Excerpt: 'The Secrets of Happily Married Men' by Dr. Scott Haltzman

ByABC News via GMA logo
January 26, 2006, 9:00 AM

Jan. 26, 2006 — -- Dr. Scott Haltzman has a message for men: Treat your marriage like a job.

"When you use the work strategies that you use in the workplace at home, you can be really successful," he said today on "Good Morning America." Also, he said, men need to make their wives their priority.

In his book, "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever," Haltzman offers practical advice for men to improve their relationships. He tells them that they have to understand that men and women are different and take that in account when communicating. Men tend to be "action-oriented," while women "tend to respond to emotionally based conversation," he said.

Below is an except from the book:

I jumped into the cab, hoping to catch a quick ride from one sideof Rhode Island to the other. During the thirty-minute trip, I fellinto an easy conversation with the cabbie and soon learned that hewas typical of so many men I know -- great at managing and negotiatingthe complexities of life in general, but insecure and frustratedin his marriage.

At first he told me, with great pride, about his car. He plannedto replace the horns because of water buildup. He talked aboutneeding to get the transmission rebuilt and how he was able tostrike a good deal. Did you know he paid $1,500 for the job on aBuick that had almost 300,000 thousand miles on it?!Soon, the banter shifted to family (probably because I can't helpasking people, "So, are you married?"). My cab driver told me thathe had two sons and that he had been married for twenty years.Losing the bravado of our earlier conversation, he quietly admittedthat he'd been separated from his wife for the last two years.

"My wife and I just can't agree on the right way to raise thekids," he said with a sigh that gave away his frustration and resignation.

"I didn't want to separate, because I think it's the coward'sway out," he was quick to add. "But I just couldn't figure out howto make things better."

Usually, as a psychiatrist, I'm the one with the meter running.But during this impromptu session, I was paying for his time, and before we arrived on the other side of Rhode Island, I had somethingimportant to say to this man. Here's the short version:You're a creative man who has a marvelous knack for fixingthings. If something's not working in your car, youfigure out a way to fix it. If you can't, you find someonewho can. You've stuck with your car when most ownerswould have sent it to the trash heap. You have a realsense of commitment and a knack for getting things towork. What makes you think you can't use those samewonderful qualities to save your marriage?

When my trip was over ($60!) and my little speech done, mydriver look startled, but also relieved, as he said, "No one's ever toldme that before, Doc. Thanks."

For a long while, I thought about this conversation and aboutmany similar discussions I've had with my patients and colleagues.It's obvious to anyone who studies male behavior that men demonstrateextraordinary skill in sales, mechanics, politics, medicine,finance, construction, and many other areas. So why is it, I have towonder, that when it comes to problems in relationships, men resignthemselves to their fate, act helpless, and give up? After longthought and study, I think I know.

For too long, men have been told that they are relationshipincompetent.Maybe that's what you've heard, and maybe that'swhat you believe. I'm telling you now, loud and clear, it's not true.You are competent. I've got a little more time with you than I didwith my driver, so let's talk about you for a while.

It's a sure bet that if I were to ask her, your wife would say thatyou do not contribute as much as she does to the success of yourmarriage. Find two women talking to each other, and you're likelyto hear them joke about how their guys are so useless. You know it'strue. Most women are quite vocal about the "fact" that men do notuphold their end of the matrimonial bargain because they simplydo not meet the women's standards.

Just one question: Who determined what these standards shouldbe? I have a strong feeling that the finger of blame for unhappy andcrumbling marriages most often points to the male because of unrealisticand unattainable expectations. I'm the first to admit that menbear at least an equal share in the blame department, and I've gotsome ideas about how we men can better contribute to the job ofbuilding strong relationships. But first we have to get past the ideathat to have a good marriage, men have to be something they arenot. Yes, you can have a happy marriage and still be a man.

The Media Man

Where does the image of a "typical" man come from? Turn on yourTV and there he is. On any night of the week, on any channel,you'll see sitcom husbands who are clueless when it comes to marriage.Generally they are out of shape and uncouth, and can't matcha shirt to a tie, but, hey, they have gorgeous wives! These televisioncaricatures get their comeuppance every episode because they aremen -- inflexible, selfish, shortsighted, overbearing men who haveto be humbled before they can behave appropriately. Most sitcomwives have little role beyond providing a means of measuring aman's gender-determined marital inadequacies.

It is fashionable in today's culture to poke fun at the hapless manwho is more enamored of his remote control than his spouse. HomerSimpson, Ray Romano, Jim Belushi, and a host of other sitcomhusbands and fathers are consistently redeemed by their more cleverand sensitive wives, thus keeping the marriage on track. Even ablowhard tyrant like Ralph Kramden can be easily tamed by Alice,a woman who knows the exact moment to give him his just desertsand still earn the heartfelt declaration that she is the greatest. Themessage is clear: Ralph never contributes to the good of the relationshipon his own because he so totally lacks Alice's relationshipskills.

Hollywood movies are equally unrealistic, but from the otherextreme viewpoint. They mold their leading men to get the girl bybeing sensitive, intuitive, romantic, and well . . . more like a womanthan a man. (This image was not found in most movies of the midtwentiethcentury, when the likes of John Wayne and Clark Gablewere allowed to be manly men.)

Now, I happen to like Tom Hanks as an actor and humanitarian.But when I think about the character he plays opposite MegRyan in You've Got Mail, I'm reminded of the typically skewedimage of men and the feminine ideal of marriage that our societyembraces. Hanks plays an arrogant businessman whose bookstorechain threatens to put Ryan's quaint shop out of business.Unknown to either, they are already anonymous email pen pals.He is unbearably pompous and obnoxious, until love turns himinto a sensitive, attentive, and selfless gentleman -- in short, theperfect catch. This film, like many in the chick-flick genre,projects a classic example of how Hollywood perpetuates a standardfor men's behavior in a relationship that is drawn wholly fromthe woman's point of view.

When couples have finished watching that movie, you canalmost see the mental bubble captions over their heads. Hers reads,"God, I loved that movie and the way falling in love made TomHanks's character become so much more 'human.' " His says,"Hmm. If we hurry, I can catch the fourth quarter of the Knicks-Celtics game."

But somewhere also resonating in the guy's mind is the message,"Gee, if I were just more like Tom Hanks, I would have a happiermarriage." But we men aren't all like Tom Hanks. It's a ridiculousstandard. I'll bet even Tom Hanks isn't like Tom Hanks.

Now Wonder We Fail

When we examine Hollywood's portrayal of romance, whose realityare we talking about? Tinsel Town and the media in general conveyfeminine standards of romance that are tailor-made andmarketed to the sensitivities and expectations of women. In otherwords, they perpetuate expectations that are nearly impossible formen to meet. No wonder we fail.

And when we do, where does the finger of blame point? Commonwisdom says that when couples fall apart, men are to blame,as author Jack Kammer confirmed in a survey of his universitystudents. When the class was confronted with the statistic that75 percent of women precipitate divorce, his students concludedthat the man must be at fault. When given the opposite (false) statisticthat 75 percent of divorces are precipitated by men, the classstill voted that it must be the man's fault.

Obviously, we can't win. When emotions are involved, malesrarely get the benefit of the doubt -- even as young kids. A classicstudy tried an interesting experiment to note the way babies wereviewed by adults based on their gender alone. In this study, parentswatched a videotape of a nine-month-old child reacting to a startlingjack-in-the-box. Some were told they were watching "Dana,"whereas others were told they were watching "David," although itwas the same baby in both cases. The majority interpreted thebaby's startled reaction to the jack-in-the-box as "anger" when theythought the child was a boy, and as "fear" when they thought it wasa girl. Even when it comes to babies of nine months, people assumethat females need to be protected and nurtured and males need tobe tamed and lassoed in.

With so much going against us, it's easy to react the way my taxidriver did: throw our hands in the air and say, "Fine, you win. I justcan't be the kind of husband you want." But wait. Maybe if we stoptrying to meet impossible expectations, we'd be better able to betrue to ourselves and still be good husbands.

Men and Women are DifferentIn the 1960s and 1970s, the woman's liberation movement inAmerica opened our eyes to the cultural biases against women. Nolonger would females be content to be nothing more than adoringeye candy at the side of their husbands. The message was trumpetedthroughout the land: men and women are equal.

Although the lasting positive gains of this movement are undeniablein the workplace, in civil rights, in the courts, and in ourhomes, militant feminists were, and still are, working from a falseplatform. Women should certainly be considered equals to men, butwomen are not the same as men. There are biological differences inour mental and physical makeup that cannot be denied or ignoredin our quest to understand each other.

To make your marriage great without giving up who you are, it'simportant to recognize that some of your so-called failings as a husbandare very often not failings at all, but simply the result of thefact that you and your wife do not think and feel the same way.To dissect the ways in which males and females are biologicallydifferent, we'll start with the seat of personality, the brain. The braincomprises two sides, the left and right hemispheres. Most folks, evenleft-handers, are left-brain dominant. The left brain is associatedwith linear and sequential thought; it's the part of the brain thatputs things together piece by piece by piece. The left brain is alsothe part of the brain that controls the comprehension and expressionof speech. When a person dissects speech word for word todetermine its meaning, he uses his left brain.

In contrast, the right brain is more intuitive and holistic. Itignores the parts and sees the whole. When you solve problemsthrough hunches or impulse, you are using your right brain. It's alsothe side of the brain that houses such skills as reading maps andreading expressions.

All brains contain both hemispheres and the connecting fibersbetween them. But not all brains are alike in all ways; otherwisewe'd all think and act like one another. Recent scientific studieshave shown not only that brains differ from one individual toanother but also that there are profound differences in the developmentof the male and female brain.

There certainly are still many who claim that the superior maleabilities coming out of the right brain are nurtured by teachers andparents who give males more attention and praise when theypractice these skills, but we just can't ignore the strong evidencethat the male's advanced spatial skills are inborn. When men work on visual-spatial tasks, their testosterone levels surge -- and theyget better results, on average, than females. Perhaps that's why menare more inclined to seek work that involves visual-spatial excellence,such as jobs as pilots or carpenters.5 And perhaps footballcoaches . . . Talking about Bill Belichick (the man who led thePatriots to three Super Bowls in four years), a news article notesthat his friend Rob Ingraham points directly to his perception and insight. "Perhaps his most unheralded virtue," says Ingraham, "butone that explains plenty to me, is his innate curiosity. Bill wantsto know what makes things tick, and when applied to his passionfor football, this extends to every facet of the game: 'What makesthis blitz work? How do you counter this blitz? How can you disguisethis blitz? How can we vary this blitz? Who can I call tonightto talk blitzes with? ' . . . No stone goes unturned because his curiositydrives him to learn everything he can."6 This drive to knowwhat makes things tick, common to so many of us men with ourstrong right brains, says more about our innate abilities than all theresearch out there.

As Dr. Summers of Harvard pointed out in his controversialcomments, the preponderance of the evidence does show thatmen are endowed with a larger right frontal lobe7 and more innatemechanical competence. But this doesn't mean women don't havetheir own special right-brained skills. Earlier, I spoke abouthow the ability to express speech was housed in the left brain. Incontrast, the ability to interpret emotion and comprehend nonverbalmessages is housed in a right-brain area (apart from thevisual-spatial centers) where women reign supreme. To study thesedifferences, researchers expose subjects to photographs of the classicexpressions of fear, happiness, surprise, anger, and sadness, andmonitor their brains as they describe what they see. Males are attheir worst when they are in adolescence; study participants wereconsistently unable to recognize when someone expressed fear.(That's why social scientists think that boys are more inclined torowdiness; boys don't realize when they have gone too far becausethey can't read the fear in people's faces.) But even into adulthood,it is harder for men to discern facial expressions. In almostall cases, women dominate interpretation.8 I know this myselfbecause my wife will recognize emotions in me long before I evenknow I am having them.

Some say that we're failing to socialize females to be more rightbraindominant. Maybe, but I don't think that socialization isresponsible for the greater brain mass in the right hemisphere seenin almost all male primates. Anthropologists and social researchershave proposed that some of these differences are the product ofprehistoric gender-role differences, still seen in the few remaininghunter-gatherer cultures. Greater spatial ability among males wasnecessary for long hunting expeditions away from home (talkingwould just scare away the prey). Women benefited from their bettercapacity to use words to coordinate their search for edible plants androots; details of the immediate area that surrounded her living space,including the emotional states of her children, were paramount.I'm convinced that biology is destiny (Freud said that first, notme), and we have to pay attention to these differences. To me, theright upper cortex of the brain endows me with the perfect way tounderstand the world through its physical form. The problem is, myless developed verbal centers and my smaller corpus callosum makeit tough for me to talk about it!

Remember This :Not Everyone Agrees

There is biological evidence that women andmen are different. There is no debate that menhave penises and women don't. Men are generally tallerand have deeper voices than women. Men have hair on theirchest and face; women do not. Agreed? But dare to suggestthat the brains of males and females may be different, and theworld will condemn you as a brutish fool. Just ask LawrenceH. Summers, president of Harvard. In January 2005, Summersoffended women at an academic conference of the NationalBureau of Economic Research by suggesting that innate differencesbetween the sexes may explain why fewer womensucceed in science and math careers. He further noted thatsuch differences might stem from biological roots. Female academicswere furious -- as demonstrated by Nancy Hopkins, abiology professor at MIT who walked out of in the middle ofSummer's speech saying, "I felt I was going to be sick."4 Frontpagenews stories threw rocks, and intellectuals around thecountry wondered aloud why Summers felt women were soinferior. All the man did was note that there is research supportingthe idea that the brain of a male is different from thatof a female. Many people are not yet ready to accept this idea.

Guilty As ChargedSome of the complaints that wives lodge against their husbands arebased in truth. We are, indeed, not like them, and these differencescan drive some women crazy.

The nature-versus-nurture debate will not be resolved any timesoon. But when it comes to how husbands and wives live together,I believe that it doesn't make much difference whether the preferenceof the man of the house for tinkering with household objectsover buying shoes is caused by the way he was raised or by the hormonehe was exposed to in utero. Either way, the fact is that thereare typical "male" ways of acting.

Of course, not all men have all the characteristics of this stereotype,but what follows is my understanding of what researchers ofsocial behavior have learned about why we men are the way we are.Consider this information not as the gospel truth but as a way ofobserving human behavior to better understand who we are as men.And because of who we are, women too often complain that we'renot more like them.

Women Say: Men Don't Reach Out and FormClose Social Relationships

Men's social roles do not focus on relationship development as aprimary objective; improving a relationship is a means to an end.When two men get together, they establish a hierarchy of interactionbased on one-upping the other. Maybe it's the call of the wild.We've all seen on the Animal Channel how the rams fight eachother for dominance. Some of that instinct is alive and well in thehuman male.

Barbara Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand, says,"The essential element of status [among men] is asymmetry: Peopleare not the same; they are differently placed in a hierarchy."She contrasts this with the woman's mind-set, in which "theessential element of connection is symmetry: People are the same,feeling equally close to each other."9 This difference in mind-setexplains why it less likely that a man would build a close relationshipfor the sheer joy of doing so. If a woman doesn't understandthis, she's likely to see her man as fatally flawed, rather thanas in need of her help to learn how establishing closeness with herwould benefit him.

Women Say: Men Just Aren't as Emotionalas Women

Up to this point, we've discussed the cerebral cortex -- the part ofthe brain associated with thinking and acting. But much of thehuman brain runs on autopilot. This inner core of the brain doesn'tdiffer much from mammal to mammal; it contains the centers thatcontrol respiration, temperature, balance, and those activitiesthat are thought of as "instinctual." Deep within this core is analmond-size section of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdalais in charge of making emotional connections to life events.

Although the amygdala is larger in men than in women, this is acase where bigger isn't necessarily better. The amygdala scans thesignals that enter the brain and stands sentry, ready to light up inrecognition of a friendly smile, or send out an alarm if it perceivesany threats. When triggered, the amygdala releases a flood of stresshormones into the bloodstream. This flooding shuts down the"thinking" part of the brain, freezes the body to prepare for assault,and prepares the memory centers to retain any necessary informationfor future reference.

Up to this point in the process, guys and dolls have the samephysiological processes, but our brains differ in several importantways. Studies suggest that females are more sensitive and responsiveto social cues, including threat signals, than are males. That's whyshe's more likely to have a visceral response to upsetting signals,especially if they come from your angry face.

This difference between men's less responsive reaction to threatsignals and a women's more sensitive alarm system may be onereason why women don't think we are as emotional.Another reason is that even when our emotional reactionsare equally strong, men tend to be better able to shut down theiramygdala and redirect their brain activity back to the cortex --the place where logical thought takes over. This may seem likeemotional coldness to women, but to men it may be a way ofmaking sure our emotions don't get in the way of getting thejob done.

Men may also have internal mechanisms to dampen the seriousnessof frightening thoughts. MRI scans have shown thatwhen given two sets of words, one neutral and the other designedto stimulate intense negative emotion, men relied on their leftbrains and didn't discern a difference between the two sets ofwords. In contrast, women's right and left brains were involvedin recalling both sets of words, and emotional centers were activatedwhen the intense words were recalled. Moreover, women(not men) had an increase in blood flow to the area of the brainthat stores memory when negative emotions were triggered.Apparently, women are not only deeply hurt by words, but theyimplant those slights in their memory for . . . who knowshow long?

That's not to say that men can't, or don't, experience negativeemotions. In fact, studies show his amygdala is much more responsiveto sadness than his wife's. But unlike women, men will shutdown the amygdala to keep the cortex in control and thus appearever confident and emotionally stable.

Women Say: Men Are Not Good Housewives

Lots of men are very good at lots of things. Most can competentlycare for their kids. Many do the family laundry. And many men canmaintain strict organization of their CD collection, and recite allthe songs in order on Abbey Road. So why is it that so many of usfall apart when we're left alone to keep house and watch the kidsfor the day?

If you're one of those guys who burns dinner while the baby isscreaming to be changed, and then loses it all when the doorbellrings and your neighbor wants a rundown on the big game, you'llbe glad to hear that once again the reason for this chaotic state maylie in the way your brain is structured.

Keep in mind that every brain in every person is different, butas we noted before, women on average have more gray matter intheir brain than men. Gray matter is composed of nerve cells thatmake connections between other cells to move informationaround in the brain. Scientists have found that besides havingmore of these important cells, women also have a greater numberof connections between these cells than men do. No, there'snot a direct correlation between the number of nerve connectionsand how easily a person can attend to many demands at onetime, but scientists do theorize that one reason a woman canmanage better is because there are many more areas of her brainthat process information at once. A woman's brain is more like ashotgun, a man's more like a rifle. She sends so many nerve messageswith each impulse that she's more likely to hit several targetsat once.

Another reason some men do not multitask as well as theirwives do may have to do with that brain bridge I spoke about earlier:the corpus callosum. When the man's well-endowed righthemisphere -- the visual-spatial area -- is hard at work, you'll noticehe's not talking. That's because the right side of the brain is slowin moving information over to the left side of the brain, where theverbal centers are nestled. One of the reasons men have to turnoff the car radio when they are lost is to cut down on interferencebetween the (right) side of the brain that says, "If I turn left here,will I be able to detour around the construction?" and the (left)side of the brain that is trying to decipher the lyrics to "Bennieand the Jets."

Women Say: All Men Think About Is Sex

Without a doubt, men and women are biologically different in thesex department. These distinctions stem from gender-baseddifferences in hormone levels. Hormones are the chemicals that areproduced in one part of the body and race through our blood toother organs, causing changes in the delicate balance of ourbehavior -- and our desire for sex. For men, it's testosterone thatfuels the drive.

Testosterone is produced in the testes and flows through theblood to affect the functioning of nearly every other organ system,from cholesterol levels to muscle strength to brain function. Thishormone is the reason why your wife is right: you do think aboutsex far more often than she does -- because you have ten to twentytimes more testosterone flowing through your system than she does,causing you to have more thoughts of sex and a greater desire forsex (most of the time) than your wife.

Although testosterone also contributes to an increased tendencyto be competitive and even aggressive, and affects energy levels,motivation, and drive, evolutionary endocrinologists think that itsinfluence on the sex drive is the most pronounced. They speculatethat this has something to do with why married men, and othermen in committed relationships, have a 20 percent drop in theirtestosterone -- to help keep them from straying.

There are a great many ways in which the brain and certainbody chemicals influence the way men act and the way they seethe world. In later chapters you'll see how higher testosteronelevels make men more aggressive than women and less able to holdeye-to-eye contact. You'll learn that levels of other hormones areresponsible for our strong need to bravely protect our homes andour mates (as well as our occasional desire to wander away fromhome). You'll learn about oxytocin, a bonding hormone that surgeswhen a man has an orgasm (dispelling the myth that men aren'tlooking for emotional connection in the sex department). You'llcome to understand that men are different from women but thatthis does not make them incompetent husbands or lovers.

Time for a ChangeI've described to you a small portion of the reams of research thatmake it very clear that we men differ from women and have beenunfairly judged in our marriages. Ready to do something aboutthat? Good. Because although this book challenges some of theunrealistic and unfair standards that I believe can be unattainable,that doesn't mean you can just stand there and do nothing.No, men are not blameless here. And I'm not simply "makingexcuses" for bad or wrong behavior. When I say that the definitionsof romance and marriage are one-sided, I am not necessarily sayingthat men have a more reasonable grasp of the subject. The truthis that the average husband, unless pressed for answers, does notactively think much about relationships.

In his Complete Guide to Guys, humorist Dave Barry comparesmen's relationship savvy to an ant's view while standing on top ofa big truck tire. The ant knows he is sitting on a tire, but he can'tfully comprehend it. "And if the truck starts moving, and the tirestarts to roll, the ant will sense that something important is happening,but right up until he rolls around to the bottom and issquashed into a small black dot, the only distinct thought that willform in his tiny brain may be, and I quote, 'Huh?'"

Barry is wildly popular because there is logic behind his humor.He says that men act this way because they have "guy brains." Guybrains, he says, are basically analytical, problem-solving organs.Barry didn't make this up -- his ideas could have come out of a neuropsychologytext. Men like things that are definite, measurable,and specific. Accordingly, they don't automatically think aboutromance, relationships, and marriage nearly as much as they thinkabout earned-run averages, gigabytes of memory, mortgage refinancingrates, and the advantages of leasing over buying a car. Butjust because they don't think about romance doesn't mean theycan't be romantic.

What I am offering in this book is permission, if you will, forhusbands and wives to consider the advantages of redefining theirrelationship in new and different ways. I'm suggesting that you identifydifferences between you and your spouse -- some of which I believeare determined by gender -- and get past feminized and idealizednotions of the "perfect" marriage. Once you do this you can stop feelinginadequate, apply your "guy brain," and begin improve your marriage.Here are some words of wisdom that I'll impart as I end thischapter about being male, words I didn't get a chance to pass on tomy cabbie friend: you don't have to measure up to someone else'sstandards, especially when they're almost impossible to reach.Hollywood, TV, and women's magazines set the bar for what menought to be at such an intimidating height, it's no wonder we buyinto the notion that men are duds when it comes marriage. But contraryto media images, husbands bring extraordinarily positive qualitiesto a relationship. Although these manly strengths may not beeasy to find in movies at your local Blockbuster Video, I know theyexist. I see them all the time in the men who come into my practicelooking for ways to improve their marriages, and I hear aboutthem from the thousands of men who have shared their thoughtson my Web site, SecretsofMarriedMen.com.

Unfortunately, one of the most time-honored means of breakingdown the barriers that keep men and women from understandingeach other -- couple's therapy -- too often encourages that negativeview of men as incompetent bumblers. In the next chapter,we'll take a look at the reasons why couple's therapy can sometimesbe the worst thing for a marriage.