A manly guide to marriage

March 03, 1998|By Ray Recchi

A GROUP of psychologists issued some advice last week for new husbands who want to stay married: You can't win an argument with your wife, so you might as well give up.

Of course, psychologist John Gottman and his colleagues at the University of Washington didn't put it exactly in those simple, straightforward terms. Do they ever?

What Mr. Gottman said after tracking 130 newlyweds for six years was, "We found that only those newlywed men who are accepting of influence from their wives are winding up in happy, stable marriages."

In other words, even when you're right, you're wrong. You can win all the arguments and lose the marriage.

Although I don't often put a lot of stock in psychologists' pronouncements, this time I think you ought to pay attention, guys. And don't complain. You're lucky. Had I been given that advice before I got married, the past 26 years would have been a lot smoother.

Daddy's in charge

When I got married, husbands who let their wives run the marriage were referred to as "henpecked." The prevailing philosophy of the era was summed up by Ralph Kramden in the "Honeymooners" television series: "I am the king and this is my castle."

Ironically, anyone who watched the show could see that Alice Kramden was the one in charge.

But when I got married, I adopted Ralph's "king of the castle" philosophy anyway. Of course, it didn't work any better for me than for Ralph. As the years went on and our children grew older, it didn't even work with them. They kept throwing silly notions such as logic, reason and fairness in my face.

So, eventually, I settled for a few perks. I get to sit at the head of the dinner table, exclusive use of the family-room recliner and limited control of the TV remote.

When it comes to big decisions, however, my vote counts no more than that of anyone else in the house. Tina selects our Christmas tree, picks the color of our bedroom and chooses the kind of front door we will purchase -- even if that door costs more than $700.

And, as our psychologist friends from the University of Washington have said, it's worth the trade-off. We're happy and, truth be told, I don't really care what color the roof or the bedroom are or which Christmas tree we buy.

The fact is, you don't actually have to defer to your wife every time you disagree. You only have to seem to.

A friend and colleague calls it the "Yes, Dear" method.

He learned it, he said, from an elderly couple who had been married for more than 50 years. Being a newlywed eager to start on the right track, he asked the man how he had managed to stay happily married for so long.

"He told me that no matter what his wife says, he answers, 'Yes, dear,' then does what he thinks best," said my friend (who, for obvious reasons, chooses to remain anonymous). "So I tried it, and it works like a charm."

Ray Recchi is a columnist for the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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