Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

We’re going to shift gears a bit this week. Maybe you’ve tried to get your spouse to read a relationship book, an article, or even these posts and have met with resistance. Maybe each time you get excited about improving some aspect of your marriage your “other half” maintains things are just fine the way they are.

For many spouses, your desire to make your relationship better implies it isn’t good enough now, which further implies failure. Patricia Love and Steven Stosny tackle this challenge in their book, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

 Points from the blurb of the book:

  • “Love is not about better communication. It’s about connection.”
  • “You’ll never get a closer relationship with your man by talking to him like you talk to your girlfriends.”
  • “Male emotions are like women’s sexuality: you can’t be too direct too quickly.”
  • “There are 4 ways to connect with a man: touch, activity, sex, routine.
  • “When men feel connected, they talk more.”

The authors find that talking about feelings and intimate issues doesn’t come naturally to most men. Instead, it heightens their anxieties and can cause them to withdraw. If you find this to be the case in your marriage, the authors have many suggestions to help.

They acknowledge that women bring one set of fears to their relationships, typically fear of isolation, harm, or deprivation. So we talk in order to reconnect and soothe away our fears.

But men tend to bring their own fears to the table, including a hidden sense of shame, inadequacy, and failure. And when women try to talk their way into connection by expressing their vulnerabilities, the men feel that they have failed the women for not protecting them from their fears. Typically men respond to this sense of failure by withdrawing, in order to escape the fears. As the men withdraw, the women feel disconnected and push to reconnect with words. Then the men withdraw more.

So we tend to exacerbate each other’s fears, rather than reassure each other.

Among the worst things a woman can do to a man is to criticize him—or behave in a way that can be construed as critical, even if not intended.

Among the worst things a man can do to a woman is to leave her feeling alone, whether concretely—alone at home or alone in bed—or abstractly—alone outside his depression or alone with her dreams or fears.

If we are left wallowing in our fears, we become vulnerable to infidelity. When we become infatuated with someone, chemical changes in our bodies make men feel more confident and women feel more connected. Simultaneously, our sense of shame decreases, which can lead us into poor decisions. Be forewarned, allowing private or secret time with someone who sparks our infatuation will permit the chemistry to lead to an affair.

Instead, Stosny and Love encourage us all to decide what our core values are and then to enhance them by

  • improving a little bit in that area,
  • appreciating our partner,
  • connecting by genuinely caring about our partner’s emotional state,
  • and protecting our beloved—
    • helping a husband relieve his dread of failure as a provider, lover, protector and father and
    • helping a wife relieve her fear of isolation, deprivation, and harm.

If you are a woman who is feeling resentful, angry, anxious, or afraid and your partner is not helping, he is trying to avoid feeling shame. Your anxiety increases his sense of inadequacy or failure. Use a physical gesture, a touch, to show that you’re with your husband. Be available to do something he’s good at. This replaces his sense of failure with competence. Honor a man’s need for routine and by doing so, help him feel loved and connected. He doesn’t know how to say it, so he tries to show you that you are what gives meaning to his life. Remember, your words can destroy him.

If you are a man who is feeling resentful, angry, sulky or withdrawn and your wife is not helping, she is feeling anxious. Your irritation increases her fear. Instead, be there, in her emotion, with her. Don’t try to fix her problems. Incorporate small gestures of connection like hugs or kisses or focused attention to her into your daily routine.

The authors say the bottom line is to think connection, rather than communication. We must protect each other from our respective vulnerabilities to fear and shame.

Both men and women must replace resentment with compassion. We need binocular vision – to see every upsetting time from both our and our partner’s point of view. Then we must respond to the anxiety, rather than the situation content.

Ask yourself, how do I make it hard for my spouse to give me what I want? (How do I increase my beloved’s fears?) How could I make it easier?

Generally, the authors say we must “step into the puddle.” Tune into the emotional state of the other. Imagine it. Try to feel it. It will be uncomfortable, but don’t respond with defensiveness.

Approach rather than either avoiding or attacking.

Here are a few concrete suggestions they offer:

  1. Fix your partner firmly in your heart 4 times a day – upon waking, before leaving home, returning, and before sleep.
  2. Hug 6 times for at least 6 seconds per day. This is said to increase serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter).
  3. Hold positive thoughts about your relationship for 10 seconds as often as possible.
  4. Make a contract to hand out love with compassion and generosity.
  5. When you make a mistake, recognize it, feel remorse for it, and repair it.
  6. Finally, a nightly embrace – “allow the warmth of the embrace to wash out every sliver of fear and shame.”

And so doing, create love beyond words.

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