I decided to listen to the audiobook How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny because I couldn’t find anything else interesting (and available) that I hadn’t already listened to in the online library. My marriage is great, but it is a topic that interests me, and I see many couples around me who struggle. However, initially I was a little skeptical about this book.
But as soon as I started listening to this audiobook, I realized that there was a lot that I could learn from it. Some of its ideas are not necessarily new to me, but others are, or at least, they are presented in a way that helped me understand better certain differences between men and women, and how I could deal better with those differences, not only in my marriage, but also with other members of the family, friends, coworkers, and so on. In other words, even if you marriage is great, some of the ideas of this book may still help you understand better even yourself, and then other people in your life, not just your spouse.
Main Idea of the Book
Men are right. The “relationship talk” does not help. Dr. Patricia Love’s and Dr. Steven Stosny’s How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It reveals how to achieve marital happiness: Love is not about better communication. It’s about connection.
In other words, if you are a woman, forget what you have heard about sharing your feelings or getting him to express his. New research into the male mind makes it clear that discussion may be the fastest way to shut down communication.
The number one myth about relationships is that talking helps. The truth is, more often than not, it makes things worse. While talking about their feelings helps women, it makes men physically uncomfortable. Even with the best of intentions, talking about their relationship doesn’t bring necessarily spouses together, and it may even drive them apart.
The reason for this problem is that there is a biological difference between men and women. Women’s stronger vulnerability to fear and anxiety makes them draw closer to their spouse, while men’s sensitivity to shame makes them pull away in response. This is why so many married couples fall into the classical roles of nagging wife and stonewalling husband, and why improving a marriage it’s almost impossible to achieve through words.
But if talking about relationships doesn’t really help, then what’s the alternative? According to Love and Stosny’s, what matter is the connection. People need to learn that before they can communicate with words, they need to connect nonverbally. This can be done do in simple ways, through touch, sex, or doing things together, because the deepest moments of intimacy actually occur when they are not talking.
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It helps couples to get closer in ways that don’t require “trying to turn a man into a woman.” In the book there are plenty of stories of couples who have turned their marriages around, and practical advice about the kind of behaviors that make and break marriages.
7 Short Quotes
You’ll never get a closer relationship with your man by talking to him like you talk to one of your girlfriends.
Men want closer marriages just as much as women do, but not if they has to act like a woman.
Talking makes women move closer; it makes men move away.
The secret of the silent male is this: his wife supplies the meaning in his life.
The stunning truth about love is that talking doesn’t help.
Have you ever had this conversation with your spouse? Wife: “Honey, we need to talk about us.” Husband: “Do we have to?”
Male emotions are like women’s sexuality: you can’t be too direct too quickly. There are four ways to connect with a man: touch, activity, sex, routines.
3 Quotes about How We’re Different: Fear and Pain
The differences that underlie male and female vulnerabilities are biological and present at birth. Baby girls, from day one, are more sensitive to isolation and lack of contact… When a woman feels close, she can relax; when she feels distant, she gets anxious. This is why a baby girl can hold your gaze for a long period of time. She is comforted by the closeness the eye–to–eye contact provides. It also explains why, left alone for the same period of time, a girl baby will fuss and complain before a boy baby. This heightened sensitivity to isolation makes females react strongly to another person’s anger, withdrawal, silence, or other sign of unavailability. It is more frightening to her to be out of contact than it is for a male. This is not to say that males prefer isolation or distance; it’s just that females feel more discomfort when they are not in contact.
Gender Difference in the Frequency and Intensity of Fear
Men have a hard time understanding a woman’s fear and the pain associated with it. One reason is that a woman’s fear provokes shame in a man: “You shouldn’t be afraid with me as your protector!” This is why he gets angry when she gets anxious or upset. But there’s another reason men just don’t get women’s fear. They don’t know what it feels like. Research shows the single biggest sex difference in emotions is in the frequency and intensity of fear—how often you get afraid and how afraid you get.
Girls and women both experience and express far more fear, as measured in social contexts and in laboratory experiments that induce fear. Newborn girls are more easily frightened than boys. Girls and women are more likely to feel fear in response to loud noises and sudden changes in the environment. They have more anxiety and worry a lot more than boys and men. Women have a markedly higher fear of crime, even though they are far less often the victims of it.
Females Feel More Pain
Another reason that females have more fear of harm may be that they feel more pain. The scientific data suggest that women suffer quite a bit more physical pain than males, not counting childbirth. As early as two weeks old, girls cry louder and more vigorously than boys in response to mild pain stimulus. The higher anxiety levels of females only ratchet up their sensitivity to pain. Around 90 percent of chronic pain disorders afflict women. Men have a hard time empathizing with the pain and fear of their wives, both because they’re conditioned from toddlerhood to suck it up, and because it doesn’t hurt them as much!
9 Quotes About How We’re Different: Hyperarousal and Shame
Hyperarousal in Boy Babies
Although boy babies feel less fear and pain than girls, they have a heightened sensitivity to any type of abrupt stimulation, which gives them a propensity for hyperarousal, that is, hair–trigger reactions. Male infants startle five times more often than female infants and are provoked by a much lower stimulus—a loud stomach gurgle will do it.
Intimacy in Small Doses
Because of their high sensitivity to arousal, newborn boys have to guard against the discomfort of overstimulation. This is why boy babies have to take eye contact and other intimate contact in small doses. If you have a boy and a girl, you may have noticed this difference. Your baby girl was able to hold eye contact almost as soon as you brought her home from the hospital. You could gaze into her big eyes (she widens them to draw in your gaze) for hours on end.
But your little boy was less likely to hold that kind of eye contact before six to nine months of age, if at all. When you looked deeply into his eyes, he probably looked down, then back at your eyes, then up, then back at your eyes, then down the other side, then back at your eyes, then up the other side, then back at your eyes.
He was interested in you—or he wouldn’t have kept looking back—and he certainly wasn’t afraid of you. His intermittent attention was his way of staying in contact with you without becoming overwhelmed.
Trying to Avoid a Cortisol Hangover
When it comes to relationships, women often mistake this guarded response, which many males retain throughout life, for lack of interest or even loss of love. Most of the time, he hasn’t lost interest; he’s merely trying to avoid the overwhelming discomfort of a cortisol dump that comes with hyperarousal. Cortisol is a hormone secreted during certain negative emotions. Its job is to get your attention by making you uncomfortable so that your discomfort drives you to do something to make the situation better. The pain a woman feels when her man shouts at her is caused by the sudden release of cortisol. A man feels this same discomfort when he is confronted with her unhappiness or criticism. He may look like he is avoiding her, but he is essentially trying to avoid a cortisol hangover for the next several hours.
How Hyperarousal Translates Into Hypersensitivity to Shame?
Boys and girls both experience shame, which is a stop–and–hide response. The root meaning of the word shame is “to cover or conceal.” When you’re embarrassed you want to crawl into a hole, and a child feeling shame wants to cover his face because he can’t bear to look at you. If you are playing with a boy or girl infant and you suddenly break eye contact and turn away, he or she will experience the physical displays of shame: reddened face, contorted facial expressions, writhing muscles, and other signs of more general distress, especially if he/she was interested in or enjoying the eye contact. In this way, shame is an auxiliary of interest and enjoyment—babies have to be interested in something or feel enjoyment to experience shame when it stops abruptly.
Because little girls are more comfortable with longer periods of eye contact, caregivers tend to stay engaged and break contact with them less often, meaning little girls experience the shame response associated with abrupt disconnection far less often. On the other hand, if parents or caregivers don’t understand a little boy’s need for smaller doses of eye contact, they will break the intimate contact abruptly when the little boy looks away, constantly reinforcing the shame response, which is amplified by the extra kick of cortisol that the response produces.
Males who experience this over and over develop a hypersensitivity to shame. Studies show that parents gaze into the eyes of their little girls (and talk sweetly to them while doing it) 50 percent more than they look into the eyes of their little boys. With their sons they laugh and make nonverbal utterances, wave toys in front of them, tickle them, or pick them up to shake and roughhouse with them. Both kinds of play are of high quality—children and parents enjoy them immensely. But they are qualitatively different.
Little boys need the intimate contact—albeit in small doses—just as much as they need the active play. Little girls need active play as much as they need intimate contact.
Intimacy is riskier for little boys when they have consistently felt shame in conjunction with it—if I like it too much, the boys learn, they’ll take it away, because I don’t do it right. From the very beginning, many little boys don’t feel like they can measure up in intimate relationships. Little girls can hold eye contact, while little boys are easily overwhelmed and have to look away. The eye–contact gap is especially sad because eye contact is our principal source of intimacy throughout our lives. Boys and men are deprived of the very intimacy that would help them overcome their vulnerability to shame.
If you have a baby boy, you must understand that he likes eye contact, but you have to be more patient with him and not start tickling him when he looks away from you. The best thing you can do for your infant son to help him manage shame in the future is allow him to feel the comfort of eye contact gradually, at his pace. Keep looking at him, and you should notice that he will stay focused on your eyes for longer and longer periods. Just being sensitive to the invisible differences in male and female vulnerabilities can shift your perception and deepen your connection—without talking about it.
5 Quotes About How We Avoid Fear and Shame
Most of the time a woman’s fear and a man’s shame are unconscious—outside awareness. You can live a lifetime without ever hearing a man say, “I feel ashamed when you get scared of my driving” or a woman say, “I want that Gucci bag to keep my fear of deprivation at bay.” Instead you will see the tip–off indicators of fear and shame: resentment and anger (blaming your shame or fear on someone else); materialism (providing illusions of status for a man and security for a woman); people pleasing (doing things detrimental to the self to gain the admiration or approval of others); obsessions (thoughts you can’t get out of your mind); and compulsive behavior like impulsive shopping, overeating, and binge drinking. All the above have temporary pain–relieving effects that work for both shame and fear.
It is not our innate differences in fear and shame that drive us apart; it is how we manage the differences. If you manage them with criticism, defensiveness, withdrawal, or blame, your relationship will fail; it’s as simple as that. If you manage them with the inspiration to improve, appreciate, connect, or protect—as you’ll learn to do in this book—your relationship will flourish. But it will take conscious attention for a while to overcome the force of habits that began forming very early in your life.
From early childhood, girls avoid fear by building alliances and forging emotional bonds—there is comfort and strength in numbers… This predominant female coping mechanism is called tend and befriend. Women respond to stressful situations by protecting themselves and their young through nurturing behaviors—the tend part of the model—and forming alliances with others, particularly women—the befriend part. Women bond around helping one another through troubled times. The more they talk about their troubles, the closer they feel.
Because emotional bonds serve as a woman’s primary source of comfort, it appalls women when men try to cope with stress in ways that seem to threaten emotional bonds, for example: distraction (work, TV, computer, hobbies); status seeking (work, sports, acquiring expensive toys); emotional shutdown (if you feel nothing, you won’t feel inadequate); anger (if you numb the pain you won’t feel it); and aggression (if you exert power and control, you won’t feel the powerlessness of failure and inadequacy).
What women have an even harder time understanding is this: For the average male, relationships are not a reliable source of comfort. A man’s greatest pain comes from shame, due to the inadequacy he feels in relationships; therefore, going to the relationship for comfort is like seeking solace from the enemy. Talking about the relationship, which is guaranteed to remind him of his inadequacy, is the last method he would use for comfort, in the same category as choosing a bed of nails for a good night’s sleep. This is why he often goes to a fight–or–flight response to ease his distress and not to a heart–to–heart talk with the woman in his life. Fight or flight is the male equivalent of tend and befriend.