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     Volume 4 Issue 21 | November 12, 2004 |

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For A Happy Marriage, Treat Hubby Like Fido

James Sherman

When I first noticed the title of the book "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands," on The New York Times best-seller list last spring, I assumed that it was the kind of humorous little throwaway that one would find in the checkout aisle alongside such titles as "101 Uses for a Dead Cat." Then, as I was browsing through the bookstore a few weeks ago, I saw that it is, in fact, a book by Laura Schlessinger that purports to help women find happiness in marriage by approaching a husband as one would a household pet.

In the introduction, Schlessinger states her essential premise: "Men are very simple creatures." She uses the word "simple" to describe men on pages 5, 10, 30, 44, 52, 64, 92 and 121. Apparently, all a woman has to do to achieve domestic bliss is keep her man content with a pat on the head, a hearty meal and an occasional roll in the hay. And, of course, a night out with the boys every once in a while.

Aside from the obvious uproar that would result if a man wrote "The Proper Care and Feeding of Wives" (a kiss on the cheek, a bouquet of flowers and a little extra allowance so she can buy that new handbag?), I am astonished to learn that there are those who believe that the future of marriage is to go hurtling into the past, that we should play our roles as husbands and wives as if we're living in the 1950s. Since men are such simple creatures, the thinking goes, it's OK to let the dears believe that "father knows best." But we all know who really rules the roost, don't we?

If I ever came home at the end of the day and saw my wife, Linnea, standing there wearing a dress and makeup and holding a martini and my pipe and slippers, I would say, "Please, Mr. Space Alien, give me back my wife and I won't ask any questions." Perhaps some men would like their wives to behave that way, but not me. I'm not that simple.

Linnea and I are partners. We recognise and celebrate our differences as a man and a woman ("Vive la difference!" as Tracy said to Hepburn), but we have moved beyond the traditional roles of wife and husband. Sure, I pride myself on being a good protector and provider for my family. So did my father. But unlike my father, I have the advantage of living in a time when I can be so much more than that.

My involvement in my children's lives and in the home does not come out of some sense of "doing my share." I'm grateful for every moment I have with them and I don't consider it a chore. I consider it my opportunity to be a fully evolved person. When the women's movement allowed women to break free of the conventional, it created the same possibilities for men, too. Isn't that, truly, what equality means?

My wife and I are individuals, but we have blended our lives together to create something that's bigger than either one of us. As E. E. Cummings wrote, "You and I are more than you and I because it's We."

In practical matters, this means acknowledging each other's strengths. She helps the children with math homework. I help them with English and social studies. I'm a morning person, so I get the boys up and off to school. She's a night person, so she reads to them and puts them to bed. I cook, she does the dishes. I drive, she navigates. Sometimes I pick the movie. Sometimes she picks the movie.

Here's what I think is the problem with marriage: it's too easy to get married. Self-help gurus would sell fewer books, but there would be far fewer divorces, if people would learn that it's not enough to be in love with someone to get married. You also have to be in love with the idea of being married. This means that you and your partner will be a team. And the team is more important than its individual players. If you're not ready to accept that, you're not ready to get married.

We have to take a test to get a driver's license or a real-estate broker's license. Why shouldn't we have to take a test to get a marriage license? Here are a few sample questions from the Sherman Marriage Aptitude Test:

(a) Do you promise to accept your partner for who he/she is and not who you hope he/she will become? (If you're not sure who he/she is, do not marry him/her.)

(b) Do you promise to fight fair and sometimes just give in because, come on, you know it's not really all that important?

(c) When your partner asks you to do him/her a favour, do you promise to say yes, do it and not keep score?

The success of a marriage does not depend on learning how to handle your spouse. It does not depend on subjugating yourself and your partner to some antiquated model of behaviour. If you want to find true happiness, my advice is this: get your head out of the book and look at the person you married.

(c) 2004, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.


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