Men May Have the Key to a Happy Marriage

Dr. Jed Diamond believes that men can and should become leaders in maintaining long-lasting relationships, and he’s got the science to back him up.

As a psychotherapist I have been helping people find, keep, and develop healthy loving relationships for more than 40 years now. Carlin and I have been married (third marriage for each of us) for 34 years. I had hoped being a therapist would protect our relationship from the problems so many of my clients face, but it didn’t. We’ve had to deal with irritability and anger, male menopause, depression, bipolar disorder, boredom, and beady-eyed fights.
“Falling in love and being loved in return is the peak experience of human existence…”
Like most couples, Carlin and I were joyfully and passionately “in love,” but it didn’t last. Over the years, the little irritations of life began to grind away at us. We missed what we once had, but didn’t know how to recapture it. Maybe staying in love was an illusion, we thought. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw was right when observed in 1908, “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”
If we look at the statistics, the odds of “living happily ever after” are against us. Around 50% of first marriages end in divorce and second and third marriages fare even worse. But we learned that science offers a new perspective on love and how it can last. “Falling in love and being loved in return is the peak experience of human existence,” says Dr. Fran Cohen, author of The New Science of Love: How Understanding Your Brain’s Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship. “When love fades, we can quite literally use our brains to bring it back.”
Two experts who have helped us reclaim our loving relationship are John Gottman, who recently wrote another helpful book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal and Sue Johnson, author of Love Sense: A Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. If you’re serious about learning to love, you couldn’t find better guides than these.
We’ve long believed that how women feel determines the state of the marriage–“Happy wife, happy life.” But new research from the University of Chicago indicates that men may hold the key to the emotional state of the relationship. The study, “Marital Conflict in Older Couples: Positivity, Personality, and Health,”reports results from a national survey with data analyzed from 953 heterosexual couples who were married or cohabitating. The study participants ranged in age from 63 to 90 years old and the average length of their relationships was 39 years.
“Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health,” said the study’s lead author, James Iveniuk, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. “If the wife is in poor health, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in terms of the quality of the marriage for the husband.” Another key difference was in a measure the researchers call positive expressivity which includes things like being gentle, helpful, kind, and understanding. “Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict. However, the wives’ positivity had no association with their husbands’ reports of conflict,” Iveniuk said.
Why Men’s Moods Matter
“Men are very often more sensitive than women, despite stereotypes you’ve heard,” says relationship expert April Masini. “It’s a lot easier for men to become depressed or unhappy than women in the same circumstances. Men are sensitive, and when they’re unhappy, the marriage dynamic flags.”
Masini’s experience is validated by the work of long-time relationship expert Dr. John Gottman. In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Gottman discovered some surprising things about men’s emotions and how they impact relationships. Gottman traces men’s greater reactivity to stress in the relationship to our evolutionary past. “Males whose adrenaline kicked in quite readily who did not calm down so easily were more likely to survive and procreate.”
“Men can have a huge impact on the state of their relationship and the key is to deal with the stresses that can overwhelm…
Gottman goes on to say, “to this day, the male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress.” For example, if a man and woman suddenly hear a very loud, brief sound, like a blowout, most likely his heart will beat faster than hers and stay accelerated longer. The same goes for their blood pressure. This helps account for the fact, Gottman believes, that men tend to withdraw and avoid conflict in a relationship. “It’s a biological fact,” says Gottman. “Men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than are their wives.”
Women often complain that men don’t want to talk about difficult issues, that they withdraw when she wants to express herself. This may be true, but not because men aren’t interested in listening or in resolving conflict. It may be because he is more easily overwhelmed by conflict and be becomes “flooded.” Dr. Gottman says, “Frequently feeling flooded leads almost inevitably to distancing yourself from your spouse. That in turn leads you to feel lonely.”
This was certainly the case with Carlin and me. Once we learned to reduce the stress we felt, we could share more openly without criticism or blame.
Men often believe that they can do little to improve their relationship, that relationships are “women’s work.” But it turns out that men can have a huge impact on the state of their relationship and the key is to deal with the stresses that can overwhelm and “flood” them. In my book Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well,I teach men, and the women who love them, how to use four energy healing tools to get their relationship back on track. I’ve used them myself to reclaim the easy love that I thought my wife and I had lost. I’ve taught them to many of my clients.
Men may hold the key to creating a happy marriage and once they learn that they not only have the power to make things better, but the skills to do so effectively, they are ready to act. Men no longer have to feel they are powerless in relationship. In fact, they may find that they can lead the way in making their relationships wonderful.

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