The Measure of a Good Marriage
“Measure twice. Cut once.” I hear it in my head every time I go to do some kind of home improvement do-it-yourself job that involves cutting wood. Sometimes it’s my Dad’s voice. Sometimes it’s my Grandad or my Father-In-Law’s voice. But they’re all in my head reminding me of the rule to keep me from cutting the board too short.
To be honest, it’s a great rule. Double-check your measurements because you can’t add wood back to the end after you’ve cut it off. The only way to mess this one up is if your measurements are wrong. “Oh, you thought I said five feet and six and a half inches, but I meant six feet and five and a half inches!” DOH!
How you measure something can determine a lot about the outcome. If you measure happiness by a certain number on the scale or a certain size of pants, then happiness can be a difficult thing to maintain. If you measure success by a certain number of dollars in the bank, you’ll always be striving for that next buck and can miss a lot of life along the way. There are times when we feel bad about parts of our lives simply because we’ve chosen to use the wrong metric to measure the outcome. We have to be willing to change the metric.
However, the reverse is also true. There are times when we think we are absolutely killing it in certain areas of our lives, but the evidence around us simply doesn’t agree. I can’t count the number of couples that have come into my office where the wife has a lawyer on speed dial and the husband has a deer-in-the-headlights look that says he has no idea what just happened. He thought the marriage was fine, and she’s ready to leave. Why?
Statistically, women file roughly 70% of all divorces. What does that tell us? That 70% of all men are clueless when it comes to relationships? Maybe, but not exactly. One of the things that it should tell us is that men and women are using different metrics to determine whether a relationship is healthy and sustainable or not. As Terry Real states, “Most men aren’t unhappy with their relationship, they’re unhappy that their wives are unhappy with the relationship.”
This is where the inherent problem of using the right tool for the right job comes into play. While females in our society have for the most part been socialized to think relationally (i.e. be empathetic, show compassion, honor vulnerability, etc.), young males are taught to be more “manly” which when translated simply means, “don’t be like a girl.” This combination provided stability for a long time in the history of marriage. The division of duties was clear. Her job was to nurture. His job was to provide. Everything was as it should be. Or so it seemed.
The problem is, things change. We live in a different world today, and just like it happened in middle school, it seems that women have matured faster than men. The women that come in my office for therapy want more out of their relationship than just a man that provides and every once in a while “helps” with the kids. But when they try to explain this to their husbands, the men truly don’t seem to understand the language that is being spoken. It’s not that they don’t want to understand. It’s that they simply do not have a framework for what is being asked of them. Their metrics are all wrong.
The reason for this is simple. Most men learn how to do relationships by watching the men in the generation before. If they can improve just a little on what their father or grandfather did, then they feel like they’ve arrived as a man. If they didn’t have a male in their life, they rely on impressions and ideas that they get from what society puts forth as qualities that are rewarded in a man. Either way, they’re putting together the puzzle, but the picture on the box is all wrong because most 21st century marriages don’t work with 19th-century men.
So what’s a guy to do? Does he throw his hands in the air and give up? Or does he double down and demand to be respected? Probably neither of those options will help. But there are a few small things that might make sense.
- You’ve got a relationship expert in your home. She’s trying to teach you what she needs. Stop telling her why that won’t work.
- Go read a book. You can do it. Grab something on marriage or communication or something. Making an effort is huge.
- Look for opportunities. Your spouse WANTS to connect. There are millions of little opportunities every day. These are the life-blood of the relationship. Be aware of them.
- Get help. Don’t wait for her to force you. If you know you’re missing some tools in your toolkit, go find someone to help you fill in the blanks.
- Be open. It’s okay to say, “I’m just not sure how to do this, but I really want to try.”
Measure twice; cut once only works when you’re using the right metric. When it comes to marriage in the 21st century, men must change the metric from, “I’m doing better than Dad did,” to something more holistic. The only way to do this is to help them realize that change is worth it.
I promise you – it is.