I was skeptical when Dr. Scott Haltzman told me his ideas about men and marriage. But I was also intrigued.
Haltzman, a psychiatrist (and a married man), thinks that married men are
being held to a female standard. They're being prodded to communicate in
ways they find exceedingly uncomfortable, and then they get blamed for
stuttering and squirming.
As Haltzman sees it, men are naturally -- indeed, biologically -- inclined
to express themselves through action rather than words.
But women, and often the therapists who work with troubled couples, expect
men to just get over it, and learn to talk and talk -- to share intimate
feelings that many aren't even sure they have.
Now, I have to say, the men I know don't have trouble talking. They have
trouble shutting up. But who knows if my experience is typical?
And Haltzman's ideas do have an appealing freshness. It's always worth
looking at something -- especially something as necessary and arduous as
marriage -- from a new angle.
Haltzman's angle is that married men deserve more credit for all they do,
and more acceptance for who they are.
"Men are OK the way they are," Haltzman asserts. "They really get a bad rap
for their style of doing things. Society these days says that men have to be
fixed. I think we do a pretty good job."
Haltzman, 41, is examining how men who have sustained their marriages do
that job. He's established a Web site called secretsofmarriedmen.com in
which men can share their experiences navigating the rough spots in
It's something that few men talk about, Haltzman says, and yet all could
benefit from sharing. (True to form, men have been slow to post comments,
but a few women have chimed in.)
"I wanted to find a voice for men that didn't make men feel intrinsically
inadequate," Haltzman explains. He plans to eventually turn the Web site
into a book -- a man's guide to successful marriage, written by men. With a
wealth of evidence that marriage is good for men's health and longevity,
such a guide, he says, is long overdue.
Haltzman, who has offices in Woonsocket and Barrington, says that in his own
work with couples, he keeps seeing the same patterns. It goes like this:
She says, "He doesn't talk. He doesn't listen. He doesn't pay attention."
He says, "I can't communicate in the way she wants. I show her I love her by
what I do."
Haltzman told me about a social conversation he had with a therapist, who
suggested that a troubled couple set aside a half-hour every night, just to
Haltzman shot back: "Why didn't you say, 'Go home, and for a half hour each
night, have sex'?"
By emphasizing talk, Haltzman argues, the therapist was forcing the man into
the arena where he is least comfortable, and least capable, while asking
little of the woman.
"Men may not be able to easily recognize their feelings and communicate
their feelings to their wives in a supportive way. It's an expectation set
up by women. . . . I wanted to pull away from the automatic expectation that
the way to correct the problem is to change men.
"No one is turning to women and saying, 'If you just tried harder you should
be able to bench press 400 pounds.' . . . Everyone is turning to men,
saying, 'Just work harder at this.' "
I asked a couple of marital therapists -- both men -- what they thought of
all this, and both saw something simplistic in the sex-based distinctions
that Haltzman makes. Human experience is complex and varied, and the
discontents of married people don't break so easily along gender lines, they
But Haltzman says there's plenty of evidence that men's brains work
differently than women's. For example, he says, brain scans using positron
emission tomography (PET scanning) show that men's and women's brains
respond in different ways when recalling words connected with emotions.
Haltzman also asserts that women hold most of the power within marriage.
"Men are basically given their marching orders," he said.
I could not resist running that comment by Haltzman's wife of 13 years,
Susan, a fashion designer. She laughed and said, "Yeah, well, I wish it
worked [that way]!" But speaking seriously, she says that while her husband
"doesn't march to a drum," she agrees that women tend to have more
responsibility, and hold more sway, within the household.
My theory is that men are so accustomed to being in control, they don't even
notice how often their will prevails. They take it for granted as part of
the natural order of things. What they do remember are the few occasions
when they're called upon to compromise or concede, leading to the belief
that she always gets her way. But, that's just my biased speculation.
In any case, Haltzman doesn't seem to want to tip the power balance within
marriage. Rather, he wants men to feel strong and worthy within the existing
Women, he says, should accept men as they are, give them credit for their
actions, and express their appreciation. Then, once in a while, do things
his way: "Sit in front of the TV watching a sporting game and not talk. Play
a card game and not talk. It really makes a man comfortable."
But even if a woman can't or won't do those things, men can -- and should --
do what's needed to preserve the marriage, Haltzman argues.
"It's a myth that both have to work equally on solving their problems," he
says. "Even if the woman can't participate successfully, the husband can
help make it happen."
For starters, listen. When she's telling you something, don't answer back
for three or four minutes.
"At very tense times, send her flowers," he advises. Send her the flowers
even if you don't actually feel the romantic sentiment they imply. You may
not be able to muster that feeling.
While some might call such a gesture insincere and manipulative, Haltzman
says that a man who sends flowers even when feeling unromantic is saying
something much bigger than the sweet nothings: He's saying that he
recognizes his wife needs such tokens, that he's committed to her, and that
her happiness is important to him.
"Those are things that men rarely get credit for," Haltzman said. "We men
have an intense honor and sense of loyalty to our wives."
He further advises: "Don't fight to be right. Being right doesn't matter."
If it's important to your wife that you hang your tie in the closet when you
get home, rather than draping it over a chair, he says, then hang the damn
tie in the closet. In doing that, you're not agreeing that it really matters
where the tie ends up. You're merely showing that you want to make her
"One of the secrets is the attitude that goes along with it," Haltzman says.
" 'I'm saying OK because it will make her happy and making her happy is a
gift I can give.' "
That's not being a milquetoast, he says: That's being a kind of hero.