Learn the secrets that every husband should know for a great marriage
By Beth Levine
Dave Zedik of Fort Worth, Texas, is utterly mystified by the amount of talking his wife, Michelle, does with her women friends. Sometimes, when she is on the phone, Dave will run an errand and upon his return find her on the same call. "When I talk to my buddies, we stick to the specifics," he says. "But women take forever to get to the point. It’s a total waste of time."
Michelle, a busy mother of five, is unapologetic: "My connection to other women makes me a better wife and mother. Let’s face it: my husband might not be concerned about a weird rash on one of our kids. But my friends will tell me if I need to worry."
According to Geraldine Piorkowski, director of the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, women touch base with other women as a way of understanding and coping with their experiences. "They look to other women as role models," she says.
Women friends validate each other. "Watch two women talk," says Cathleen Gray, associate professor of social work at the Catholic University of America. "Listen to how often they use the word exactly and nod their heads in agreement."
But Dave still doesn’t get it: "She says there’s no time to get everything done, but she’d have a lot more time if she wasn’t on the phone so long!"
Let me state the obvious: men and women are different. Some of it is biological, some of it is how we are socialized, but the result is the same. Like the Zediks, we often misunderstand each other. Recognizing these differences can alleviate confusion and hurt feelings. Here are some of the main issues that separate the sexes:
She wants to be her husband’s No. 1 priority.
Men and women get jealous over different things. "A man tends to be jealous of potential sexual partners, while a woman tends to be jealous of time her husband spends away from her, whether it’s with drinking buddies or just golfing," explains Charles T. Hill, professor of psychology at Whittier College in California. She wants to feel she is No. 1 in her partner’s life. But she knows she’s my top priority,a husband may think. Yet if he often works late or spends a lot of time at the gym, she doesn’t know it.
One 33-year-old homemaker from Lexington, Ky., says she has to nag her husband to come home from his job as a hotel manager before 8 or 9 p.m. "It makes me feel the kids and I aren’t important." Even when he is home, she feels at times as if he is there only physically. One breathtaking fall day, she was outside playing with the children and dog while her husband stayed inside watching TV. "I felt rejected," she recalls.
"Most married couples only spend about 20 minutes a week interacting face to face, particularly once there are children," notes Georgia Witkin, director of the Stress Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. "Meanwhile, happy couples who’ve been married 25 years find it’s not just quality time that does the trick, it’s quantity."
She wants a husband who does household chores without waiting to be asked.
Meredith Prue of Plymouth, Mass., is the envy of all her friends. Is it because her husband, Stephen, is handsome or successful? No, it’s because he shares the household chores fifty-fifty. "If I cook, he cleans up. If I put the laundry into the washer, he puts it in the dryer," she boasts. Best of all, he never acts as if he is doing her a favor. "We’re a team," she says.
"A wife needs a sense that her marriage is a partnership," says Piorkowski. "Men often take the attitude that they are helping her out when they pitch in–like the dirty dishes are just hers and not his as well."
Who clears out the dust bunnies or bathes the kids may sound like small problems, but in 1996, when University of Denver psychologists Scott Stanley and Howard Markman surveyed 950 people who were either married or in relationships, they found that household chores were among the top three things that couples reported fighting about most. (The first was money.)
As added incentive for husbands, John Gottman, co-director of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, points out that men who share household chores and child-rearing have better marital and sexual satisfaction.
She needs emotional intimacy in order to feel aroused.
Natalie and Brent Thomas of Cannon Falls, Minn., are on the go all day. He’s a photographer; she writes mystery novels and cares for their two young children. A few years ago, their busy lives were interfering with the closeness they once shared, and they’d fall into bed at night virtual strangers. If Brent tried to initiate sex, Natalie became resentful: "I wanted to talk about my day, hear about his, and just snuggle. Without time to discover one another, sex became another item on my list." Together they brainstormed ways to find more time.
Keeping in touch during the day has made a difference, Natalie says. "We talk on the phone. Even if it’s for just a few moments, I feel we’ve spent some time together. The sound of his voice is just what I need."
Hearing her partner’s voice can help a woman become aroused, according to Witkin. "The No. 1 sexual cue for men is visual," she explains, "while a comparable cue for women is the sound of the male voice."
So when a husband jumps to the main event without having first initiated some conversation, the wife may feel pressured and alienated, and then he feels rejected. "What a man needs to understand is that the ideal foreplay for a woman isn’t just touching her body in a slow, gentle way. It first starts by touching her mind and her heart," says John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
She doesn’t want sexy lingerie or kitchen appliances as gifts.
Why do gifts, which seem so trivial, sometimes cause such major problems for couples? "Women consider a gift’s meaning," says Albert Watson, associate professor of counseling at the University of Cincinnati. "When a husband gets his wife the latest book by her favorite author, the message is, ‘When you talk, I listen. I want to please you.’" But a toaster oven, or lingerie that makes her feel like a cow, says, "I don’t know or care what you would like, so I’m going to please myself."
According to Cathleen Gray, "Men complain, If she wants me to get something in particular for her birthday, why doesn’t she tell me? Meanwhile, she’s thinking, If I have to tell you, I feel diminished as a woman because it means you haven’t thought about me at all."
Christine Schrodt of Mason City, Iowa, suffered for years while her husband, David, gave her gifts such as steak knives. But he’s learned the hard way how important gifts are to her. "Now if he sees me admiring something, he makes a mental note," says Christine. "Six months later, on my birthday, he’ll surprise me with it. It makes me feel so loved."
Yes, there really is a correct answer to "Do these jeans make me look fat?"
Paul Sabbah of Stamford, Conn., gets that question "at least three times a week" from his wife, Jennifer. "It strikes terror into my soul," he says. "If I say yes, I’m a dead man. If I say no, she tells me I’m lying. There’s clearly no right answer."
How does Jennifer want Paul to respond? "I want him to tell me I don’t look fat, of course, but half the time, he isn’t even looking at me when he answers. I guess I’m just looking for reassurance that he still finds me attractive."
"Do I look the same as when you first met me?" "Do you wish I had larger breasts?" Questions like these generally send panicked husbands ducking for cover. Even wives think there is no right answer. Or is there?
When women ask for feedback on their appearance, they are really saying, I feel vulnerable. "You have to do whatever it takes to make a connection, make her feel loved and secure," says Dr. Samuel Shem, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. "The right response is not yes or no, it’s to make contact."
Paul Sabbah says he and his wife have turned the question into a private joke. "When Jennifer asks if she looks fat, I answer, ‘No, but do I look bald?’ Then she’ll laugh and say no. We both know the truth: I’m balding, and she’s not a size four. But we also know it doesn’t matter, because we love each other like crazy."
In the end, adds Watson, "If a wife feels appreciated and valued, it’s not necessary that her waist be smaller or her breasts larger. She knows she is loved just the way she is."