Book Review: How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (2007)

Article by Dr. Victor Wiesner, LPC-S, NCC, CCMHC

Patricia Love, Ed.D. and Steven Stosny, Ph.D. are contrarians in the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (2007). Instead of endorsing traditional talk therapy methods for improving relationships such as, well, “talking”, they offer a more behavioral approach based largely on psychological differences in the genders as gleaned from research and their vast clinical experience. Early on the authors assert that couples “are not disconnected because they have poor communication; they have poor communication because they are disconnected” (p. 5). I have reread that sentence dozens of times sensing the paradigm shift this statement represents.

The cross cultural nuances of this approach appear to be fertile ground for investigation and clearly the bulk of the material is based on western heterosexual couples in monogamous relationships; still, many of the concepts may find transparent translation. Seasoned therapists and laypeople alike are likely to find some enlightening if not challenging concepts presented in a straight forward manner. Love and Stosny assimilate reams of scientific literature in the area of gender, human development, biochemistry, and romantic relationships. In order to increase readability there are few sources cited; this may leave some mental health professionals wanting.

According to the authors, men’s shame and women’s fear are the primary emotions that can lead to a breakdown in romantic relationships. When men perceive, often out of consciousness, that they are not adequate they may avoid or attack. For example, if a man hears complaints or criticisms from his partner he may feel a deep sense of inadequacy which then leads to withdrawal or aggression. Males also tend toward hyperarousal beginning at birth as evidenced in infant boys’ overstimulation during continuous direct eye contact. A man may react to his partner’s rough day at work with a kind of emotional flooding. He is unlikely to “hold a space” for his partner and would prefer to dive in and fix the problem. If this is not an option or does not work then isolation and withdrawal keep his interpretation of personal inadequacy squelched.

Women fear isolation, harm, and deprivation. To defend against their fear females build emotional bonds and use the coping mechanism of tend and befriend. The male equivalent is fight or flight. The prescription for men and women is to understand the vulnerabilities of their partners to fear or shame and to reduce the ways one might trigger these emotions in their partner. The best remedy for fear and shame is connection and plenty of concrete suggestions for increasing connection are offered.

Consistent with the tangible no-nonsense suggestions offered in this book, each partner should ask themselves if his or her action is moving the couple toward or away from a connection. Couples are advised to create a loving routine instead of relying on the quick fix of something like a fantastic vacation. Love and Stosny do not require the reader to do psychological gymnastics to find relief for relationship angst. The protocol for improving a relationship without using words is simply spending more time in the approach mode than that of attack or avoid. Do what brings you together.

There is a chapter titled “Man to Man: How to Strengthen Your Relationship Without Becoming a Woman”. Men are taken to task in this chapter and it even includes an assessment instrument dubbed The Wimp Test. By quarantining this material from the rest of the book the authors send the message (without overtly stating this) to couples that they should not keep score or ruminate on all the ways their partner is unfair.

In conclusion, this book is an easy read that offers a common sense approach. Regardless of your theoretical approach you are likely to find stimulating concepts and you may well integrate new tools or perhaps significantly modify to your overall approach to counseling with couples.

About the Author

Dr. Victor Wiesner, LPC-S, NCC, CCMHC, practices therapy in The Woodlands who is a specialist in helping people with Victor can be reached here Good Therapy or here Therapist Boise