Slam! That’s the sound that one million American men hear each year as their wives push them out the doors of their homes and into the divorce courts. In three generations, the divorce rate has escalated from 14 percent to nearly half of all marriages. But although this national epidemic” is widely reported, you rarely hear about the fact that it’s women, at rates much higher than men, who are the ones telling researchers that they are not happy in their marriages. In fact, wives initiate more than two-thirds of the splits.
How can this be? Shouldn’t women be fixing relationships rather than declaring them dead? Women are supposed to be the relationship experts. They go to therapists, watch relationship gurus on TV, read magazine articles, or seek answers in self-help books. But still their marriages crumble beneath their feet. Why can’t women stem the tide of divorce and make their marriages work?
It is because in the vast majority of cases, it’s the men that the women are complaining about, so the problems in a marriage won’t be solved until men do something about improving the relationship.
Husbands must accept this challenge. If they don’t, the doors to their homes will irreversibly slam shut behind them. And with the closing of these doors come the devastating consequences of divorce: broken families, financial devastation, spiritual and physical decline, and damaged children.
Defeat is Not an Option Prior to the 1960s, religion and culture prevented most marriages from falling apart. Now attitudes are more liberal. Our culture says, “If you’re not happy, get out.” And so for many couples, divorce lurks just around the corner every time an argument tears apart the sense of personal bliss.
But divorce is not pretty. It represents the transformation of love, affection, sharing, patience, understanding, and commitment into frustration, anger, distrust, emotional abuse, trauma, grief, and feelings of failure. No one should have to witness marital joy reduced to bitter abandonment of hope.
You don’t want to go there. So it’s time to reject the idea that marital unhappiness automatically means the relationship is over. When the marriage falters, it’s our job as guys, who innately hate to admit defeat, to revive it. We have no other option. Strengthening, improving, and saving a marriage is not something we can do at our leisure. It must be done right, and it must be attended to on a daily — make that an hourly — basis.
But . . . let’s face it, when it comes to securing a better relationship, many men don’t know where to start. These men may know how to smash a backhand, teach their daughters how to ride a bike or drive a car, pursue advanced educational degrees, and have dynamic careers. Many know how to build their own businesses, navigate a narrow channel through a stormy inlet, negotiate a complicated contract, lead a team of doctors delivering health care in a developing country, or defend a friend from unfounded accusations in a community of peers.
Men Can Save Their Marriages Men don’t have to feel so helpless — they can save their marriages. I know. I’ve worked with hundreds of husbands and surveyed thousands more on the Internet. I’ve spoken to them in seminars and in support groups. I’ve interviewed World War I veterans and men just out of college. Each has described times when his marriage was strained. Each has struggled with his place in marriage, questioned his identity as a husband and father, and faced serious challenges to his commitment. Yet through a persistent commitment to fix the problems, these men have saved and improved their marriages.
Unfortunately, far too many men do not have this attitude. They have been conditioned to believe that they can’t fix a broken marriage because they lack the necessary skills — and that they lack those skills simply because they are men. You possess the means to save your marriage because you are a man.
Equal but Very Different For several decades now, husbands have been encouraged to read books and articles and to listen to “experts” who say that in order to have a good marriage, men have to reason, react, and talk more like women. They tell men they should be softer, kinder, gentler, less intimidating, more sensitive — and do more laundry. I’ve read hundreds of these books and articles and have concluded that it’s all bunk.
The reason men avoid self-help marriage experts and make no progress toward improving their relationships is that they get the clear but misguided message that they have to reinvent themselves in order to understand their wives. Most men don’t want to do that, and I don’t blame them.
I take a different approach. Like most marriage counselors, I certainly will ask you to take stock of the instincts, attitudes, behaviors, and especially the words you use that influence your marriage. But I won’t ask you to change anything about yourself.
Evolve or Die? After more than sixteen years in private practice, I have come to believe that men are born with the ability to make their marriages last for the rest of their lives. They don’t necessarily need to unlearn anything. They don’t have to stop thinking like a man. They don’t need feminizing. They are not, by virtue of their gender, incomplete, incompetent, or incapable of satisfying their spouse’s emotional needs. In fact, in one way or another, I tell couples I counsel that if we begin the work of repairing a marriage by assuming that the husband needs fixing, the odds of success are greatly diminished, if not doomed.
Adapted from The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever by Scott Haltzman Copyright © 2006 Scott Haltzman, published by Jossey-Bass, used with permission.