Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Can You Have A New Husband By Friday?

Can human behavior be permanently changed in a week?

A recent book "Have A New Husband By Friday", by Dr. Kevin Leman, highlights the problem with so many self help books. Those who give up smoking or drinking find out how hard it is to truly change even a small part of one's behavior. Now think about how hard it would be to change every part of your life- every natural impulse, every reaction, your temperament and energy level...in a week, no less. And  you are going to radically change, not because you have hit bottom, have run out of alternatives and have no other choice but to change, but because you partner has changed her behavior towards you. Self help books like this dangle the promise of instant results, when psychiatrists, psychologists and marriage and family counselors can attest to the fact it can take a lifetime to enact real positive change in a person within the family dynamic.

Dr. Leman has some helpful tips in his book, especially on communication between the sexes.  Men and women have always had difficulty communicating in relationships, yet the decline in marriage is a recent phenomenon. Like many other self-help books, Dr. Leman doesn't point out that it is the coupling of incompatible partners, not the sex differences between men and women, that is to blame for the unprecedented failure of heterosexual unions in  21st Century America.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Dr. Leman says that women have unreasonable expectations from their partners. Where does he think these expectations come from? The seeds of disillusionment are sown early in a romance, when men pretend to be Prince Charming to obtain love and affection from women. This deception is successful in the short-term, but the difficulty of living a phony life eventually wears thin on the man once the thrill of the romance fades into the reality of day to day living. Despite his best efforts, the woman catches glimpses of the man's true self. Eventually the woman realizes the awful truth: her Prince Charming is a frog. And once a partner sours it's very difficult to sweeten.

Dr. Leman urges his female readers to ignore the poor quality of their relationship and meet their husband's sexual needs. But as marriage and family psychotherapist Sonya Rhodes observed, women tend to see sex as a natural result of a healthy relationship, while men consider it unconnected to the interpersonal aspect of the marriage or cohabitation.  When a marriage is ailing, the sexual relations tend to be withheld by the woman, while a married man wants to have sex even when the relationship is under stress. Urging women to close the wound and hide the scar is not going to result in greater intimacy, even if the husband is happy to go along with the charade.

Because men have been taught by the media of  the internet, television, film and music to deny and hide their true feelings about a relationship, they are not likely to transform into  emotionally available communicators if  exasperated wives or girlfriends adopt  the well-meaning urgings of Dr. Leman and meet their partner's physical needs. Best selling author Dr. John Gray observed that resentment is temporarily washed away for men when they enjoy regular sexual relations in a committed relationship. But the problems of two mismatched partners soon return after the loving.

Many men are deathly afraid their partner will think they are the scum of the earth and end the marriage or cohabitation if these men vocalize their underlying issues about their romantic unions. "What are you thinking?" are the four most terrifying words you can ask these men who have created a mirage of a relationship through physical attraction, charm and approval seeking.  They certainly are going to believe it is less threatening to the marriage to hide behind a protective wall of silence and enjoy a low level of happiness than reveal their true feelings and risk losing the marriage or cohabitation immediately.

Unlike women, many men have  no problem enjoying sex even when the marriage or cohabitation is under stress because they have always  been under the psychic stress of knowing they are playing a role to their partner since the  romance first began. They are merely acting in the marriage or cohabitation in the same goal-oriented way they were behaving early in the dating relationship. To them, stress is how life is, like background noise when you live by the freeway.

A man will feign interest, grunt at the appropriate times, and put up with 3 hour  long talks about his partner's day at the office, the mother-in-law's health issues and the kids problems in nursery school  if sweet affection awaits at the other end of the conversation. While he will certainly enjoy having his needs met,  there will be no real catharsis and  no reason for him to undergo the long, slow and painful process of permanent change into a better human being, husband and father. And most importantly to the wife, there is little chance that the structural problems in the union will be addressed. Why would most men want to change a relationship that is meeting their needs? To them it is liking firing the coach on a championship sports team.

Dr. Leman makes an excellent point that men need respect from their partner. But once again, women are burdened  in this book with the responsibility for the failure of so many marriages when men have their own significant contribution to the problems and must be  more than a passive part of the solution. We  found his book engaging and full of common sense tips but, like most books in its genre, it misses the mark on the crucial issue writer Ellen Goodman posed: "How can American men and women find a life together?"

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

more...

Subscribe to Repairing Relationships

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.