Save Your Marriage 

Robert Harris
Version Date: April 22, 2015

It turns out that men and women are quite different, and these differences affect the way they interact with--and often misunderstand--each other. However, there are some excellent resources available to you that you can use before you need to go to counseling. If you want to have a happy marriage or a successful relationship, read on. Here you will find some book recommendations, together with some personal advice based on experience.

First, let me immodestly recommend my own book, Marriage in a Nutshell. It consists of proverbs about marriage selected
from both the Biblical book of Proverbs and other sources. Each entry is only about 100 to 300 words long, so you can read a proverb, read the commentary, and think about both while on a break, at lunch,waiting for an appointment, or whenever you have only five or ten minutes to spare. The more than 50 entries offer the secrets to a happy and fulfilled marriage. The approximately two dozen proverbs not from the Bible all have Biblicall quotations relevant to the proverb and to the married life. The book is available in Kindle format for just 99 cents.  I think you'll agree that it's the best three dollars you've ever spent on a book about the marriage relationship. And I'd be glad to hear what you think. After you read it and work through it, send me an email. The first part of my address is rharris and then the at sign and then the name of my web site followed by dot com. Thank you.


John Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Five star rating
If you can read only one book about marriage or male-female relationships, read this one. It's not just another advice book based on what someone thinks sounds good. The book presents the results of many years of observing men and women interacting--and arguing--and how their relationships can be healed. Dr. Gottman is the guy mentioned in Malcom Gladwell's Blink, who can observe a couple interact for five to fifteen minutes and predict with more than 90 percent accuracy whether they will stay married. The good news is that by learning about what toxifies and destroys marriages, you can alter your understanding and behavior and not only prevent marital failure, but actually find happiness and contentment with the spouse you were about to divorce. That seems like an exaggerated claim, but if you read the book, I think you will see how dramatically some changes in interaction style will help.
For example, one of the most devastating blows to a relationship is the eye roll. When one partner says something the other disagrees with, and the other rolls his or her eyes, it's like a hatchet through the heart--because rolling the eyes is a sign of contempt, and no relationship can continue--much less grow stronger--when one partner holds the other in contempt. The same is true of sarcasm. Sarcastic remarks are signs of disrespect. And relationships cannot succeed when there is a lack of respect.
Just as a sample to show you why you need to read this book before any other about marriage or relationships, here is Gottman's list of behaviors that, unless they are changed, will doom any relatinship:
Harsh Startup. If one person begins an argument with accusations, sarcasm, or personal attack, there is likely to be no resolution to the issue. In fact, things will be made worse.
Criticism. Instead of complaining about a specific issue ("The trash didn't get taken out last night. Weren't you going to do that?") the problem is generalized to a personality defect: "Look, the trash is still there. You never do what I ask you. You never listen to me. Why are you so stubborn and lazy?"
Contempt. Sarcasm, eye rolling, demeaning questions, condescension. Any of this holier than thou, better than thou, smarter than thou type of behavior shows contempt for the other person.
Defensiveness. Blames the other person for the problem. "Why didn't you fill the car with gas, as I asked?" "Well, because you had the keys [or credit card, or garage door opener, etc.] so I couldn't." Translation: It's your fault.
Stonewalling. It's mostly a male thing. The silent treatment.
Flooding. When someone feels ovewhelmed by the argument, he or she will feel "flooded" and shut down emotionally. Men like to leave the room and go to the garage or the TV room to watch the game. Women might stop talking (which shows how upset they are).
Rejected repair attempts. When one person offers a concession or make a move to de-escalate the conflict--such as reaching out a hand or trying to hug or saying, "Let's drop this for now till we can be calmer about it," those are repair attempts. When those attempts are rejected by the partner, the relationship is further damaged.
The names of the Seven Principles themselves (such as "3: Turn toward each other instead of away") are less important than the content they title. Even if your marriage is strong and happy, you will benefit greatly by reading--and applying the principles and behaviors described in--this book.

John Gottman and Joan DeClaire. The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
Four Star Rating
This is a book for people who have trouble creating or maintaining emotional connections with others. There has been a lot written about "emotional intelligence," the ability to recognize what emotions others are feeling and how to control your own emotions. But this book is about sending, recognizing, and receiving what amount to positive messages that others send when they want to establish or tighten a bond--of love, friendship, or collegiality.

The basic theory Gottman advances is that people are constantly offering bids for connection to others. For example, "Would you like to go to lunch?" "I finally finished the XYZ report." "Here, I saved you a piece of cake." "Hi, I'm home."  All of these are bids  for connection that hope for a positive--a connecting--response. When a positive response is given, the two people draw a bit closer to each other. On the other hand, a negative response can push people farther apart. Gottman identifies three response types: turning toward, turning away, and turning against. Example Bid: "Here, I saved you a piece of cake." Turning toward, "Oh, thanks, that's very nice of you." Turning away, "What time is the Jenkins meeting?" Turning against, "That looks disgusting. I wouldn't offer that to a dog."

The book's ideas and practices are valuable for improving the happiness and close of romantic relationships, of parent-child relationships, friendships, and the relationships of work--teams, colleagues, bosses, subordinates. It would be a great choice for training managers, supervisors, vice presidents and on up, as well as teams.

But to the reason this book is on the Save Your Marriage page. Observation reveals that all too many spouses interact by responding to connection bids by turning against the bid rather than toward. Consider some of these interactions:

Spouse A: Did you hurt yourself?
Spouse B: As if you care.

Spouse A: Look, the smaller size is cheaper per ounce.
Spouse B: So you'll save thirteen cents. Big whoop.

Spouse A: Ooh, let's get some peanut butter. I love it.
Spouse B: That would be for you. I can't stand the stuff and I won't eat any of it.

Note the lack of warmth, connection, encouragement, and simple positive attitude in these responses. This kind of behavior, which has become habitual in many marriages, destroys the relationship and crushes the happiness out. If you or your spouse respond to bids this way, get the book and follow its principles.

Available at The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships

Patricia Love and Steven Stosny, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
Five star rating
This book makes the point that, while women want to talk about relationships, men don't. In fact, the authors note that the vast majority of relationship books and seminars are geared toward women--who buy and read those books and drag their husbands to those seminars. But the talking cure can make a relationship worse rather than better, because talking about the relationship when there is little connection makes men feel like failures.

Love and Stosny argue that a woman's greatest concern is to avoid fear, while a man's greatest concern is to avoid shame. When a couple talks about their relationship, the man is likely to interpret the woman's comments as criticisms, which make him feel ashamed at being not good enough--a failure. (Thus this book echoes the findings of Gottman.)

The book makes the case that connection is more important than communication. Before you raise an issue with your spouse, it is critical to establish a feeling of connection--making your spouse feel respected, loved, valued, successful.

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It is one of the more important books that anyone interested in male-female relationships should read.

Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2010.
Three star rating
Originally published in 1992, and now a cottage industry with more than half a dozen related titles (like John Gray's Mars and Venus books), this book emphasizes the point that while we all want to feel loved by our spouse or friend, we get that feeling in different ways. Chapman identifies five different ways that people feel loved (the "love languages") and offers tools for helping determine what a person's love language is and how to practice that language that the loved one prefers.
The five languages are:
Words of Affirmation. Praise, reassurance, compliments. "You did a good job on that," "You're so smart," "That is such a creative idea," or even, "I agree with you completely." (It has been said--not without reason--that the easiest way for a woman to surprise, to shock, to awe a man is to say, "I agree," when he makes a statement of any kind.) These kinds of expressions affirm the belief that the speaker respects and likes (or loves) the person spoken to. Those whose love language is Words of Affirmation especially appreciate this kind of reinforcement. And in the opposite direction, they are especially torn apart by criticism, disrespect, and contempt. (See the Seven Principles book above.)
Quality Time. Just hanging out together, not necessarily doing anything. You can see this language operating when a guy says, "I need to go to the auto parts store to get some brake pads," and his girlfriend (or an unusually loving wife) says, "Need some company?" or "Can I go, too?" Chapman's definition is "giving someone your undivided attention." In other words, listen to the other person. Going to a movie together is hardly quality time because you're barely with the other person. Play a game together and talk about things. Or better, just sit in a coffee shop or on a bench at the beach or mall and just talk.
Receiving Gifts. For those whose love language is receiving gifts, you don't have to shower them with cars and jewelry. The key is tangibility--physical signs of love. A handmade card or note, a plucked flower handed to the loved one during a walk, a piece of fruit, a book, a Starbucks gift card, a card that says, "Good for one free ----" and then fill in what your spouse likes best that you don't do as often as you should. For a woman, a free backrub, vacuuming, laundry, car wash, dinner at a favorite spot, etc For a man, a free homemade dessert (bake a cake, etc.), car wash, lawn mow, etc.
Acts of Service. I still remember the times when I'd be working on the car or running a snake in the sewer line in the garage at my mom's house. Mom would show up with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, some cream, a spoon, a napkin, and maybe a cookie or something. She'd say, "I thought you needed a cup of coffee." The line from John Milton's sonnet, "On His Blindness," is relevant here: "They also serve who only stand and wait." It can be an act of service just by being with someone working. I remember lying under the car working on an oil change or alternator replacement, and having someone there to hand me a tool--that was an act of service. If your spouse's love language is Acts of Service, do things for him or her that you don't normally do. A husband might clean the toilets--or the entire bathroom--super well and then put a bow and a sign on the commode, saying, "Sparkling clean," or even "Sparkling clean, as a token of my love." A wife might clean up her husband's messy desk (unless he's the "don't touch my desk" type).
Physical Touch. It has been said somewhere that Americans especially suffer from "skin hunger," because we don't touch each other enough. A simple, brief caress can go a long way to make someone feel good, while a hug can make someone feel loved and affirmed. I still remember a couple of hugs I got more than twenty years ago. Holding hands, a caress on the forearm, a shoulder rub, backrub, pat on the back--there are many ways to affirm someone with a physical touch.
The "executive summary" is that it's important (1) to realize that your spouse or friend's love language is probably not the same as yours, and (2) to discover what the other's love language is and to practice it. We tend to think that others are (or should be) the same as we are. That error creates many problems in romantic relationships.

Get this and more Christian books about marriage from
Christian Books

Laura Schlessinger, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
Not Yet Rated
A quotation from a husband on the first page of the introduction  sums up the argument of the book very well: "We need only clear communication, appreciation, honest love, and respect." Schlessinger argues that these are the elements missing in many marriages. She says that "men are very simple creatures" who need "a woman's acceptance and approval." Instead, she points out--through dozens of examples provided by the callers to her radio advice show--that what many husbands get is criticism, disrespect, and disdain from a nagging, controlling wife. The basic disconnect, she says, is that most married women believe that "their husbands are to serve them, and that any demands husbands make are insensitive and selfish." When wives criticize their husbands, Schlessinger adds, it not only makes the husbands miserable, but it also causes the wives to feel less love for their husbands.
Some advice worth quoting:
Those familiar with Dr. Schlessinger's radio program know that she is blunt and direct, expressing her advice in strong terms. I wondered how other people viewed the book, so I mentioned it at work. Two women colleagues said it was a very good, important book. From what Schlessinger herself says, what my colleagues say, and what I  have observed myself, the book offers the gift of "Aha!" to many of those critical, disrespectful, condescending wives who until they see themselves in the book, don't realize the damage they are doing to their husband's and their own happiness. Instead of growing bitter and resentful toward their husbands because the wives are unable to remanufacture them into an imaginary ideal, wives should love and encourage the man they married.
An advantage to the book is the large number of callers Schlessinger quotes and comments on. This makes the book almost a breezy read, quite compelling to find out who says what next. So in addition to the powerful content, the book is also a "good read."

Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: William Morrow, 1990.
Not Yet Rated
Available from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.
Four Stars
Women should read this book to understand themselves better, and men should read this book to understand women. Dr. Brizendine emphasizes the role of the many hormonal factors and fluxes that influence women's thinking and behavior, together with the basic (genetic and hormonal) differences between men and women. Parents can discover why their teenage daughters go crazy, women can gain insight into emotionally clueless men, and men can come to understand why new mothers sometimes go into a mental fog after giving birth. Brizendine is a neuropsychiatrist who cites research studies for her conclusions. I do get the feeling that she occasionally presents some exceptional cases (outliers) as more common than they are. Nevertheless, the book is an eye opener and  provides some real insights into what makes women behave and think the way they do. As long the the men who read the book realize that generalizations about women are the most dangerous generalizations around, and that "your female may vary," the book will supply much wisdom and understanding. Women need to read the book, not only to understand themselves, but to realize that it's normal and typical for a man to miss the cues distress that his wife or partner displays, and that when she bursts into tears, he will be genuinely surprised. He might even ask, "What's wrong?" It's not just your man. It's a guy thing. Fewer emotional detectors, etc. Read the book.

Louann Brizendine. The Male Brain. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
Not Yet Rated
This is Dr. Brizendine's sequel to The Female Brain. Soon to be reviewed.
Available from The Male Brain

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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at