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Getting Through to the Man You Love

Getting Through to the Man You Love

(Formerly entitled: A Woman's Guide to Changing Her Man)
By Michele Weiner-Davis

Chapter One

If someone were to tell you that you could have better, more meaningful communication with your partner, or that you could hug and touch him without his thinking sex was imminent, or you could get him to realize that, unlike the oven, the house isn't self-cleaning, wouldn't you want to know how? What if you were told that there really is a way to inspire your man to be more loving, to become more involved with the kids, or to remember to put the toothpaste cap where it belongs. Wouldn't you be first in line to find out exactly what you need to do? Of course you would. All women would.

But here's the sixty-four thousand dollar question. If we're so determined to change our men, why are we so lousy at it? For starters, when things aren't going well, we spend far too much time analyzing things to death and finding fault instead of finding creative solutions. We become hell bent on discovering the real, underlying causes of our relationship problems. Unfortunately, as you're about to see, this is a huge waste of time.

Regardless of how much you know about the causes of your relationship problems, it won't help you figure out what to do to fix things. For example, have you ever rifled through women's magazines, searching for articles about your man's personality and taking every pop psychology quiz imaginable hoping to shed light on your partner's irritating behavior? "No wonder, we have problems," you tell yourself, "he's got a "Type A" personality." Well, maybe the pop quizzes demonstrate unequivocally that he does have a "Type A" personality, but does knowing this help you one iota? Do you now know what to do to get him to be more laid back? I doubt it.

But you don't let that stop you. You continue searching for causes; looking for other things to blame. You tell yourself, "It must have been his upbringing." "They spoiled him, so obviously he expects to be waited on hand and foot," or "He never stops criticizing me. He's just like his father." In the heat of an argument, you assign blame by calling him by your father (or mother) -in-law's name. I've never met a man who, after being accused of having the same undesirable trait as his parent, reflects upon his behavior and genuinely says, "Thank you for your insightful comments, dear. I'll work on that. " Most men (most people, for that matter) become defensive when blamed and counter-attack. Hardly the response you want.

In frustration, you turn to your friends. You pick up the phone or meet for lunch and you vent. You complain. You commiserate. They understand. They empathize. And best of all, they agree. They can't believe he's acting like such a jerk. "What in the world is he thinking,?" they chime in unison. "Why doesn't he just admit you're right and he's wrong?" they wonder. You thank your friends for their "objectivity" and support and you end the conversation feeling bolstered to do more battle. Stronger? Perhaps, but not necessarily wiser. Here's why.

While you're busy collecting data, you fail to notice that another precious day has slipped away. You're no closer to having more joy in your life than when you started. In fact, if anything, there's more distance between you. In short, without realizing it, you've now become an expert on why your partner isn't changing and a novice at knowing what to do about it.

Secondly, even if you are convinced you're right about why he behaves the way he does, it's absolutely meaningless because he won't agree with you. Nevertheless, you spend the next few months or years trying to convince him of his shortsightedness and the reasons for it. Unfortunately, the harder you work at this, the more he blames you. Stalemate. Ironically, research suggests that men's number one complaint about their partners is that women are always trying to change them.

So, you may be asking yourself, "Since men don't like being changed, why read a book instructing women to do the very thing men most detest about being in a relationship?" The answer is simple. I'm here to tell you that not all efforts to change men are created equal. Some strategies simply work better than others; they don't leave men feeling nagged or coerced. And as a result, men are more responsive and accommodating. Women need to learn these "male-friendly" methods of persuasion and stop doing what doesn't work.

If you're thinking, "Yeah right, the only way I'll ever get great treatment is if I trade my man in for someone new," you're wrong. Trade-ins aren't practical. New men need training too. That's why I'm going to teach you how to transform your man into the "new and improved" version you've been hoping for. You're about to learn effective, down-to-earth, easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement strategies for changing your man. Want to know what makes me so certain about all of this?

I'm a marriage and family therapist who has been practicing a radically different approach to problem-solving since the early eighties- a method called Solution-Oriented Brief Therapy. Instead of dissecting the past, I started helping people identify how they want their lives to change and the specific steps they need to take to make those changes happen. No introspective journeys into the past or painful probing for lost memories. No parent-bashing or finger pointing. Just blame-free strategies for changing one's life in the here and now. At last, immediate solutions to long-standing problems. What a relief!

Then, I wrote a best-selling book based on solution-oriented principles to help couples divorce-proof their marriages, Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach for Making Your Marriage Loving Again. The response to this book has been overwhelming. I've received thousands of letters and calls thanking me for having revitalized people's love for one another.

One of the reasons for the book's popularity was the fact that it was based on the very pragmatic, yet unorthodox idea that one person can change a relationship singlehandedly. As you can imagine, this notion was very appealing to readers whose marriages were teetering on the brink of divorce because, so often in those cases, one partner is more interested than the other in putting forth the effort required to resurrect an ailing relationship. I can't tell you how many marriages I've seen rebuilt when the person most interested in making things better stopped pointing fingers and started taking productive actions.

After seeing extremely conflictual relationships rebound from the brink of disaster, I couldn't help but think of how many more people- people with less serious, garden variety relationship problems- could benefit from knowing that relationship change is inevitable if they're willing to stop blaming their partners and take the first step. The possibilities were mind boggling. I couldn't wait to tell people. Thus the genesis of this book.

The fact that one person can spark change in another person is really great news for women. Since most men aren't overly interested in "working on" relationships (having in-depth, emotionally-laden discussions, going to therapy, taking relationship-enhancing seminars or reading self-help books), knowing that you can affect change singlehandedly enables you to take the energy you spent trying to convince your mate there's a problem and that he's the cause of it, and funnel this energy into a vastly more productive direction. This means you can take charge of your life rather than just sit around wishing and hoping your man will change.

So if you've been waiting for the man i your life to stop being so stubborn, I suggest you quite waiting. You're wasting time. I'm going to teach you many different techniques to reach your man and help you determine which strategies work, which don't, when to shift gears if what you're doing isn't working and what you can do instead. I'm going to help you become more systematic about the ways you approach your partner. I'll guide you in doing more of what works and less of what doesn't.

On the surface of things, discarding strategies that don't work seems too obvious to mention. But, trust me when I tell you that it simply isn't so. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes women make when they're experiencing relationship problems is that they rely too heavily on their emotions to guide them. We do what "feels right," whether it works or not. We're not strategic. Even rats know better.

If you put a rat at the bottom of the maze in front of five tunnels and you put cheese in one of these tunnels, the rat will explore all the tunnels, looking for the cheese. If you put the cheese down tunnel five each time you do the experiment, eventually the rat will remember that the cheese is down tunnel five and go there first each time. In other words, the rat will stop looking for the cheese in the other four tunnels.

If you then decide to put the cheese down the second tunnel, the rat will go up the fifth tunnel, notice there's no cheese and then go back down. The rat may do this two or three more times, but it will soon figure out that the cheese is no longer there and start exploring the other tunnels again until it finds the cheese. The major difference between rats and women is that rats will stop going up tunnels that have no cheese. Women, on the other hand, will go up the fifth tunnel forever. Women will spend months, even years going down empty tunnels in relationships even if they're in pain, because, unlike the rat who's just focused on the prize, we lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing.

Pam was one woman who forgot to keep her eyes on the cheese. After years of feeling criticized and controlled by her husband, she believed she had no alternative other than leaving her marriage. When she informed her husband, Hal, of her decision, he made a desperate plea for her to work on their relationship. She decided to give him another chance. Like most women who feel controlled by their partners, Pam grew determined to become more assertive, forcing Hal to be accountable for his actions.

In the months that followed, Hal truly worked overtime to become the person Pam wanted him to be; he was more loving, attentive, respectful, and involved with their children. Although Pam appreciated his changes, she withheld positive feedback. Instead, each time Hal said or did something that displeased Pam, she called him on it. In fact, the only time she discussed their relationship was when she was unhappy with his actions. It wasn't long before Hal felt discouraged. Since he felt her needs were a moving target, he eventually stopped trying. The loving marriage Pam had always wanted was now slipping through her fingers. I knew Pam needed to be reminded of the cheese.

Once alone with Pam, I applauded her decision to become more forthcoming with Hal and told her that the success of their marriage hinged upon her being more open and honest than she had been in the past. However, I asked whether she thought she was getting anywhere focusing solely on Hal's faults and not his strengths. Although she admitted that things deteriorated between them each time she criticized him, she felt compelled to persist because of her promise to herself to take a stronger stand with Hal. Ironically, the very thing she was doing to improve her relationship with Hal was actually driving him away.

I told Pam that, if she wanted to, she could have Hal "eating out of the palm of her hand." Predictably, she liked that idea a lot and was open to hearing my suggestion. I supported her sharing her negative feelings with Hal, but advised her to stop censoring her positive feelings. "Catch him in the act of doing what you want him to do and reward him in some way," I told her. "Let him know you appreciate what he's doing. Compliment him, hug him, write him a note." She agreed to give it a try.

Within a very short time, she saw a remarkable change in him. Once again, he was putting his heart into making their marriage work. Pam even noticed that Hal was more receptive to her comments when her feedback to him was less than complimentary. For the first time, she believed her marriage was on the right track. Pam learned the difference between being right and doing what works.

If your man is the controlling sort, I can see why Pam's story might be somewhat puzzling to you. After all, conventional feminist wisdom and mainstream psychotherapy have impressed upon women the need to voice their negative feelings whenever they're upset. That's why many women who have grown weary of feeling over-powered begin scrutinizing their relationships and call their partners to task every chance they get. Well, I may be the bearer of politically incorrect news, but here goes. In reality, voicing your discontent each and every time you're displeased is a fail-safe prescription for marital/relationship disaster!

But don't panic! I'm not suggesting that if you feel resentful or fed up to simply stuff your feelings inside. As a strong-willed, independent woman who's been in a relationship with a macho-type, strong-willed man (my husband) for twenty-six years, I know the importance of speaking one's mind. I know how vital it is to be self-determining, to have your voice heard. Thanks to my being a native New Yorker, I have little trouble speaking out and taking a stand, but I've come to define real assertiveness quite differently than that.

To me, real assertiveness means being able to decide if, how, when or where I make my needs known. Typically, when I express my feelings to my husband, it is not a knee-jerk reaction to having my buttons pushed. Generally, I choose my battles wisely and plan my approach in order to increase the odds I'll get the kind of response I want. It seems to be working pretty well so far. Consistent with this philosophy, I help women gain control over their lives, not by speaking out reactively, but by learning truly effective ways of reaching the men they love. I show them how to achieve greater happiness by teaching them how to get smart, instead of getting even.

Perhaps the challenges you're facing aren't as extreme as Pam's. Maybe your relationship is basically sound, you just want to smooth out the rough edges. That's exactly what I'm going to help you do. The methods you're about to learn vary; some are like a stick of dynamite, others, a gentle nudge. Which methods you use will depend on your particular situation and your personal preference. There's something here for everyone. Well, not exactly for everyone. For every woman.

Now, perhaps you're wondering, "Since either person can take charge of changing the relationship, why is this book directed specifically at women?" There are several reasons. First of all, think about the people in your life who you are important to you- your kids, other family members or your partner. When these people/relationships require attention, who's most likely to take action? You. Right? That's because women tend to be the primary caretakers in relationships. When it comes to kids, we wipe more noses, change more diapers, give more kisses and hugs, and spend far more sleepless nights nursing sick children back to health or waiting for the sound of adolescents beating the clock and rushing home for curfew. That's because we're the Moms.

If you have an aging or ailing parent, research suggests that, despite the size of the family, it is usually a daughter who assumes responsibility for the parent's care. We may tire of it, but we do it anyway because more than anything, we value caring for others. Or what about your family? Have you ever asked yourself, "Who's at the hub of family get-togethers?" "Who picks up the phone to check in most often?" "Who sends the Hallmark cards?" No doubt a woman. You see, unlike men, who typically define themselves through achievement, women, (even high powered, career-oriented women) value relationships, communication and nurturance. Our relationships are the yardsticks by which we measure success.

It's not that men don't value relationships, they really do. But when it comes to taking the lead in improving things, they think we're so qualified for the job, they don't even bother applying. So I'm no fool. I'm going straight to the top. I'm talking to you- the person who is the real engine of your relationship. If I wanted to write a cookbook, I'd direct it at the true lover of the culinary arts. If I wanted to write the definitive sports book, I'd have the sports fanatic in mind. If I'm going to pour my heart and soul into writing a no-nonsense manual for relationship change, I want to make certain it gets in the hands of the person most likely to put it to good use... and that's you.

There's another reason I've written this book for women. Since the publication of my book, Divorce Busting, I've had the opportunity to touch peoples' lives in profound ways. I've helped warring couples love again, enabling them to renew their commitment to one another and keep their families together. However, despite my best efforts, some relationships have fallen through the cracks. Although this, in and of itself, is not particularly remarkable, what is remarkable is the definite pattern I noticed; it is primarily women who are walking out of their marriages. In fact, a journalist recently coined the phrase, "The Walk-away Wives." Here's a behind-the-scenes look at what the "Walk-away Wife" syndrome is all about.

After years of trying unsuccessfully to improve an unhappy marriage, a woman eventually surrenders and convinces herself that change isn't possible. She ends up believing there's absolutely nothing she can do to influence her partner to be more responsive since everything she's tried hasn't worked. That's when she begins to carefully map out the logistics of what she considers to be the inevitable, getting a divorce.

While she's planning her escape, she no longer tries to improve her relationship or modify her partner's behavior in any way. She resigns herself to living in silent desperation until "D Day." Unfortunately, her husband views his wife's silence as an indication that "everything is fine." After all, the "nagging" has ceased. That's why, when she finally breaks the news of the impending divorce, her shell-shocked partner replies, "I had no idea you were unhappy."

This response serves as further evidence of her husband's unfathomable insensitivity to her feelings and the decision to dissolve their relationship becomes etched in stone. Even when her husband undergoes real and lasting changes, it's usually too late. The same impenetrable wall that for years shielded her from pain, now prevents her from truly recognizing his genuine willingness to change. The relationship is over.

I know countless women who have said, "Au revoir" to their partners. I've witnessed their struggles up close. They aren't cold, unfeeling people. They didn't take their decisions to leave lightly. They dreaded disbanding their families. They simply saw no other alternative. Unfortunately, many of these women eventually regretted their decisions. But it was too late. I want to change all that. I'm utterly convinced that all this pain can be avoided if women have access to practical, effective information about the mechanics of change earlier in their relationships so they don't ever get to the point of no return.

Maybe your relationship challenges seem minor compared to Walkaway Wives because your man's quirks are annoying but commonplace. Well, regardless of the nature, depth or complexity of your partner's foibles, you're about to learn effective methods for modifying him. In fact, once you start implementing these strategies, you'll be surprised at how yielding your partner really can be. You might also be surprised by your new, overriding feeling of empowerment.

Okay, have I piqued your curiosity about man-changing yet? Do you want to know how to lead a horse to water and make him drink? Well, that's what the rest of this book is about. So, If you're someone who was just about to pull her hair out in frustration, or throw in the proverbial towel, don't do it. Solutions are right around the corner. You've just opened the book that no woman (in her right mind) will want to be without.

2006 Copyright - Michele Weiner-Davis. All rights reserved.

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