My Response to Kyle Benson's Articles Suggesting Emotionally Intelligent Husbands are the Secret to a Happy Marriage
Maybe you’ve seen the articles popping up in your social media feeds: one featured on The Gottman Institute’s website and the other on Business Insider.
Ladies are sharing them at rapid pace…perhaps hoping their less-than-emotionally-intelligent husbands will read it and somehow become more emotionally intelligent.
Kyle Benson and I (therapist and relationship coach) seem to have a common love for the research of Dr. John Gottman — therapist and leading researcher of relationships in our country. Dr. Gottman has published over 200 academic articles and written over 40 books on the subjects of love, relationships, communication, and emotional intelligence.
Benson uses Gottman’s research to support his claim that emotionally intelligent husbands are the missing link to happy marriages: “Statistically speaking, Dr. Gottman’s research shows there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode when a man is unwilling to share power.”
Benson’s article reports that women seem to be better at “accepting influence” from their husbands than men are at accepting influence from their wives…even when the relationship isn’t well. Research supports this as well as my decade of experience of working with couples.
The problems I have with Benson’s articles start with the portrayal of men in his examples: drinking whiskey, watching football, and choosing to fix his truck instead of resolve issues with his partner. I don’t doubt some men do these things, but men also do things like read books, cook, and interact with their children. My husband is a football-watching, whiskey-drinking person and would balk at the gender stereotypes in this article. He also does the laundry in our house.
Another issue I have with this article is what seems to be a finger-wagging, lesson-teaching intent towards men who aren’t emotionally intelligent enough…which he’s clear will lead to failing marriages and being a less effective parent:
"The husband who lacks emotional intelligence rejects his wife’s influence because he fears a loss of power. And because he is unwilling to accept influence, he will not be influential.
The biggest problem I have with this article is that Benson fails to address the true change agent in this system: THE WOMAN. First, let’s talk about overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity. The women in his examples seem to be overfunctioning in regards to the emotional side of the relationship to “keep the peace”. Basically, women are more likely to sweep their own wants and needs under the rug (withdraw their influence), for the sake of not engaging in conflict. This works in the short-run to keep conversations from escalating, but over time leads to growing resentment and decreasing emotional intimacy.
In systems where overfunctioning and underfunctioning exist, the power to create change lies with the overfunctioner. Overfunctioners inadvertently play a part in the problem by enabling or allowing the other person to underfunction.
Benson states: “My point is not to insult men. It takes two to make a marriage work and it is just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect.”
But I would wholeheartedly argue that if the woman in this article is tolerating being disrespected and treated as less than then there is a part of her that is in agreement and believes that she is inferior and doesn’t deserve respect. A more important piece of this puzzle is that the woman honors and respects herself.
The world treats you the way you treat you. You get what you tolerate.
I remember a time when hearing this ^^^ was hard! So irritating. Angering, even. It was so much easier for me to blame not feeling considered on other people. “Can’t he just KNOW that I want to be considered?!”
As women we’re taught we shouldn’t take up too much space, that we shouldn’t be a burden, and that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves. The degree to which we buy into these shoulds is the degree to which we are part of the problem.
In order to have happier and healthier relationships I had to start giving everything I wanted from others to myself first. I want him to honor and respect me? Then I have to honor and respect me first. What does that even look like?
I had to stop putting other’s needs before my own, I had to stop being afraid of conflict, I had to quit being so goddamn accommodating, and I had to learn to draw firm boundaries and to say “NO” more. According to Brené Brown the most boundaried people are the most compassionate. We cannot give to others, what we don’t first give to ourselves.
Just because someone is good at stating and sticking to his opinions, doesn’t mean you don’t get to have one or that you don’t deserve to be heard. I had to stop taking personally his ability to use his voice. Doing all of these things consistently took years of practice.
And it turns out my husband isn’t emotionally unintelligent. Who wouldn’t want everything to be his way? The problem wasn’t that he wasn’t competent or capable of being emotionally intelligent…the problem was that I didn’t let him rise to the occasion.
No one taught him to not speak up, to not take up too much space, and to not have a voice.
The result? We have absolutely no unresolved issues under our relationship rug. Last night my husband was sitting at a bar with his friend surrounded by divorcees and unhappily married people. The divorced bartender said, “Seriously, who do you know that’s happily married?” and my husband raised a waiving hand.
To create change in your relationship you cannot seek to change your partner…or read articles convincing you even more that you are not part of the problem. We have to start focusing on the part we play in creating the dysfunction: it’s the only piece we have control over and it’s what we have to leverage to create systemic change.
You deserve happy relationships.