Should You Treat Your Marriage Like a Job?

Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist and Brown University professor, has been studying marriages good and bad for a long time, both in his clinical work and via his Web site, . His new book, "The Secrets of Happily Married Men" collects what he says are the guy behaviors that lead to happy marriage…

Haltzman believes conventional marital therapy often tries to make men more like women — you know, getting in touch with their feelings, talking about their feelings, feeling their wives’ feelings, etc. But this approach is doomed to failure, he says, largely because men and women are equipped with such different hardware from the neck up…

Use the male habits and male skills that serve him well at work, at play, in competition, in the field and in other venues where he thrives. View marriage as your most important task, Haltzman urges men, and pursue success as you would anything else that matters. The assumption is it’s a lot more pleasant, and the payoffs far greater, to live with a woman who is satisfied, secure and feeling loved compared to one who is none of the above. Make this your job, he says.

Here is the full article, noting that some of the specific recommendations ("gather data" on your wife) are excessively mechanical. 

The key question: if a man at times undervalues a happy marriage and happy wife, how can he act to undercut or avoid this weakness of character?  If you think male infidelity is the main potential problem, "taking pride in your instrumental rationality" is not going to do the trick.  Alternatively, you might think that male emotional withdrawal is the main problem, in which case instrumental rationality, and subsequent attention, might be an acceptable (partial) substitute for many women.

Under another scenario, the problem is that men stop trying because they feel their wives expect too much.  If you are damned anyway, at the margin why bother?  This book is useful for telling men their efforts can matter, even if they can’t.  The very act of trying confers a positive externality upon your wife.

The recommendations of this book assume that you screw up the means-ends relationship with your wife, rather than undervaluing the end of a happy marriage (or overvaluing some other competing end).  Misesians, Beckerians, and other partisans of rational economic man shouldn’t bite.  Behavioral economists, step on board.

Comments are open…and you can buy the book here.


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