ report." "Here, I saved you a
piece of cake." "Hi, I'm home." All of these are bids for
connection that hope for a positive--a connecting--response. When a
positive response is given, the two people draw a bit closer to each
other. On the other hand, a negative response can push people farther
apart. Gottman identifies three response types: turning toward, turning
away, and turning against. Example Bid: "Here, I saved you a piece of
cake." Turning toward, "Oh, thanks, that's very nice of you." Turning
away, "What time is the Jenkins meeting?" Turning against, "That looks
disgusting. I wouldn't offer that to a dog."
The book's ideas and practices are valuable for improving the happiness
and close of romantic relationships, of parent-child relationships,
friendships, and the relationships of work--teams, colleagues, bosses,
subordinates. It would be a great choice for training managers,
supervisors, vice presidents and on up, as well as teams.
But to the reason this book is on the Save Your Marriage page.
Observation reveals that all too many spouses interact by responding to
connection bids by turning against the bid rather than toward. Consider
some of these interactions:
Spouse A: Did you hurt yourself?
Spouse B: As if you care.
Spouse A: Look, the smaller size is cheaper per ounce.
Spouse B: So you'll save thirteen cents. Big whoop.
Spouse A: Ooh, let's get some peanut butter. I love it.
Spouse B: That would be for you. I can't stand the stuff and I won't
eat any of it.
Note the lack of warmth, connection, encouragement, and simple positive
attitude in these responses. This kind of behavior, which has become
habitual in many marriages, destroys the relationship and crushes the
happiness out. If you or your spouse respond to bids this way, get the
book and follow its principles.
Available at Amazon.com: The
Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage,
Family, and Friendships
Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages:
The Secret to Love that Lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing,
Originally published in 1992, and now a cottage industry with more than
half a dozen related titles (like John Gray's Mars and Venus books),
this book emphasizes the point that while we all want to feel loved by
our spouse or friend, we get that feeling in different ways. Chapman
identifies five different ways that people feel loved (the "love
languages") and offers tools for helping determine what a person's love
language is and how to practice that language that the loved one
The five languages are:
Words of Affirmation. Praise,
reassurance, compliments. "You did a good job on that," "You're so
smart," "That is such a creative idea," or even, "I agree with you
completely." (It has been said--not without reason--that the easiest
way for a woman to surprise, to shock, to awe a man is to say, "I
agree," when he makes a statement of any kind.) These kinds of
expressions affirm the belief that the
speaker respects and likes (or loves) the person spoken to. Those whose
love language is Words of Affirmation especially appreciate this kind
of reinforcement. And in the opposite direction, they are especially
torn apart by criticism, disrespect, and contempt. (See the Seven
Principles book above.)
Quality Time. Just hanging out
together, not necessarily doing anything. You can see this language
operating when a guy says, "I need to go to the auto parts store to get
some brake pads," and his girlfriend (or an unusually loving wife)
says, "Need some company?" or "Can I go, too?" Chapman's definition is
"giving someone your undivided attention." In other words, listen to
the other person. Going to a movie together is hardly quality time
because you're barely with the other person. Play a game together and
talk about things. Or better, just sit in a coffee shop or on a bench
at the beach or mall and just talk.
Receiving Gifts. For those
whose love language is receiving gifts, you don't have to shower them
with cars and jewelry. The key is tangibility--physical signs of love.
A handmade card or note, a plucked flower handed to the loved one
during a walk, a piece of fruit, a book, a Starbucks gift card, a card
that says, "Good for one free ----" and then fill in what your spouse
likes best that you don't do as often as you should. For a woman, a
free backrub, vacuuming, laundry, car wash, dinner at a favorite spot,
etc For a man, a free homemade dessert (bake a cake, etc.), car wash,
lawn mow, etc.
Acts of Service. I still
remember the times when I'd be working on the car or running a snake in
the sewer line in the garage at my mom's house. Mom would show up with
a cup of freshly brewed coffee, some cream, a spoon, a napkin, and
maybe a cookie or something. She'd say, "I thought you needed a cup of
coffee." The line from John Milton's sonnet, "On His Blindness," is
relevant here: "They also serve who only stand and wait." It can be an
act of service just by being with someone working. I remember lying
under the car working on an oil change or alternator replacement, and
having someone there to hand me a tool--that was an act of service. If
your spouse's love language is Acts of Service, do things for him or
her that you don't normally do. A husband might clean the toilets--or
the entire bathroom--super well and then put a bow and a sign on the
commode, saying, "Sparkling clean," or even "Sparkling clean, as a
token of my love." A wife might clean up her husband's messy desk
(unless he's the "don't touch my desk" type).
Physical Touch. It has been
said somewhere that Americans especially suffer from "skin hunger,"
because we don't touch each other enough. A simple, brief caress can go
a long way to make someone feel good, while a hug can make someone feel
loved and affirmed. I still remember a couple of hugs I got more than
twenty years ago. Holding hands, a caress on the forearm, a shoulder
rub, backrub, pat on the back--there are many ways to affirm someone
with a physical touch.
The "executive summary" is that it's important (1) to realize that your
spouse or friend's love language is probably not the same as yours, and
(2) to discover what the other's love language is and to practice it.
We tend to think that others are (or should be) the same as we are.
That error creates many problems in romantic relationships.
Get this and more Christian books about marriage from
Laura Schlessinger, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. New York:
A quotation from a husband on the first page of the introduction
sums up the argument of the book very well: "We need only clear
communication, appreciation, honest love, and respect." Schlessinger
argues that these are the elements missing in many marriages. She says
that "men are very simple creatures" who need "a woman's acceptance and
approval." Instead, she points out--through dozens of examples provided
by the callers to her radio advice show--that what many husbands get is
criticism, disrespect, and disdain from a nagging, controlling wife.
The basic disconnect, she says, is that most married women believe that
"their husbands are to serve them, and that any demands husbands make
are insensitive and selfish." When wives criticize their husbands,
Schlessinger adds, it not only makes the husbands miserable, but it
also causes the wives to feel less love for their husbands.
Some advice worth quoting:
Those familiar with Dr. Schlessinger's radio program know that she is
blunt and direct, expressing her advice in strong terms. I wondered how
other people viewed the book, so I mentioned it at work. Two women
colleagues said it was a very good, important book. From what
Schlessinger herself says, what my colleagues say, and what I
have observed myself, the book offers the gift of "Aha!" to many of
those critical, disrespectful, condescending wives who until they see
themselves in the book, don't realize the damage they are doing to
their husband's and their own happiness. Instead of growing bitter and
resentful toward their husbands because the wives are unable to
remanufacture them into an imaginary ideal, wives should love and
encourage the man they married.
- "Wives need to remind themselves that when their husbands do
something differently from how they would do it themselves, it does not
constitute a breach of sanity or a display of contempt. It is merely a different way to do something."
- "The cruelist thing a wife can do to a husband is to never be
- Some wives believe that marriage is a power struggle and they use
communication as a form of control--talking their husbands into
- "People will do more of what you praise them for."
- Many women "believe that after marriage, the husband will become
completely domesticated and she will be the master; the whip will be her desires and feelings."
- Women should stop assuming that men should be like women. Men are
An advantage to the book is the large number of callers Schlessinger
quotes and comments on. This makes the book almost a breezy read, quite
compelling to find out who says what next. So in addition to the
powerful content, the book is also a "good read."
Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't
Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: William
Available from Amazon.com: You
Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation
Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain.
New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.
Women should read this book to understand themselves better, and men
should read this book to understand women. Dr. Brizendine emphasizes
the role of the many hormonal factors and fluxes that influence women's
thinking and behavior, together with the basic (genetic and hormonal)
differences between men and women. Parents can discover why their
teenage daughters go crazy, women can gain insight into emotionally
clueless men, and men can come to understand why new mothers sometimes
go into a mental fog after giving birth. Brizendine is a
neuropsychiatrist who cites research studies for her conclusions. I do
get the feeling that she occasionally presents some exceptional cases
(outliers) as more common than they are. Nevertheless, the book is an
eye opener and provides some real insights into what makes women
behave and think the way they do. As long the the men who read the book
realize that generalizations about women are the most dangerous
generalizations around, and that "your female may vary," the book will
supply much wisdom and understanding. Women need to read the book, not
only to understand themselves, but to realize that it's normal and
typical for a man to miss the cues distress that his wife or partner
displays, and that when she bursts into tears, he will be genuinely
surprised. He might even ask, "What's wrong?" It's not just your man.
It's a guy thing. Fewer emotional detectors, etc. Read the book.
Louann Brizendine. The Male Brain.
New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
This is Dr. Brizendine's sequel to The
Female Brain. Soon to be reviewed.
Available from Amazon.com: The
More about relationships and marriage:
For my personal advice, see How to Be a
Good Husband. And How to Be a Good Wife.
2011 by Robert Harris | How
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About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com