Practical Ideas and Statistics to Make Better Marriages

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big DifferenceThe Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference by Shaunti Feldhahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another helpful book from Shaunti Feldhahn. I like almost everything about it: intentional focus on the “bright spots” / successful marriages rather than trying to solve particular problems, statistics, frank presentation of discoveries instead of rhetorical argumentation, and an emphasis on practicality rather than a simple ideal.

Reading this book, you come away with ideas for how to improve your marriage, starting today. (I even took notes!) Mrs. Feldhahn rightly points out that your efforts must be small and deliberate: start with one or two actions and work on them until they become habits; once they are, you can add more.

A common theme in the book–I would argue that, of all the “secrets,” this is the linchpin–is the intentional belief that your spouse actually wants what is best for you, or actually cares about you. Assuming the best (rather than the worst) is crucial to achieving all other aspects of a happy marriage. Even better, this book presents some compelling numbers as to why that belief is well-founded.

The book has a couple of shortcomings. Like many of Mrs. Feldhahn’s works, it is basically a research paper writ large; on the one hand, you get a lot of useful and practical information, but on the other, you get some repetition and poor flow between chapters. Another downside of working with “big data” is that there’s so much of it that it will never fit in one book–so it ends up feeling like Mrs. Feldhahn is trying to sell her website and her other books just because there is more data available.

But the book is easy to read and shorter than it looks (I got through it in about four hours while taking notes and a break for dinner). This is due, in part, to the presence of a subheader or blockquote (in which the text itself is quoted for emphasis) on almost every page. It is also presented for one or both spouses equally, so it lacks some of the “accusatory tone” attributed to For Men Only and For Women Only.

Definitely worth the read for married couples, especially if you feel like your marriage is “just fine” or “mostly good,” but you don’t know how to take it to that next level.

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A Harsh Word Out of the Larger Context

For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of  WomenFor Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women by Shaunti Feldhahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I reread this book recently, as a kind of refresher for myself. The first time I read it, I had just started dating the woman who is now my wife, almost four years ago. At the time, I had also read “For Women Only,” the counterpart to this book, in an effort to offer notes and comments on it for my then-girlfriend’s benefit.

Now, I am somewhat distanced from that companion reading, and I can see some flaws in this book as a stand-alone product.

Let me start off with the positives: It is an excellent book. It addresses an important need, and it offers research and statistics to do it. (Not being a researcher, I can’t speak to the reliability of their research, but from what I do know, it’s not so weak as to be discounted out of hand.) There are few other books in this same vein, although there are many which attempt to show men how women think; I have read even fewer which succeed even remotely.

This book manages to accomplish that, because it’s not afraid to quote from the horse’s mouth, as they say. Instead of philosophizing, psychologizing, or otherwise intellectualizing, the Feldhahns work with real women with real opinions saying things that – for some reason – they can’t just say to their husbands/boyfriends.

That being the case, though, this book has some shortcomings. Almost all of these shortcomings fade, however, when this book is read in conjunction with its counterpart. When read alone, “For Men Only” is a pretty harsh condemnation of male behavior. Granted, some male behavior needs to change, but not all of it can be.

For example, when discussing the female multi-tasking, multi-thinking mind, the Feldhahns spend a great deal of time discussing feminine emotions. At several points, male emotions come into play – but these are discarded as ignorant, irrelevant, or unimportant. In short, from the perspective of this book alone, men must cater to and coddle the emotions of their wives, but if they ever have an emotional response to something, it should be dropped like a hot potato.

This sort of heavy-handed blame-game lurks throughout the book, and makes it upsetting, offensive, even unbearable to man forced to read it by itself. Only when you read both this book and its counterpart (which is pretty heavy-handed against women for their flaws) does everything fall into place as a mutual effort to improve the marriage and each other.

So, a note to any women who want their man to read this book: don’t take the titles literally, and make sure he reads the one for you, too. It’s important context.

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