Book Review – VoiceMale

I usually don’t read books about relationships or dating – they’re almost always written by and for women, and you have to wonder how well they really represent the man’s point of view. This book caught my eye though, because it’s written and researched by a man and entirely composed of the voices of men on topics like dating, relationships, marriage, sex, housework, fidelity… lots of interesting stuff. Here, I thought, was my chance to hear the real deal – and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the strengths of this book is that there are a large number of interviews with men of all generations, cultures, and socio-economic classes. It’s particularly fascinating to see how attitudes have changed through the generations.

Some of the most interesting findings for me:

– In first meeting a woman, men do look for looks – but not perfection. The interviews seemed to show that men more often picked out one or two special features of a woman, like a nice smile or beautiful eyes – and still saw those beautiful things in their wives decades later.

– In looking for a partner, the most important attribute is a positive temperament – optimism, cheerfulness, enthusiasm, energy, warmth. Complaining, sarcasm, picky eating – all turn-offs. Men are looking at the long-term here, to what a day-to-day relationship might be like. Of all the valuable information I picked up in this book (for a newly single gal) this one really stood out.

– Issues that most often derail a marriage within the first few years – sharing money, balancing family with outside interests, relations with in-laws, maintaining interest in sex. This last seems to be a product of the “love cocktail” or “honeymoon effect” – that heightened romance and passion that is present in the first few years (or months) of a relationship, which eventually settles down into something more everyday. Power struggles in general are also an issue as the new relationship gets sorted out. In previous generation, each partner had a sphere of influence within the marriage that was relatively well-understood. Now both partners are expected to be more equal, which means that just about everything has to be negotiated and they can’t just settle into previously defined roles. Husbands in successful marriages stated that the key to the first few years of marriage was in learning how to handle disagreements.

– Men frequently define their worth through work – especially after they get married and have a family to support. It makes no difference whether the wife is working too. Working hard is a measure of their love, as well as their own self-worth. So it is frequently baffling to them when their wives complain about feeling neglected and unloved. This is largely a matter of culture and the values instilled in them by their own fathers, and there is a generational conflict here as modern men struggle to balance the expectations of their modern wives with the values instilled in them by their parents. This was one of the major insights I eventually gained into my own marriage – it didn’t help me feel any better, but it did at least help me understand what was going on.

– Women are far more emotionally involved with sex than are men. A frequent misunderstanding between married couples arises when a couple has a fight and subsequently, the wife doesn’t feel like having sex. Men often believe the wife is punishing them by withholding sex, while the woman doesn’t understand how the man can expect her to have sex when she’s upset. It was very interesting to me that many men didn’t get the connection between emotion and passion, even after being married for decades.

– Both men and women reported far greater satisfaction in their sex lives when they felt that the household chores were equitably shared – a very interesting connection suggesting that respect and general household satisfaction are important to sexual enjoyment. Note the word “equitably” – equal division is not necessary as long as the partners felt that the arrangement was fair and mutually agreed upon.

– Long-married men do experience much greater frustration over lack of sexual interest in their wives than do women, especially in the “empty-nest” years when they may have been looking forward to greater opportunity for intimacy. However, no matter how difficult the situation, the vast majority of men who have been married that long opt not to have affairs. They’re not happy about it, but the value of the marriage in other ways is important to them. Overall and aside from these difficulties, married men are far happier with their sex lives than single men.

– Men feel closest to their partners when doing something active together, like a project around the house or a cross-country trip. Side-by-side togetherness feels far more comfortable and enjoyable than face-to-face sharing of emotions and talking. Doing things for their partner and just being there may be how a man expresses his love, rather than saying “I love you.”

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VoiceMale – What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework, and Commitment
Neil Chethik, 2006, Simon & Schuster

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3 thoughts on “Book Review – VoiceMale

  1. Judith B says:

    Having just completed a couples therapy class, it sounds like this book would be fascinating. I checked it out online, and other people mention the research, but don’t say much about Neil Chethik. Teresa, what is his background? Primarily as a writer? Psychology?

  2. His background is primarily writing and journalism. He traveled for two years doing the interviews for this book, and also commissioned a followup survey by telephone to confirm some of the more interesting patterns that seemed to be emerging from the interviews. The book is presented in a more journalistic than psychological style, with the conclusions being drawn mostly by the interviewees themselves and patterns among their responses. There are also many fascinating supporting anecdotes and case studies, many in the interviewees own words.

  3. freesparrow says:

    Dr. Stefan Gruenert from Odyssey House in Melbourne did his Ph.D on how men relate to each other. From memory he found that “shared experience” with other men was critical. I remember hiim saying that men can sit companionably with each other for hours and feel that they have had a good experience, whereas women tend to share much more verbally.

    It’s interesting that the author of the book in your review comments that men seem to prefer that approach with women as well – at least, the shared project idea.

    I don’t think Stefan’s thesis has been published but he is a psychologist and, as far as I know, still working at Odyssey.

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