I wanted to change my husband. Not in any huge way. He doesn’t have any horrible habits – blowing his paycheck on the ponies, sleeping with my relatives – that I needed to break him of. I wasn’t out to make him taller, or smarter, or sexier.
No, it was tweaking he needed, improvement of the usual marital kind.
What if, for instance, I could get him to do more around the house? Get him to adore doing dishes, relish handling the taxes? What if I could make him a masseur? A touch more patient and a tad more thoughtful – a little more prompt and a bit more cuddly?
Just when I’d resigned myself to living with an imperfect mate, along came a trend: articles and books suggesting that I could transform my husband – without him even knowing it. Using as my guide a copy of Michele Weiner – Davis’s, A Woman’s Guide to Changing Her Man (subtitle, yes! Without His Even Knowing It) I decided to give a few techniques a whirl. Here, what I tried and what happened:
TECHNIQUES #1 AND #2
BE SPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT AND DON’T CRITIQUE
I can’t simply say I want my husband to be more affectionate and more helpful around the house, evidently: I’ve got to be very specific about my wishes. I must say that I want him to wrap his arms around me and give me a big long kiss when he gets home from work, for example, or that I want him to empty the dishwasher every night.
When I notice after dinner one evening that the kitchen is a mess, I seize the moment. “I want you to clean the kitchen,” I tell him. Then I quickly leave the room to help the kids change into pajamas and to read our 4-year-old a dinosaur book. When I return to the kitchen to get the ear infection medicine I’ve forgotten, the dishwasher is loaded, the counters are clear, and my husband is sweeping.
I dash back up to the kids’ room, resisting any impulse to check whether the sink is clean or the dishwasher is loaded correctly. One of the most common ways to turn a man off to housework, the book says, is to direct or criticize his efforts. If you want him to do it, just let him do it.
When I go into the kitchen the next morning, I am momentarily buoyed by its sparkling appearance. Then I walk over to the sink and gag at the sight of coffee-ground-encrusted melon rinds littering the porcelain. I open the dishwasher to retrieve a clean spoon and discover everything is still dirty, and the glasses are lying on their sides in the pot section, where they’re sure to stay dirty.
Slamming the dishwasher closed, I turn to:
DO A 180 DEGREE
All right, so maybe his talent is more massage-giving than dishwasher-loading.
Except that for years now, I’ve been trying to get him to incorporate massage into foreplay, to no avail. I’ve tried asking for it, giving it in hopes of getting it back, issuing ultimatums: No sex if you won’t rub my back!
But the best I ever get is a few puny strokes before he’s looking for something
In this situation – trying unsuccessfully to get your mate to change by a method that never works – Weiner-Davis advises doing a 180: the exact opposite of whatever it is you’ve done before. But the opposite of what I’ve always done is acting as if I don’t want a massage, don’t want any hugging, snuggling, or other affectionate preamble at all. Weiner-Davis warns that 180s usually are unpleasant at first, but they work.
At night in bed, I drop my book and roll on top of my husband. His eyes open wide in surprise. Make that shock. “No touching,” I instruct him. “And whatever you do, don’t try to give me a massage.”
He readily agrees.
The next day I have a new idea, inspired by a story in a book in which a wife, tired of nagging her husband to wallpaper the living room, does a 180 and tells him he was right to resist, that she’s hiring a professional. That night, I tell my husband that he was smart not to try to massage me all those years, that I’m going t arrange weekly massages with Hugo, a professional.
My husband considers this information carefully. Then he asks whether we can have that no-touching sex again.
TRY TREATING HIM LIKE A DOG
Call it, as Weiner-Davis does, “the magic behind Lassie,” but dog training principles can be applied to man. The strategy? Issue clear and simple commands, give prompt and desirable rewards for good behavior, and ignore the negative in hopes it will go away.
It has been several nights since my husband misloaded the dishwasher, since he attempted to clean the kitchen at all, but I don’ comment on that.
Rather, after the kids are in bed, I tell him – in much the same tone I might use to say, “Sit!” or “Stay!” – to sweep the floor while I do the dishes.
To my amazement, he picks up the broom and begins sweeping immediately, chatting
companionably. “You sweep so well!” I tell him. Dogs really respond to praise.
“Thanks,” he says. “You do the dishes so much better than I could do them!”
He finishes sweeping, moves behind me at the sink, and begins kneading my weary shoulders.
“Oh, God,” I say, astonished. “That feels great.”
“You deserve it,” he tells me.
I go so limp that I drop a glass in the sink. My husband tells me not to worry, he’ll clean it up, and leads me out of the kitchen and into the bedroom, where he continues the massage. Although I keep expecting him to segue into lovemaking, he works on me until I’m practically out of my mind with desire, I have to beg him for sex, and he finally complies.
The next day I go looking for the book in search of more brilliant man-changing techniques. It takes me a long time to find it. Because it’s where I never thought it would be: on my husband’s side of the bed.