Young people are good at dating. Some are good at hooking up. Some have even mastered the skills required to conduct a relationship.
Yet, many young people do not have the skills required to sustain a good marriage.
Laura Doyle is addressing women, and we will maintain her rhetorical posture. She sums up the problem:
Unfortunately most women didn't have good relationship role-models. We are largely the product of single parents, broken homes or marriages that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy -- the equivalent of learning oral care from parents with false teeth.
Surely, Doyle is correct.
But, let’s not overlook the role that the culture plays.
As a culture we are much more interested in marital dysfunction than we are in marital success. The former is dramatic; the latter is boring.
We have been that the right way to improve things is to identify problems and obsess over them.
The more we focus on problems, the more we are blind to what is right about marriages.
The culture also tells women, in particular, that true love and good sex will solve all marital difficulties.
Many women have also been led to believe that in a good marriage all tasks are shared equally. Yet, as a recent study has pointed out, marriages where men and women share chores equally are 50% more likely to end in divorce.
If your goal is to make your marriage work, you do best to ignore much of what the culture is telling you. You do better to take a close look at the skills that Doyle defines.
Doyle begins by telling women to be good to themselves by spending some time every day making themselves happy.
That sounds innocuous enough.
She explains that if a wife does not do this, she will be placing the burden of making her happy entirely on her husband.
If a man comes home to a wife who is in a good mood, then he is more likely to want to make her happy. If she is always in a foul mood he is going to feel like she is seeing him as medicine.
Second, Doyle advises wives not to try to control their husbands. That entails not criticizing, not complaining and not trying to make him over into something that he is not.
Criticism is corrosive because, Doyle explains, a wife who finds fault with her husband is telling him that she believes him to be incompetent.
Imagine how your put-upon husband is going to react when he runs into a woman who tells him that he looks great, is clever and should be running the company.
Doyle’s third skill involves the expression of gratitude. When a husband offers his wife a gift or when he offers to help her, she should accept the gift or the help graciously even when it is not exactly what she wants.
In Doyle’s words:
When your husband gives you something that's not what you had in mind, receive it anyway by saying, "You're so thoughtful. Thank you." Deflecting a gift or a compliment is rejecting the giver and the emotional connection you could have had. When your husband offers to bathe the kids, accept his help graciously no matter how imperfectly he does it.
Gift-giving is at the basis of good relationships. If a wife is happy to receive a gift she will receive more. If she criticizes the gift she will receive less.
Doyle states correctly that rejecting a gift is rejecting the giver. Rejecting your husband will not make him want to be a better husband. It might make him look for acceptance elsewhere.
Doyle’s fourth skill is a variation on the themes she has been developing: respect your man, see the best in him. After all, you married him, so he must have many good qualities.
Too often women have been taught to see the worst and to believe that they are doing men a favor by trying to correct them.
Unfortunately, if you see the worst in your husband—or in any other human being—he will unconsciously try to fulfill your expectations by doing poorly.
You're too smart to have married a dumb guy, so if he seems dumb now, it's because you're focused on his shortcomings. It's not that you made a mistake in marrying him, it's that you've been focused on his mistakes since you married him. A man who feels respected by the woman who knows him best also feels self-respect, which is far more attractive than cowering and hostility.
Lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does because for men, respect is like oxygen. They need it more than sex. Respect means that you don't dismiss, criticize, contradict or try to teach him anything. Of course he won't do things the same way you do; for that, you could have just married yourself. But with your respect, he will once again do the things that amazed and delighted you to begin with -- so much so that you married him.
When wives criticize, complain, contradict or try to teach their husbands something, they are showing disrespect.
Next, in time for Thanksgiving, Doyle restates her thought about gift-receiving. She advises wives to express gratitude three times a day.
Make a habit, she is saying, of thanking your husband. A man who feels appreciated will do more for you than a man who is being attacked for not doing enough.
Doyle describes her own experience:
Today I thank him for washing dishes, replacing light bulbs and working hard at his business. The more grateful I am for what he does, the more inspired he is to do things I appreciate, which makes me feel cherished and adored.
Her last skill involves vulnerability.
Many women will recoil from the suggestion to show vulnerability. Isn’t it just another sexual stereotype? Hasn’t the culture taught young women to be fiercely independent and autonomous?
Doyle disagrees. Allow her to express her thought:
When you're vulnerable you don't care about being right, you're just open and trusting enough to say "I miss you" instead of "you never spend time with me." It means you simply say, "ouch!" when he's insensitive instead of retaliating. That vulnerability completely changes the way he responds to you.
Vulnerability is not only attractive, it's the only way to get to that incredible feeling of being loved just the way you are by someone who knows you well. There's nothing like the joy of intimacy that results from vulnerability. It really is worth dropping the burden of being an efficient, overscheduled superwoman to have it.
It sounds simple, but there is a world of difference between “I miss you” and “You never spend time with me.”
The latter is an accusation and a criticism; it is whiny and complainy.
Would you want to spend more time with someone who criticizes you and complains about you? You would probably be thinking that you are right not to spend too much time with her.
Finally, Doyle suggests that wives drop the façade or the burden of being a superwoman. If a woman is constantly on the move, constantly in action, and never has a minute for herself she will have nothing left to give her husband.
Doyle is addressing herself to women, but surely husbands would do well to work on their own marriage skills. These need not be identical to those that Doyle prescribes for wives, but they ought to manifest good character, a generous nature and a willingness to see the best, not the worst in one’s wife.