Secrets of Happily Married Women

A new book by psychiatrist Scott Haltzman offers guidance on what husbands need.

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As writer Amy Bloom puts it, "Love at first sight is easy to understand; it's when two people have been looking at each other for a lifetime that it becomes a miracle." A new finding from the University of Michigan appears to confirm the challenges of sustaining romance: While we manage to improve our relationships with our parents, kids, and friends as we age, we're more likely to find our spouses ever more irritating and demanding. What's more, other research has shown that marriages go downhill after having children. Now they tell me? After I had three kids?

The Secrets of Happily Married Women bookcover
The Secrets of Happily Married Women bookcover

Fortunately, for every problem, there's a self-help book. And The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less, out last month, might be particularly helpful because it's written by a guy—Scott Haltzman, a marriage counselor and assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University—who wants to help us get into the heads of the men we love. Scanning down the chapter titles, some of the advice is fairly obvious: Chapter 1: Know Your Husband. Chapter 2: Nurture His Needs—and Yours. Chapter 5: Have Lots of Sex.

Then there's Chapter 3: Fight Better. Yes! We're allowed to fight!

Haltzman says to be direct and tell your spouse exactly what you want instead of hinting at it like please don't leave (choose one): your wet bath towel on the floor, the milk out on the counter, the seat up. He also provides some classic therapist tips like allow your husband to speak uninterrupted and repeat back what he says in the heat of the battle. "If I understand you correctly, you're upset because..." Compliments, too, can go a long way: Research shows that in successful marriages, positive interactions outnumber the negative 5 to 1. Speaking from experience, saying something nice can be especially helpful in the middle of an argument—as hard as that is to do—to take the anger down a notch.

Once the fight is finished, the author recommends in the next chapter to "Talk Less." Hmmm. I might feel compelled to keep on expressing my feelings, but I shouldn't expect my husband to say "l love you" or "I'm sorry" right back. In fact, Haltzman tells women to look for nonverbal cues as an expression of love: He unexpectedly makes the bed in the morning, gives you a hug, or hands you his umbrella when it's raining.

Happy couples, Haltzman says, accept these differences in communication styles. Wives understand that their husbands often talk about factual stuff, like politics, bills, or sports scores, with the purpose of making a point. Of course, husbands, too, need to tune in to their wives' vivid descriptions of daily events with twists and turns that meander far from the main topic. That's driven home in Haltzman's previous book, The Secrets of Happily Married Men.