How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

Sometime after my disappointing birthday, Kate Middleton and Prince William got married. I wasn’t particularly interested in the whole thing, but the family ended up in our bedroom watching a primetime rebroadcasting. I was still feeling a little miffed at my husband, but he held my hand all evening, and during the particularly romantic spots of the ceremony (talk of forever and that kind of thing), he squeezed my hand extra tight, the way he does when we’re riding in the car and a song on the radio has a romantic line. Could the man who bought me a cell phone charger for my birthday actually have a romantic side?

While reading back over that post, I noticed a content-generated ad on my blog for a marriage-counseling alternative. Intrigued, I went to the website. The program, comprised mostly of a bunch of CDs, sounded like it might have some merits, but it was $399, and I’m not nearly dissatisfied enough with my marriage to even contemplate paying $399 for anything. I wondered if Amazon might have something from the same guy. They did. Then I wondered if my local library might have the same book. They did not. But they did have an interesting-sounding book called How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love (how apt!) and Steven Stosny.

My husband often comments how he and I communicate fantastically, but he’s judging that by his previous marriages (which, obviously, didn’t turn out well). We talk, sure, and at times we have an unbelievable rapport and seem to read each other’s minds; but when I’m really upset with him (like on my birthday), I find it very difficult to talk with him. He stares at me blankly while I talk, then when I finish, he says, “I’m sorry,” almost like a question, like he thinks an apology is maybe all that I’m after. Then he continues to stare at me as if he’s waiting for me to make a point (which, of course, I think I already have).

I get the feeling that he is a little uncomfortable with these talks, too. He does a good job of trying to be receptive, but I never really feel like anything is resolved. I get to have my say, but I often feel like I’ve actually made the problem worse.

So the concept of improving my marriage without talking about it sounded immensely appealing.

According to the book, it’s very common for women to think their husbands don’t love them anymore, and this is because men are conveying their affections in the ways men do, which isn’t how we, as women, would convey affection; so it’s easy for us to miss the gestures entirely. Our secret decoder rings aren’t on the same setting.

I got to thinking about what my husband really meant by getting me a cell phone charger for my birthday. He knew I needed one and wanted one, so it seemed like the natural thing to get for me. It might not have been a romantic gift, but he was taking care of me, as men like to do with their women.

When I expressed to my husband that I’d felt a little hurt on my birthday, he was genuinely bewildered. “Why?” he asked despairingly. “You said last year that having a cake is the only thing that’s important to you, so I got you a cake—the woman at the store said it was the BEST one they make—and I made sure you had it first thing in the morning!”

Um, yeah, I do really like having a birthday cake (which stems, perhaps, from my childhood, when my mom always seemed a little put out by my birthdays, and occasionally didn’t make or buy a cake at all), but I don’t think I told my husband that it’s the ONLY thing I want for my birthday. Actually, I don’t remember what I told him last year, but it is likely that I put some emphasis on the importance of a cake, perhaps even to the degree that it was reasonable for him to make the conclusion that he did. Birthdays are a big deal to me. They aren’t to him. But he did earnestly put forth the effort to do for my birthday what he thought I wanted. And I think that deserves a lot of credit. So I feel really bad about basting and roasting him in my birthday post. He’s actually an infinitely better husband than he comes across in my blog.

So after reading some of that book and putting things in perspective, we are, once again, bunnies in paradise.

It could be that reading almost any half-decent book on marriage will give you the perspective you need to get through a garden-variety case of ruffled fur. This is the second book on marriage I have read. The first was The Marriage Garden: Cultivating Your Relationship so it Grows and Flourishes by H. Wallace Goddard and James P. Marshall (which I also recommend), and I remember feeling especially patient, understanding, and connected to my husband while reading that one, too. Maybe the way an exercise book makes you want to get in shape and an organization book makes you want to clean, a marriage book makes you want to be on your best behavior with your spouse. (And that can’t be a bad thing.)

A few lines from the Without Talking book really got my attention:

Men have a hard time giving the reasons they value their wives, because their wives are the reason they value everything else. Women make it possible for their men to find enjoyment in watching sports, cooking, tinkering with the car, and hanging out with friends—plus, she gives meaning to his going to work every day. We can say with confidence to the majority of women reading this book that, without you, he would just go through the motions of life. Be very clear about this: In all likelihood, you provide the meaning of his life. . . .

We’re asking you to see the behaviors you now think of as uncaring, uninvolved, or shut down as coming from a man who holds you at the center of his universe and cannot fathom life without you. Thoughts of life without you are so horrible that he can’t bear to think them.

I feel like I would be arrogant to believe any of that, but I must admit, I’ve seen circumstantial evidence to support it. Last year I had a little bit of a health scare, which prompted me to try discussing with my husband some “if I were to die” issues. He’s definitely not the superstitious type, but he immediately said, “No! No! I don’t even want to talk about that!”

In another part, the authors of the book describe what men want:

Men see relationship and marriage more as a place to relax than a dynamic interaction. It’s a secure place to get their batteries recharged before the world takes another whack at them. Ideally, it’s an unchallenging place, where he can kick back, unwind, and be himself without having to play roles or manage pretenses or do things he doesn’t want to do. What makes it relaxing is the comfort of having his partner in the room or at least in the next room. For men, a relationship is a secure base, as long as his partner is around or nearby.

This would explain why my husband tends to follow me around the house.

He’s a good man. I think I’ll keep him.

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