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9 ways to improve your relationship with your spouse, and a helpful mental model
Michael is launching a new short run podcast called Practical Theology later this month. It’s 12 episodes that focus on the practical implications of self rule in a Christians’ everyday life. Our readers get advance access to stuff like this, so here is episode #1, to whet your appetite. It’s about the manly skill of keeping it between the ditches when it comes to sleep:
4 ways husbands can improve their relationship with their wives
1. Happily and frequently catch a ride on that “conversational rollercoaster”
Men tend to expect a conversation to result in a punchline or call to action.
Many wives, however, engage in conversation simply for the enjoyment of sharing their experiences with others.
Don’t rush the conversation to some forced conclusion. The destination might be the journey. Just enjoy that this woman wants you to be part of her life. Listen intently. Practice asking “then what” or “what else has been going on?”
She is sharing herself with you. Don’t reject her.
2. Touch her non-erotically
Long hugs, holding hands, and back rubs go a long way. Don’t always try to convert them to sex. Just be with her. Make her feel physically cherished and safe.
3. Just tell her you want to have sex
Don’t walk around secretly resenting your wife for her inability to read your mind. Many wives are more willing than most husbands realize. Just ask. It’s not at the forefront of their minds like it is at yours. If she doesn’t pick up subtle hints, just ask her, “Can we make love?”
You’ll often hear red pill guys say that you should never ask for sex. What they are talking about is a servile attitude. You should never beg or barter for sex. Sex is promised in the marriage covenant. You both already said “I do” to that. There’s a difference between “asking for sex” and “asking to have sex,” if you see what we mean.
But women do have periods, do really get headaches, do really have upset stomachs, and so on.
Asking to have sex can sound like this:
“Hey, babe, I’d like make love. You game?”
Or, “Hey, babe, I’d like make love. You game?”
“I’m exhausted. How about we wake up early to do that?”
“That would be great.”
Beta-males/nice-guys have a tendency toward wanting to sweep women off their feet, so they always get their “sexual best.” But life is not like that. Sex sometimes is a five course meal; sometimes a quick snack. The productive life includes and requires both.
4. Be decisive
A busy wife and mother can easily suffer from decision fatigue. Dads are often away at work, and mom is the one at home to field a thousand requests.
The last thing she wants is to have to be the one to make all the hard decisions.
Involve her in the process—but be the one who is willing to say yes or no, especially in those weighty matters.
4 ways wives can improve their relationship with their husbands
1. Be more explicit about your needs and desires
Men tend to communicate in a very straightforward, linear way. Women not so much.
Learning to speak a little “man” will go a long way in improving your marriage. Most husbands are eager to help their wife, and aren’t picking up on your subtle hints.
There is a significant difference between men and women in this regard that makes this especially important to learn and practice: men tend to withhold offers of help to avoid the implication that the other person is not up to the task. Women, on the other hand, tend to avoid asking for help because they are wired to automatically volunteer it and so assume that men will do the same. (They are also conditioned by society to believe that a man ought to just know what a woman needs if he really loves her, so she should never have to ask.)
Men are actually torn in two directions on this when it comes to women. On the one hand, they have a natural instinct to err against shaming them, since women are their glory. This means they are less inclined to offer help even when it is obviously needed.
On the other hand, they have a natural instinct to provide for (and even show off to) women, since they are the weaker vessel. This means they are more inclined to offer help even when it is not needed.
How this tension plays out for specific men varies, but it certainly can contribute to intersexual confusion and resentment. Taking all assumptions and implications off the table, and simply saying, “I’d like X, can you help?” can go a long way toward clearing this away.
2. Touch him a lot
It doesn’t have to be flirtatious touching, though he’ll like that even more. Men like hugs, kisses, shoulder rubs, you brushing up against him, etc.
It can be subtle stuff. Your softness keeps him gentle. It can melt, and even prevent, an angry or cold heart.
3. Tell him you appreciate him, and give him a specific example
Honor fuels men. Most men don’t need a lot of it—they can run a long way off a little praise. But they do need it.
The hard work of leading, providing, and protecting can be a grueling grind. Even the best husband can get discouraged—or worse, feel unappreciated by his family.
Encourage him. No matter what he says, it would mean the world to him.
4. Be as sexually available as you can
Both men and women have powerful sex drives. But men experience a much more constant and active sex drive.
Women are generally cyclical, as a result of hormonal changes.
You being a consistent source of pleasure and comfort is good for your marriage.
Why won’t she listen?
There is a real tendency for people to treat relationship issues as if they were math problems, or an issue of bad code. But relationships aren’t mechanical. They’re organic.
A husband who lacks respectability, but demands respect, is as effective as a wife who lacks loveliness, but demands love.
Most people like this will come right back with, “But God commands that she respects me/he loves me.”
He does—but your way of life doesn't. How about you grease the wheels a little?
Why won’t they listen?
In Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman claims communication is an emotional phenomenon. We have found this to be true. People have a tendency to think of communication as a mental exercise that depends on saying the right things (data) in the right way (technique).
This isn’t wrong. But it is notably incomplete. There is a third component which trumps the other two: the emotional state of the speaker.
This is why Friedman focuses heavily on cultivating a non-anxious presence by taking responsibility, and not allowing others to pull you into their anxious state. Anxiety hampers or even entirely sabotages communication.
Others can only hear you when they are moving toward you, no matter how eloquently you phrase the message. In other words, as long as you are in the pursuing, rescuing, or coercive position, your message, no matter how eloquently broadcast, will never catch up. And as for anxiety, it is the static in any communication system and can distort or scramble any message.
That all might sound like a lot of pyscho-babble, but you see the same attributes stressed in biblical leadership qualifications. Moreover, you see their importance directly connected to communication. Paul tells us that a shepherd must be sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable; not be arrogant or quick-tempered, nor a drunkard, violent, or greedy for gain—but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).
Note the emphasis on self-management of mind, emotions, and actions. This is a man who is not ruled by his emotions. He rules himself. He isn’t required to demand respect with words. The reality of his life commands it.
He is respectable.
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says that
the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
Here we see how emotional self-rule is required for effective spiritual leadership. Teaching, that is communication, requires kindness, patience, and gentleness. A mature man isn’t easily pulled into a quarrel, even with an opponent, because he has emotional self-control.
It’s through both his presence and his words that he corrects those around him.
So now consider again Friedman’s claim that “others can only hear you when they are moving toward you.”
A non-anxious presence is attractive. It gives a person gravitational pull. It’s easier to love a lovely person. It’s easier to respect a respectable person. Loveliness and respectability draw others towards you.
By contrast, anxiety in all its forms repels. It is unattractive. It pushes people away.
This is why a leader must be sober-minded and self-controlled. An anxious person will push other people away. Hence Friedman says, “as long as you are in the pursuing, rescuing, or coercive position, your message, no matter how eloquently broadcast, will never catch up.” An anxious person chasing an anxious person is like trying to push together like poles of two magnets.
So why won’t she listen?
We’re assuming she is your wife, because that is the most common question we get. But our answer applies equally to husbands, children, co-workers, or anyone else in your life.
Simply put: it’s probably not a matter of data and technique. It probably is a matter of your presence.
You are pushing her away. At least for a time, put aside your obsession with information and communication method. Instead, focus on cultivating a non-anxious presence, being sober-minded, peaceful, and temperate, through basic self-disciplines like prayer, ruminating on the scriptures, and sleep.
Prayer especially is the worry-slayer. In Philippians 4, Paul writes:
...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So start with prayer. It is the means by which God has ordained for an individual to cultivate the peace which surpasses all understanding.
Loveliness commands love. Respectability commands respect. Peaceableness commands peace. Command through your way of life. Be a presence that inspires and helps regulate others towards self-discipline.
Btw, we see the same guys go from guru to guru, and group to group, looking for marriage help. They usually just want more techniques and data. They don't want to triple down on presence through self-discipline. The same is probably true of women.
Marriage is a dance
Dance is one of the best metaphors for inter-sexual dynamics within a marriage.
The man leads, the woman follows.
No one is passive, but neither partner moves in the exact same way.
Though the man leads, the way in which the woman follows affects how leads.
Though the woman follows, the way in which the man leads affects how she follows.
Each partner allows the other to shine at times.
The magic is found in the interplay of their differing movements.
Below is a great example from a Jack and Jill Dance competition. Jack and Jill is a format of competition in partner dancing, where the competing couples are the result of a random matching of leaders and followers.
Here, Kyle Redd and Nicole Ramirez were randomly assigned to each other—and the song is also random.
The sensual movements might be too much for some, but they illustrate the interplay of the sexes very prominently. There is a "sensual" element to it—but not of the sinful sort. It's involves feeling and reacting. Skip to 4:23 if you’re in a hurry:
Men should want a wife who follows their lead, but that in no way makes her passive or a non-influence.
Quite the opposite, a passive and uninvolved wife will undermine the beauty of the marital dance.
The magic of marriage is found in the interplay of two individuals who dance according to their sex—but they dance together.
Red pill autists should all have to do two things:
Learn to dance
Plant a garden
Something for the ladies, from Bnonn’s wife:
If you've never read a historical etiquette manual, you don't know what you're missing.
I'm currently perusing The Ladies' Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners, or, Miss Leslie's Behavior Book.
Ninety percent of it is just good, solid, ultimately timeless advice about being considerate to others: not overstaying your welcome, being sure to return a borrowed umbrella promptly, only inviting as many dinner guests as your home can comfortably fit, etc.
And then every now and then she'll let drop something vaguely astounding like "Don't discuss abolition—for or against—in front of the slaves," or, "don't play at philopenas".
A philophena, it turns out, is a silly party game in which, when cracking nuts at the table, if a young lady finds two nuts nestling together in the same shell, she will share it with her beau; and the next time they meet, whoever is the first to shout out "Philopena!" gets a present from the other.
The problem is that according to the customs of the day, a gallant gentleman was expected to always pay up on a bet against a lady, whether he won or lost. So there was an epidemic of brazen young women basically weaponising chivalry and extorting gentlemen with philopenas, talking loudly betweentimes about what excellent presents the *other* gentlemen got her. Kind of an impressive hustle when you think about it. One can imagine Lydia Bennet having great fun with it, although this book was written after her time.
Also, when travelling, avoid women in white kid gloves. They are not respectable. Why? I have no idea. She didn't feel it necessary to explain.
How to read one or two dozen books this year, with only a little discipline
Reading a dozen or two books per year is easy. It’s just a matter of basic discipline.
A slow reader reads somewhere around 30 pages per hour. But let’s say you are a super slow reader. You only read 15 pages per hour.
And let’s say you don’t have an hour to read every day. You only have 30 minutes per day.
If you read 7.5 pages per day, in a year you’ll read 2,738 pages.
The average page count in non-fiction books is 150-200 pages. Let’s go with the low side of 150 pages.
2,738/150= 18 books per year.
If you drop your reading to just weekdays, you’ll be able to do about 13 books in a year.
Now, go look at the activity log on your phone.
You could easily read 12-24 books this year with a little discipline.
Set aside an amount of time every day, or every weekday, and go from there.