THE PROPER CARE & FEEDING OF HUSBANDS
By Dr. Laura Schlessinger
REVIEWED BY STEPHANIE DEUTSCH
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, radio talk-show host and purveyor of advice on family, home, marriage and children, is nothing if not controversial. Her manner is brusque and authoritative (she has a Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University and is a licensed marriage and family therapist); she is chatty and familiar but outspoken, confrontational and unafraid of taking strong, unpopular positions.
Perhaps most widely known for the ferocious campaign three years ago that resulted in the cancellation of her planned daily television talk show on the grounds that she is anti-homosexual, Dr. Laura is seen in many quarters as a dangerous reactionary.
In fact, she describes herself as having undergone a “radical evolution” from a “‘Hell no, I won’t go,’ screaming ‘60s feminist to an ‘I am my kids’ mom’ mother.” She talks a lot about the importance of a religious foundation for “holy matrimony” and the role of her Jewish faith in her own life.
So, although it has already become a bestseller, a lot of people won’t even consider reading her new book with the annoying title, “The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands.”
This is a shame, because much of what Dr. Laura has to say is astute, humane and breathtakingly simple. “How is it,” she asks, “that so many women are angry with men in general yet expect to have a happy life married to one of them?”
Despite a generation of “liberation,” many women are still experiencing their marriages as oppressive and unhappy and divorce remains a commonplace, creating misery for millions of children, not to mention their fathers and mothers. Here is the problem, expressed in Dr. Laura’s inimitable style:
“. . . I’ve got to tell you how remarkably true and sad it is that so many women struggle to hold on to some jerk, keep giving an abusive or philandering man yet another chance, have unprotected sex with some guy while barely knowing his last name, agree to shack up and risk making babies with some opportunist or loser, all in a pathetic version of a pursuit of love, but will resent the hell out of treating a decent, hardworking, caring husband with the thoughtfulness, attention, respect, and affection he needs to be content.
It boggles my mind.”
According to Dr. Laura, with the exception of marriages that “break the covenant” with “the 3 A’s: Addictions, Abuse and Affairs,” all relationships between men and women can benefit by the recognition that men are “basically uncomplicated creatures.”
A male caller to Dr. Laura’s show expressed it this way: “Our needs are simple. We want to be fed, we want our kids mothered, and we want lovin’.”
“Lovin,’” as Dr. Laura sees it, is expressed in several fundamental ways ignored by many modern wives caught up in a culture of selfishness that has “elevated feelings over obligation, responsibility, and commitment.”
One is making time for the husband. “I get too many calls from women,” Dr. Laura writes, “complaining that their husbands’ unreasonable, selfish, insensitive, and annoying demands on a ‘tired woman’ amount to mental abuse! Oh, please!”
This “White Rabbit Syndrome,” as Dr. Laura calls it, is a question of priorities. “Any woman who allows all her other choices of how she is spending her time to interfere with the love and intimacy with her husband is behaving like a fool.”
Putting aside the large issue of employment (of which more later), Dr. Laura thinks women should make time for their marriages their top priority, even if it means giving up other things they do. “The truth is,” she writes, “there are only so many hours in a day and only so much we can put our energies into. We have to make choices. And if you don’t pick your husband as #1, that favor will, sadly, be returned.”
Another way Dr. Laura thinks women should care for their husbands is by limiting their nagging and by completely cutting out complaining about them to their girlfriends. She steers women in troubled marriages “away from women’s groups, where men-bashing is a cross between entertainment and denial of personal responsibility.”
She’s also leery of “feminist-oriented psychotherapists.” Her concern is that “The more you dwell on the negative, the further away you get from appreciation of the positive, as well as the motivation to contribute in a more healthy way yourself.”
So don’t nag, don’t complain in front of other people, don’t micro-manage. Men, she points out, “don’t gossip” and their wives shouldn’t either. Instead, she suggests, try the electrifying effect of telling someone something nice about your partner when you know he’ll overhear you.
Communication between the sexes is, of course, a classic area of difficulty and Dr. Laura attacks it head-on. She describes the “amazingly crass disdain of wives for husbands’ feelings” that she hears about from her listeners as “gender abuse.”
She deplores the way some women are extremely solicitous of the feelings of their girlfriends or mothers but show much less regard for how their husbands feel. She quotes a male caller telling her his wife is nicer to telemarketers than she is to him.
Another husband says that when he tells his wife how he feels she “responds with a very clear explanation of why I should not feel that way.” Women also expect their husbands to talk to them as if they were a sister or girlfriend, hashing over the details of a situation or experience when the man just isn’t that interested.
“The truth is,” Dr. Laura writes, “that wives generally overwhelm their husbands with communication. Much of what motivates that communication might better be dealt with through personal circumspection, triaged for significance, selected for true communication (connecting) value, whittled down to its essence, timed better, and expressed more appropriately.”
And then there’s sex. Men want it, lots of it. A male caller approvingly quotes his wife saying that “Sex is to a husband what conversation is to a wife.”
Appreciating the role of sex in marriage starts for Dr. Laura with accepting that “the most important thing a wife has to give to her husband is herself . . . While fulfilling the obligations and responsibilities of the house and family is an essential part of giving in a marriage, other folks could be hired to do it. The real essence of giving is more intimate, sensitive and vulnerable, and up close and personal.”
Accepting, encouraging and nurturing the husband’s sexual desires, putting on the occasional lace nightgown, even in the face of fatigue and waning desire, will, according to Dr. Laura, bring big benefits to every aspect of most marriages.
The final essential bedrock element in a successful marital relationship as Dr. Laura sees it is respect. Here she is emphatically, unapologetically traditional.
The husband, she says, is the head of his household and must be treated with respect by everyone in that home; the wife needs to make sure this happens, even if it means correcting her own mother. And, ideally, the husband should be the main breadwinner.
Some readers will be offended by this old-fashioned notion; others will argue that they don’t have the luxury to be the stay-at-home mothers Dr. Laura encourages (and may see some hypocrisy in her attitude since she herself is very much a working mother); and others will be turned off by Dr. Laura’s emphasis on the religious basis of a proper understanding of the relationship between the sexes.
It is not the details of Dr. Laura’s advice that make her book striking and original; rather, it is her sense of just how much female selfishness undermines modern relationships that gives this book heft.
It’s hard to argue with what a listener told her on the air: “The care and feeding of husbands is, bottom line, to walk a mile in their shoes.” Or as another said, “Treating husbands well hinges on the Golden Rule . . . look at life from his perspective . . . and tell him how much you appreciate how hard he works to support the family instead of just complaining that he’s late for dinner again.”
To that, despite her blush of guilty self-recognition in certain of the ways NOT to care for a husband, this reviewer simply says “Amen.”
Stephanie Deutsch is a Washington writer and critic.