Saturday, October 17, 2009

Have a New Husband by Friday

The title of this book is enough to make any woman (and a few men) grab this book off the shelf and start browsing. Psychologist Kevin Leman has written thirty-two previous books for improving relationships between parents and children and husbands and wives. This latest book’s title follows his book for Moms called Have a New Kid by Friday. The subtitle of this book review tells you that you can "change his attitude, behavior & communication in 5 days."

The information in this book is not new but is presented in an engaging, down-home way as if he were in your living room chatting with you over a cup of coffee. The basis of his advice is what we all know to be the extraordinary differences between men and women. He begins by admitting straight up that men and women are different "species." This information is based on not only his decades of clinical work but the enormous research about brain differences between men and women.

His opening salvo will grab most wives immediately. Your husband can’t find the mustard in the refrigerator even when you tell him where it is. Eventually you "sweep" into the kitchen, open the refrigerator and quickly find the mustard. Dr. Leman then asks the rhetorical question, "Why is it that women always win at the lost and found game anyway?"

Every expert on marriage has emphasized that the secret to a successful marriage is communication. In the early days of marital psychology it was assumed that if a man could listen and talk like a woman everything would be just fine. The problem with earlier pronouncements on what makes a marriage tick is that these solutions were presented as obvious self-truths. Eventually, psychology used its scientific skills to study the matter. The pioneering work of psychologist John Gottman in Washington discovered that the key to better relationships is mutual respect. This seems self-evident but the irony is that communication between men and women can get in the way of respect.

Showing your husband respect is basically the core of Dr. Leman’s book, namely that respect trumps communication. That doesn’t mean communication is not important, it certainly is vital to a dynamic and healthy relationship. It’s just that women and men have such drastically different communication styles. Women need to share what they are feeling and are masters at minute details. When men are the recipient of this communication style, our eyes glaze over in about two minutes. When men begin to tune out, women feel they are not respected but then often turn around and respond in ways that are not respectful to their mates.

Men only want the facts and necessary information so that we can figure out things for ourselves. It’s not that we are aversive to details because we are not. Our details make women’s eyes glaze over. A man can get a woman antsy and looking at the clock in a few minutes as we recite the details of a baseball batter’s statistics or the details of an exotic sports car.

Because the communication of feelings is so important women need many friends to do this with. This seems perfectly natural to women. Consequently, they do not understand why we have fewer friends than they do. My wife is continually puzzled that I have "so few close male friends." For many of us men, our friendships are on a different plane.

Men don’t need to talk to each other every day — or even every week or month. We know our buddies are there for us if we need them and don’t need to constantly validate this fact. We men can have many acquaintances but few if any really close buddies. Dr. Leman echoes the experience of many men when he says, "As a guy, I call myself fortunate to have one really good friend..."

We enjoy activities with our male friends which may or may not include talking. We may talk about our troubles but in a way that is different from the "trouble talk" of women. I’m currently getting hassled by my insurance company about getting a fair reimbursement rate for the claim on my totaled car. When I "share" this with my male friends, the only emotion that presents itself is anger. We guys are good at talking about anger, but not so good at talking about disappointment, hurt, and vulnerability.

Dr. Leman reminds us that "Our brains are different, our body chemicals are different, our emotions are different, and we see life from completely different angles." He briefly reviews the research showing us how female and male brains operate so differently. The one that comes up often in the book is how well women can multitask and on well men can stay focused on the job in front of them. Both of these abilities have their assets and deficits but when they appear in a relationship, they can make a relationship volatile in a flash.

In a way, men are simpleminded so we tend to like to have a "job." We understand a job and we know how to focus on it. We don’t need to talk about it or if we do it is goal oriented about the job at hand. When men are complemented on doing something outstanding, our common reaction is that we "were only doing our job."

One of the most dangerous marital myths, says Dr. Leman, came out of the women’s movement when it insisted that men need to be more like women. Many women in the latter half of the twentieth century insisted that apart from out physical makeup, men and women are basically alike. As we now know the vast amount of evidence simply does not support this idea. Yet, Dr. Leman is an equal opportunity finger pointer by reminding men that if they had truly been doing their job correctly this crusade of emotional equality may never have had to take place.

So, if we are that different how can we ever live together harmoniously? Women are masters at relationships while men are as "dumb as mud." Consequently, females need to train us men in how to make a marriage work. Does this mean the author puts all the blame and responsibility for a healthy relationship on women? Not at all. He says this idea that women are the leaders and trainers is based on the notion that each person in a working group should be put in charge of those duties at which they excel.

This seems like a recipe for failure. After all, if men are so clueless when it comes to female relationships how can they change if these deficits are hard-wired? Dr. Leman cleverly tells women it is only a two-step process: (1) find out how men’s brains work and (2) use this knowledge to get them to perform new tricks. To begin this process, every women needs to know four simple pieces of information:
  1. He wants to be a good husband.
  2. He wants to please you.
  3. But he doesn’t know how to do that.
  4. He needs your help.
Later in the book, the author acknowledges that some men do not fit this template. Men who are abusive or men who have severe emotional problems may not be capable of changing. The question then becomes what to do. Not surprisingly, this issue is taken up later on in the book.

The foundation for having a new husband in the blink of an eye is to know and understand what your husband really wants from you. Often we men don’t even know this, so how can we be expected to tell you what we don't know? We don’t have to because the book spells it out in detail. In case you are wondering if I would share this explosive information with you, here it is.
  • Men need to be respected
  • Men need to be needed
  • Men need to be fulfilled.
The rest of the book walks you through each of these concepts by giving many examples of how to use these three principles. A man’s need for respect exists at all levels of society. When I have worked occasionally with teens and young men who have been in trouble with the law, they will often say trouble begins when someone does or says something to make them feel disrespected.

So how do you respect your mate? You do this by accepting a man’s limitations and emphasizing his strengths. We are not good at trying to figure out the important things you are saying to us because you give us too much detail. We need the facts, the headlines. We also get confused when you tell us your troubles because we want to fix it. If you have a problem, our brain immediately goes into fix-it mode so we stop listening. As a woman, you can sense this instantly, so you may try harder to give us more information thereby overloading our brain that is now focused on fixing your problem.

Our strength is we really want to love you but the only way we know how to show this is by doing things for you. Our competitive nature screws this up by thinking that bigger is better. We don’t get it that leaving you a short love note after we head off to work can be more important than blowing several hundred dollars on a dinner at an expensive restaurant.

I cannot do justice to how all of this plays out in the book. You need to get it, read it, study it and use it. None of the skills in the book are beyond the abilities of any women. Women are powerful (as compared to men) in a relationship but they often don’t know how best to use this power.

From personal experience, I can tell women that if you use the suggestions in this book, you will have your man more willing to meet your needs. Because of our emotional blindness, we may not even know we have changed. We will probably think you have made a dramatic turnaround yourself when all you have done is tweak a few knobs and twiddled a few dials in our very simple brain.

What might your result be from following the advice from this book? Perhaps this was best summed in a novel written in 1859. The famous novelist, Mary Anne Evans (better known as George Eliot), wrote a romantic novel called Adam Bede. In Book Six, Chapter 54, Adam and Dina pledge their love for each and seal it with a kiss. George Eliot then comments on the event with a familiar quote that has been used at countless weddings. "What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?"

1 comment:

beth said...

It was just the opposite in my marriage. I paid attention when I was advised to accept my husband as is. I told this to my husband later on and he said he was waiting for me to change.