There are a couple of books I’d credit with “saving my marriage,” and this is definitely one of them. It has a similar message to fundamentalist Christian marriage books, yet is completely secular, and actually makes its case much better. It’s one of the most...
There are a couple of books I’d credit with “saving my marriage,” and this is definitely one of them. It has a similar message to fundamentalist Christian marriage books, yet is completely secular, and actually makes its case much better.
It’s one of the most profound books I’ve ever read, yet is difficult to summarize. It doesn’t exactly fall within any of the usual domains of thought. It’s hard to imagine how this book even came into being.
The book could be subtitled, “How to stop being a controlling shrew.” Or perhaps, to put it in the author’s words, “How to give up control and gain real power.” Or “what feminists need to do when they come home at night” (hint: change hats). It details the authors journey from being a typically frustrated modern woman, complaining about her marriage and contemplating divorce, to seeing the error or her ways, and achieving great happiness.
The book begins by explaining that many of us, when things didn’t go exactly right in our childhoods, responded by developing a need to be in control. We became control freaks, which allowed us to feel that we wouldn’t be hurt. She describes how a therapist assigned her to allow her husband to take her to dinner, and make all the decisions, including where to go and what food to order. Even in such a non-threatening venue, she kept inserting little “prompts,” and really was unable to allow the process to happen.
She also had hilarious but painfully familiar examples of dialogues she used to have with her husband – subtly or not so subtly seizing control of every situation – and invariably either screwing it up, or ruining her husband’s motivation to do anything.
But probably what keeps filtering back into my mind the most from the book is her descriptions of “how your husband really does love you …” Doesn’t he go to incredible lengths to please you? Doesn’t he devote his whole life to making you happy, in a sense? Isn’t his world destroyed when you’re unhappy? This is so true, at least in my case, and so easy to miss or forget. I don’t know whether it’s idiocy, insanity or lack of self-esteem, to fail to see this so completely at times.
Another point that keeps coming back to me is her examples of all the rationalizations we tell ourselves for maintaining control, criticizing and trying to “improve” our husbands. Somehow I really had developed this fantasy that I was so well functioning, and my husband goofed up everything he dealt with. Aside from the very dubious reality of this viewpoint, we all have to make our mistakes. We tend to forget our own mistakes, and remember the other person’s. Now, whenever I think or more likely fantasize that my husband is blowing it, I remind myself, as the author says, that if he really is blowing it, he’ll learn from his mistakes. And that if you’ve been controlling everything for years, it’s going to take some time to get out of that mode.
Another issue is that I was raised in a family that thought highly of giving feedback, which made sense to me. Then I married a man who had no use for feedback, whatsoever. Since I saw feedback as a positive thing, I was always trying to give it to him, and it infuriated him. After almost twenty years of battles over this, I had reduced it to a trickle, but not enough. This book contained a chapter on the destructiveness of trying to change or improve your husband. Didn’t you marry him in the first place? If he’s going to change, is it going to be the result of your nagging at him? (Absurd idea.) So I was finally able to see his viewpoint as legitimate, rather than avoidant and cowardly, as I had seen it before.
What amazed me was that so many of the exact, word-for-word arguments I’ve had with my husband were contained and explained in this book. One argument we had for years is that my husband used to say to me, “When I talk, just say ‘uh-huh.’ I don’t want to hear all your commentary, arguments, and so on.” I would look at him like he was crazy and say, “Are you out of your mind? Do you really want me to just be a robot and say nothing but ‘uh-huh’ to you?!” Yes. He was adamant that this was what he wanted, so I really had no choice but to reluctantly comply.
Well, there was a whole chapter in this book on the reasons to only respond to your husband with “whatever you think” at all times (e.g. “uh-huh”). I don’t have the book with me – I lent it to a friend – so I forget her exact reasoning, but it made sense.
Another argument we used to have was that he would throw fits over my giving any direction while he was driving. From my point of view, it was hard to keep quiet, since he invariably went the wrong way, or took circuitous routes to wherever we were going. But again, he insisted I should say nothing. I finally asked him, “Even if you’re going in the wrong direction, you don’t want me to say anything?” Yes. So again, thinking this was the most insane thing I’d ever heard of, yet feeling obliged to honor his wishes, I disciplined myself to keep my mouth shut no matter where he went.
Well, within some chapter, this book admonished wives to, “say nothing while he’s driving, even if he crosses the state line...” And my husband did eventually stop going in the wrong direction.
Another chapter instructed wives to always be open about what we want – everything we want – using the simple words “I want so and so” but to give no advice or instruction to husbands on how to accomplish these things. Another frequent argument of ours.
Shortly after reading the book, I was giving my husband my usual detailed instructions about how to complete some minor household repair. He said to me, actually rather nicely, “Just tell me what you want. I have a brain. I’ll figure out how to do it.” Again, words right out of the book, which I hadn’t discussed with him.
All in all, I can’t say that this book changed my actions that radically. I haven’t gone so far as to turn my bank account over to my husband, as the book advocates. What has changed more than my actions is my goals. I now have the goal of zero feedback. If there really is a problem, I try everything else first, or wait and see if time will somehow take care of it. And I’ve found that now that I’m genuinely and sincerely trying to avoid giving him feedback, he is able to accept it when I feel in my heart that I really need to make some comment on what he’s doing.
I can’t even say how much this book has helped me. My husband had complained bitterly, forever, that I was always controlling everything. Actually, he expressed it whenever we really tried to get to the core of what was wrong, which wasn’t very often. Maybe he just gave up.
From my point of view, I just didn’t get it. My viewpoint was that I tend to take charge, and he refuses to take charge. I was used to men who are controlling, having been raised by one, and without knowing it, I saw life as a battle for control. I couldn’t see it any other way.
This book showed me the virtue of not being in control, and of actively not being in control. If you’re an active person, you have to actively and voluntarily not be in control; actively support someone else in being in control.
Needless to say, our marriage has improved about a thousand percent.