Lifestyle

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Moan less, kiss more, suppress everything: the secrets of the happy wives' club

The key to marital bliss is writing 'husband gratitude lists' and giving up nagging, a new book claims.

Betty Draper (played by January Jones) of the TV show 'Mad Men'

'Always makes my breakfast, cleans up after dinner, funny. . . um. . . a fine head of hair. . ." I paused, looking up from my piece of paper to stare at my husband and assess which other of his fine qualities I might add to bulk out my list.

According to American writer Fawn Weaver, this could make the difference between my own marriage being a fairytale. . . or the stuff of nightmares.

Weaver, 37 years old and happily married to businessman Keith for 15 years, is the author of Happy Wives Club, a new guide that debuted at number three on the New York Times bestseller list. She is now on a quest for global spousal satisfaction.

It was born out of Weaver's blog, happywivesclub.com, set up in 2010 and now boasting almost 700,000 members across 110 countries.

The daily Husband Gratitude List, whereby wives scribble down things they love about their other half, is an essential part of what Weaver believes all ladies should be doing in order to be Happy Wives.

"It serves as a constant reminder of what makes your hubby so wonderfully awesome," she explains. "Why, out of all the men in the world, you chose to marry him."

As you might glean from someone who uses phrases like 'wonderfully awesome', Weaver's Happy Wives Club (HWC) philosophy leans heavily on the need for women to be more positive and less critical when it comes to their spouses.

She's also a strong proponent of not nagging husbands, kissing every day for six seconds, smiling lots, and not moaning to your chums when your man messes up and breaks your best wine glasses by putting them in the dishwasher.

"Happily ever after is not a fairytale," intones Weaver. "It's a choice" – and one that seemingly means sitting on the urge to scream blue murder every time your husband forgets to leave the bins out.

For any modern, intelligent, independent-minded woman, the gut reaction is to baulk at Weaver's guidance and the inference that women need to stifle their feelings and put their husband's happiness first to ensure their own marital contentment.

It's a message that's eerily reminiscent of Laura Doyle's 2001 book, The Surrendered Wife, which urged women to give up control, or even Edward Podolsky's 1943 advice on 'How to be a Better Wife', which advocated not bothering your husband with "petty troubles and complaints" and remembering "your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego".

But without morphing into Mad Men's Betty Draper, or going to the same euphoric extremes as Weaver – whose car bears a licence plate reading: "I love my life as K Weaver's wife" – there might be something to be said for the message she's peddling.

It's well documented that in our everyday lives, 80pc of our habitual thoughts are negative, while thinking positively has been shown to improve mental health, decrease stress, reduce the risk of depression and even increase lifespan.

Acknowledging the good things that have happened in our day promotes good mental health – so why not do the same in our marriages?

As cheesy as the Husband Gratitude List sounds, it's not entirely without merit. Frighteningly, I found I could have quickly scribbled down a litany of wrongs – never cleans bathroom thoroughly, puts dishwasher on when half empty, brings home football team bibs that I end up washing – yet I had to engage my brain to list positives. The physical act of writing good points down makes you realise just how guilty we can be of focusing too heavily on what we'd like to change rather than appreciating what's already there.

Moreover, I was aware of a subtle shift in mood in my husband during my brief experimentation with implementing a HWC ethos: the more I praised, the more inclined he was to do chores and to more generously acknowledge things I had done.

Interestingly, research shows that this issue of recognition is one of the biggest things that men would like to change about their relationships.

For research into his new book The Woman's Guide to How Men Think, US psychologist Shawn Smith found that men's most common complaint was they felt women never forgot their mistakes.

"We think you expect us to be perfect when you remember our mistakes but forget our successes," wrote one respondent to Smith's online survey.

Another man added: "I can knock myself out doing repairs, cutting firewood, working on the cars, even doing housework, but somehow there's an issue with what I haven't done."

Psychotherapist and relationship counsellor Bernadette Ryan of Relationships Ireland (relationshipsireland.com) agrees that we can often overlook the positives.

"If we're always focused on the negative aspect of our partners, we may be missing the bigger picture," she says.

"Women often complain that a man is not pulling his weight, that she does all the washing, ironing, cleaning etc and he does nothing. But sometimes when we look a bit more closely we find that the man is doing a lot of things in the background: making sure the car is serviced, cutting the lawn, putting out the bins. In a relationship, validation is important. Both partners need to know that their contribution counts."

According to Bernadette, gratitude is beneficial for our overall well-being. She says: "The American psychologist and relationships expert John Gottman recommends that couples write each other positive messages throughout the day: texts, notes, messages on mirrors. It's probably a bit too American for us! But the underlying message is valid: acknowledge the importance of your partner in your life."

Weaver's tip that couples should kiss for six seconds a day likewise holds merit, with locking lips proven to produce oxytocin, which helps to bond couples and decrease cortisol, the stress hormone.

A poll conducted in 2011 by the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University questioned 1,000 couples from five different countries and found that men who reported frequent kissing and cuddling were three times as happy as those who received less snuggling time from their wives and girlfriends.

You don't have to be constantly locked in a passionate embrace or getting down to wild romps every night of the week – but physical intimacy tends to make for a stronger marriage. Since it's a small gesture, it's easy to overlook, but it's worth the effort.

But while being more positive and tolerant towards our husbands is something I think we can all get on board with, there's still something about the Happy Wives Club that jars. What about husbands being more positive towards their wives?

"It's true that it is mostly women who look after the relationship, but there seems to be something unbalanced about this," agrees Bernadette Ryan. "As part of a couple, one is 50pc responsible for the relationship, not 100pc. One partner cannot make a relationship work. It's a team effort."

She adds: "Why would it be a woman's responsibility to 'keep her man happy' when we're all responsible for our own well-being and happiness?"

Fifties America and Stepford Wives come to mind when you read the blurb from Happy Wives Club. Being forced into those roles didn't work then and I can't see it working today.

"Being positive in a relationship can have a positive impact, but it can't always be one-sided. A relationship is a balance between the individual needs and life goals of two people and the needs and goals of the relationship," Ryan adds.

Other HWC tips are just too ludicrous to contemplate, such as ridding oneself of affair temptation by ditching all male friends, but there's a kernel of truth in much of what Weaver says.

What I might suggest is that my husband write down his own Wife Gratitude List. Then we can be Happy Wives and Husbands locked in a cycle of mutual appreciation, at least until I erase Match of the Day from the Sky Plus box or he throws out my magazines. Not even six seconds of kissing could save us then.

Irish Independent

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