When a man falls in love with a woman, his thoughts go something like this: I love her, she’s great—in fact, she is perfect. I love her just the way she is and I hope she never changes. It was this thinking that inspired Billy Joel to write the song “I Love You Just the Way You Are.” On the other hand, when a woman falls in love with a man, her thoughts are generally something like this: I love him, he’s great, but he really needs some work. This is a disaster in the making. Divergent expectations always lead to conflict.
When a woman thinks a man needs work, she is not trying to be negative or demeaning. In fact, she rather enjoys the thought. Do you know why? Because women like to work on relationships, and because marriage represents her greatest relationship, she enjoys working on it. But the thought of working on any relationship makes most men feel ill. You see, to a man, work is something you do to earn money. Relationships don’t fit into a man’s definition of work. We think relationships are the one class of things we should never have to work on.
So when a woman wants to work on the marriage relationship, the husband usually gets nervous and uncomfortable. The reason is simple: She says she wants to work on “the relationship,” but men view that as code for she wants me to change. And men don’t want to change. To a man, “change” is a four-letter word. This is primarily because we men have fragile egos. We don’t you handle there is something wrong with very well.
That being said, it doesn’t mean men don’t think very highly of themselves; we do. Most men love themselves dearly and don’t really think there is much need for self-improvement. So if a wife is pushing for improvement, he feels insulted that she even made the suggestion. It’s not that he is completely against change, it’s that he thinks his wife is wonderful the way she is and she should feel the same way about him. Women don’t catch this because they don’t think of working on the relationship as insulting a man’s ego—it’s more a matter of improving him. And the truth is, women do improve men.
In their book The Case for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite make the case that married men are happier, healthier, and make more money than single men. In other words, marriage improves men. Statistics also show that married men live longer than single men. In fact, statistically, being single is one of the worst things a man can do. It is equivalent to smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a day! (I suppose the worst would be a single guy who actually smokes two and a half packs of cigarettes a day.)
Girls, don’t take offense that your husband is having a hard time with your efforts to work on your relationship. Don’t interpret his resistance as a sign that he doesn’t care—he does. Men look at things differently than women. Though men need improvement, women must learn to be patient and not destructive to the male ego in the process. Women need to see the men in their lives as long-term projects and learn how to encourage change without fracturing their egos. (The good news is, you ladies really can eventually get us to where you want us to be. The bad news is, after you get us there, we die.)