Men often are told that to improve their marriages, they must share their hopes and fears with their wives and become more emotionally connected -- in short, that they must behave in ways that are totally unnatural for the average man.
Good news: There are steps men can take that will make their marriages happier but still let them be themselves...
1. Treat your wife like a business client. Many men say they don't know what's expected of them in romantic relationships -- yet the same men know what to do in business relationships. The two aren't as different as you might think.
If a client made you unhappy, you wouldn't fight with him/her. Instead, you would try to smooth things out. if this client made a crucial error, you would not criticize him -- you would try to help him recover. Overall, you would try to understand who your client is, what his goals are and how you can help him succeed. Treat your wife like this, and you won't go too far wrong. Of course, don't tell her you're treating her like a client. Just do it!
2. Forget the golden rule. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" isn't the best advice for married men. When we treat our wives as we would like to be treated, we ignore the fact that our wives are quite different from us. Forget whatever you think you know about what makes people happy, and observe your wife for a while. What does she really appreciate? What are her deepest interests and goals? Have your past gifts and gestures of love been on target? You might not have to work much harder to make your wife happier -- you might just have to stop doing things that you would appreciate if someone did them for you and start doing things she will appreciate.
Example: Buy her a greeting card when there's no special occasion, and inside write how much you love her and need her. Leave the card someplace she will stumble on it unexpectedly. Such a gesture would mean little to the average husband but lots to the average wife.
3. Do more than say "I'm sorry." A single "I'm sorry" won't balance the scales when you say something critical of your wife ...dismiss her ideas or her feelings ...or make her feel ignored. It will most likely take five positive interactions for every negative one before you're back to par. According to research by the Gottman Institute, a Seattle-based couples therapy organization, marriage tend to be happy when the spouses -- wives as well as husbands -- interact with each other in a positive manner at least five times as often as they interact in a negative manner. Positive interactions might include paying her compliments, saying, "Thank you" or "I love you," offering to do something for her, holding her hand or paying attention to her.
4. Master the makeup. The happiness of your marriage is not determined by whether you fight -- all couples do. It's determined by how well you patch things up afterward. Wait until you cool down -- that typically takes about 20 minutes -- then make a peace offering. Bring her a cup of tea ...say you're sorry you argues ...or tell her that you love her. Such gestures generally help couples get past the fight fast and back to the happy marriage.
Helpful: Makeups are easier if you avoid the four mistakes that turn arguments into lingering problems -- criticizing, showing contempt, acting defensive and stonewalling (shutting down when your partner reaches out to you).
5. See your wife's opinion. Wives often feel that they don't have an equal voice in the decision-making. As far as most husbands are concerned, the issue isn't who is making the decisions, but whether the correct decisions are being made. Still, you can make your married life happier if you seek your wife's approval on your ideas, even when you believe you're right. Who knows? Maybe she is right. Don't dismiss her opinion out of hand -- even when it isn't feasible. Instead, say something positive about the idea, then later express disappointment if together you "discover" that it won't work.
Example: She wants to fly across the country to visit your daughter next month. You know the trip won't fit into your budget. Rather than tell her no and invite her anger, establish that you're on her side. Say something like, "I always love to see our daughter. Let's see if we can afford it." Together, review the family's finances, and let her make the decision that you can't afford to go -- or perhaps she'll think of a clever way so that you can afford it.
6. Do some cleaning. Most wives think their husbands should help more with housework. Many husbands think they do so much work around the yard and with the car that housework isn't their responsibility. Who's right? Studies by University of Michigan Institute for Social Research show that husbands are. When work hours both inside and outside the home are added up, even husbands who don't help with the cleaning often put in about as many hours of effort as their wives.
Unfortunately, if you try to argue this point, you're sure to lose. You can either spend you life bickering about whether you get enough credit for your contributions -- working long hours at the office, tending the lawn and handling the car repairs -- or you can do some housework and have a happier marriage. To make your wife really happy, figure out which household task is her least favorite and do it without being asked.
What Wives Can Do
Here's how wives can make their husbands happier and their marriages stronger...
Show a sense of humor. Men are happier in their marriages when their wives don't take things too seriously. (Oddly, this doesn't work in reverse. Women usually prefer their husband to take problems seriously -- even when they initially were attracted to men who made them laugh.)
Don't overload him with problems. Most men like to deal with one topic at a time. The rule of thumb is one problem per discussion.
Give him credit. Even if your husband doesn't help with the housework, he probably does plenty. Let him know you appreciate his efforts.
Accept a physical gesture as a sign of love. Men aren't always great at verbalizing their emotions, but holding your hand might mean the same thing as saying "I love you." If you press him for more words, you may only make him feel uncomfortable.
Make him feel like a hero. Silly as it might seem, men want to be heroes to their wives. Compliment him for carrying something heavy or for making you feel safe when you walk down the street together at night.
Give him some space when he first gets home from work. Many men have trouble transitioning from the workplace to home live. Give him 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Scott Haltzman, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, Providence. He is a psychiatrist in private practice in Barrington, Rhode Island, and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever (Jossey-Bass). http://www.drscott.com
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