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Problems with your husband? Blame him

In  “It's (Mostly)  His Fault,” Robert Alter says most men aren’t interested in connecting with their wives; they’re interested in dominating them.
/ Source: Weekend Today

Sure, we’ve all heard that it takes two to tango in a relationship, but that may not necessarily be the case. After more than 30 years of counseling couples, Robert Alter concluded that men are to blame for the problems in most marriages. That doesn’t mean that men can’t change and learn to be better partners. In his new book, “It's (Mostly) His Fault: For Women Who Are Fed Up and the Men Who Love Them,” Alter tells how men can assume more active roles in their relationships and how both spouses can communicate with each other with more honesty and candor. Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter 1
Hey! You’re in a relationship!

Part of me loves and respects men so desperately, and part of me thinks they are so embarrassingly incompetent at life and in love. You have to teach them the very basics of emotional literacy. You have to teach them how to be there for you. — Anne LamottMarriage is a relationship ... You’re no longer this one alone; your identity is in a relationship. — Joseph Campbell

Let’s face it, we men don’t know squat about relationships. We don’t really do relationships. We do work, we do sports, we do cars, we do wars, and we do sex (which is what often passes for relationship with some of us), but we don’t really do relationships.

“His idea of a relationship,” said Margo of her husband, Paul, in their first session, “is he comes home from a three-day business trip, tired and cranky, says a perfunctory hi to me, who’s standing there at the door to greet him, stoops down to hug the kids for a few seconds, then makes a beeline upstairs to shower, change his clothes, and come down a half hour later. He sits down with us at the table where he gobbles down his favorite meal, which I’ve spent two hours preparing for him, hardly says a word to us, not a word of thanks to me, then gets up and goes into the den and turns on the TV and falls asleep. If I question him about it, like, ‘Is this your idea of a relationship, Paul?’ he either looks at me like I have two heads, or he gets mad at me. I really don’t think he knows what I’m talking about. I’m not even sure he knows what the word ‘relationship’ means.”

What we men mostly do is alone. “I am a rock, I am an island” ... “Jo-Jo was a man who thought he was a loner” ... “Desperado, you’ve been out ridin’ fences” ... that sort of thing. Even relationships we’re in — like our marriages — we do them alone, or try to.

This drives women completely nuts.

Because women do relationships. They like relationships. They find their very identity in relationships and connections. In the same way that it is the nature of water to be wet, it is the nature of women to be relational.

This is somewhere between quite surprising and totally incomprehensible to most of us men.

But it makes sense, when you think about it.

Because women are totally biologically built for relationship. In pregnancy they carry another human being inside their bodies for nine months, which is about as relational as it gets. In the early years of their mothering they’re nursing that baby night and day, which is also about as relational as it gets. In lovemaking they open up their beings and their very bodies to another human being, which is also about as relational as it gets.

Women, it is clear, are relational.

And you went and married one!

What were you thinking?

You probably weren’t thinking, but if you had been, here’s what you could have been thinking:

I’m a guy. I don’t know squat about relationships. If you want to know the truth, I’m scared to death of relationships, the reason being that there’s a secret little part of me that so needs a relationship, that’s so dependent on a relationship — with a woman, with this woman who I married — that if I ever admitted it, especially to myself, the sheer power this woman has over me, I’m a goner.

So this dependency thing — I’ll repress it, forget it, deny it, make fun of it, get mad at it, do everything but own it as a part of myself. In this way I will present the image of myself as an independent loner type, a mature man, a manly man, a regular John Wayne, off by myself, out ridin’ fences . . .

If I don’t get honest with myself here, I’ll spend the next fifty years of my marriage off by myself ridin’ fences, moving from one self-constructed isolation booth to another — work, TV, sports, pornography — silence, alcohol, depression, pornography, work — while my wife’s over there lip-synching Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and looking in the yellow pages under “Divorce Lawyers.”

Hey, guys, the women are lonely!

You can diagnose them with depression and pump ’em full of Prozac, but they’re really just lonely.

Did you hear me? Our wives are lonely.

So let’s get honest with ourselves here.

I started getting honest with myself in 1969. Twenty-four years old. Two years out of Cornell, in graduate school in Boston. Rooming with a fellow graduate student in a house by a pond in a suburb of Boston. Jane, twenty-one, a senior at Cornell, visiting me from Ithaca. Our first weekend together. A cold, snowy Sunday afternoon in late December. A walk through the woods. Snow crunching under our feet. Talking. Getting to know each other. Talking about ourselves.

“I’m quite happy by myself,” I was saying. “I don’t need anybody.”

I’d been saying it for years — to girls, to myself, to everybody: I don’t need anybody. It was my mantra. Coming from the family I came from, where we all lived in a kind of silent seclusion from each other, no wonder I said it and completely believed it.

I don’t need anybody.

It was total bullshit. The opposite was true.

“I don’t need anybody,” I was saying to Jane, the two of us walking up a wooded hill, our boots breaking through the snow, her mittened hand in mine. “I really don’t. I’m happy alone. I don’t need anybody.”

She stopped, turned to me, took my forearms in her mittens, held me still, looked up into my face. Her light blue eyes were sparkling in the falling snow.

“Yes, you do, Robert,” she said. “You need me.” And broke out into a big, beautiful smile.

In getting honest with yourself it helps if you meet a woman who sees right through you from the beginning of time.

All over the earth, since ancient times, women have been carrying the message of connection and relationship to us men. In bringing that message they also bring the messages of kindness and caring and communication, of human cooperation, of tending and befriending, of trust and love and peace.

Women know the way: It’s the way of relationships. Of human connections. Of getting together and talking and listening to each other. Of liking and helping and having a good time with each other.

Of love.

Don’t you get it?

Your wife is trying to teach you love.

It’s like Dylan says to a woman in one of his songs:

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days.

Women are love.

“You need me,” said the woman who loves me.

What you need is your wife.

What the world needs now ... are the women!

And as soon as possible ’cause things are gettin’ kind of scary here on the planet.

The move
Hey! You’re married to a woman! You’re in a relationship! With her!

That means you’re supposed to stay connected to her. Here are three simple things you can do today to stay connected to her. Do one or two or all three of them.

  1. Right now go find your wife wherever she is in the house and ask her how her day went. Like if she’s in the kitchen fixing a snack for the kids, go in there and sit up on the counter and say, “How’d your day go today?” or “Tell me about your day today” or something like that. And then listen.
  2. When you leave the house today for work or to do errands or to go outside and do yard work, leave a little note on the kitchen counter: “See ya, honey. Love ya. You look pretty today.”
  3. When the two of you are watching TV together tonight, instead of sitting in your armchair, go sit next to her on the couch and put your arm around her. When the commercials come on, mute them and tell her little tidbits from your day.

These little daily connections are the stuff of relationship. You’re in one. The fact that you’re married to a woman means you’re up to your ears in one.

A word to the wives
All the Moves at the end of all these chapters are designed to bring your husband into closer relationship with you. Most of them will be new and unfamiliar behaviors for him, and he’ll be stretching outside his comfort zone to try them.

So when he tries them, try to make him feel as comfortable as possible by welcoming him when he approaches you and responding positively when he does the new behavior. Tell him that you see and appreciate what he’s trying to do with these Moves and that you hope he keeps making them as he reads through the book. Give him a hug and a kiss, and tell him you’re proud of him for doing what he’s doing. Remember that we’re men, which means that your welcome of us is huge positive reinforcement for us all the way through.

Excerpted from “It's (Mostly) His Fault: For Women Who Are Fed Up and the Men Who Love Them,” by Robert Mark Alter. Copyright © 2006 by Robert Mark Alter. All rights reserved. Published by Warner Books. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.