Everyone wants a relationship that lasts. Yet nearly half of all today's parents split up.
Harry and Kate Benson began their own married life with great expectations. But within a few years, they stood on the brink of divorce. Today, their marriage is stronger than ever and they have helped many other struggling couples. So what changed? In this ground-breaking book Harry and Kate tell their own inspiring, hope-filled story, set within the wider context of family research into what works. Harry and Kate's radical solution to strengthening families and reducing unnecessary family breakdown is simple. Their research suggests a happy mum tends to mean a happy household. She is the lynchpin around whom the family rotates. So for most mums, the success of a marriage depends primarily on her husband's ability to make her feel valued. In other words: husband, love your wife. And she will love you right back. In that order. That's what mums want. That's the recipe for happy family life.
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About the Author
Harry Benson is one of Britain’s leading champions for marriage. As research director for Marriage Foundation, his findings are routinely cited in the media and by politicians and have made front page news on several occasions. Harry has spent the last twenty years researching, writing and teaching about marriage and family. Harry is the author of Commit or Quit, What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know), Let's Stick Together, and Mentoring Marriages.
Read an Excerpt
What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know)
By Harry Benson, Kate Benson
Lion Hudson PlcCopyright © 2017 Harry and Kate Benson
All rights reserved.
Women, you know your marriage is not all as it could be. I'm with you. You already have your hands full. So I'm not about to give you a list of extra things to do for your husband that will add to your daily burden. Most of this book is about affirming you as a woman and inviting your husband to put you first. I do, however, want to ask if you see your husband as part of your "care package". Because, even if he is the one who needs to make the change, your own mindset might not be doing you any favours.
When my husband is interested in me, and is kind and generous to me, every part of me lights up. I feel happier and more enthusiastic about everything. I feel more loving and physically more attracted to him. I have more energy. I'm more interested in him.
His attention makes me be me; it allows me to enjoy the relationship I always wanted. I can love, respect, honour, and adore. I can do things with and for my husband. That's the person I am. I don't have to put on a persona.
When my husband neglects me, I can put up with it for a bit. But it slowly weighs me down, like a wet blanket. It's demotivating, boring, unpleasant, and unsexy in the extreme. I feel cold and resentful. I don't even like the person that I love.
At these times, I tend to go into micro-manage mode. Life's negatives overwhelm all the positives, which means pointing out all the things that haven't been done, mended, or planned. It's as if they flash up in neon lights.
The wife who feels neglected talks about the bins, the children, the dishwasher, the bills, the mowing, the broken handle, the problem with the car, and the shopping. These are all the things that need doing.
What she really means is, "What about me?" So doesn't it seem utterly ludicrous that we need to remind our husbands, the ones with whom we have our most intimate relationship on this planet, that we need them to notice us, to be friends with us, to be kind and gentle?
* * *
Harry's and my story is of a marriage brought back from the brink. It's a story that's both real and filled with hope. That's what I feel today after being married for thirty years. But the early years of our marriage seemed anything but hopeful, especially when we had young children. The confrontation you've just read about happened eight years into our married life. Far from the dream of "happily ever after", I languished in a state of utter dissatisfaction.
We should never have got into such a mess in the first place.
Harry's part in our downfall was mostly a matter of ignorance. My Harry hasn't a malicious bone in his body. For many years he was both a good man and a useless husband. He's still a good man. Now he's a lovely husband.
I played my part too. I need to hold my hands up and take some share of the responsibility for what went wrong in the first place. We'll come to that.
The supreme irony is that, as a couple whose marriage was in deep crisis, we have ended up teaching thousands of new parents and other couples how to have a happy marriage! The principles we have taught were well grounded in research into what works. But it was always encouraging to hear how many people could relate to our personal illustrations of the ups and downs of married life.
Yet even though our story strikes a chord with some couples, how representative is it of what you, or mums in general, might want?
Especially for this book, we surveyed 291 married mothers and asked them what they most wanted from their husband. Almost everybody told us the same three things:
We want him to be "a friend". This was the top-scoring factor out of a list of twenty-nine different roles, qualities, and characteristics. Almost every mother – 95 per cent – had "friendship" either at the top of their list or a close second.
We want him to be "interested in me". This was the single biggest difference between mums who were happy and those who weren't. Happy wives have husbands who put them high up on their list of priorities. Almost every wife – 97 per cent – had "interested in me" at or near the top of the list of what they thought was important.
We want him to be "interested in the children". Another big difference between happy and unhappy mums, almost everyone – 98 per cent – said children should be a top priority for their husband. I was quite heartened by these findings. I wasn't the only mother who needed to feel cherished and enjoyed and loved. It seems that this is what most other mothers want as well.
For me, friendship means being kind and gentle. It means being prepared to drop stuff and listen, being open and encouraging with me, asking me how I am, being involved in my life, and being interested in my opinion. It means showing initiative and not waiting for me to ask. And it means noticing me and maybe giving the occasional compliment.
Just as important is what friendship isn't. It isn't loud, opinionated, and absolute. It isn't dismissive of things I do or like. It isn't about putting me down or belittling me. It isn't rude and disrespectful. It's also not about the functional side of life, how well we fulfil our different roles and responsibilities. It's definitely not about how well stuff gets fixed and money gets earned, and how well husbands provide – if that's how you choose to divide your roles.
Before we had children, we had time for each other and ourselves, energy, money, and flourishing careers. With those ingredients in the cupboard of life, it's not hard to enjoy this stage, even if the relationship has the odd flaw.
Becoming parents blew a hole in this idyll. We were supposed to be the happiest little family unit. We both wanted children, and our first daughter arrived at the perfect time, healthy and demanding. Two years later, our second was born.
As a new mother, I became completely wrapped up in my babies. I loved them to bursting and relished every moment of their newborn stage. "Milky heaven" is what I used to call that time. I didn't ever really think about what my having babies would do to my relationship with Harry.
Both of us got stuck into our new life as parents. I discovered that I was made to be a mother. Harry loved our girls instantly, and was a helpful and attentive father.
Our drifting apart was so very subtle. It wasn't all bleak, of course: we still had a lot of fun. But the inevitable post-baby exhaustion was thick and dark, like being in a long tunnel. I needed Harry to care about me and not just the baby. I couldn't put my finger on what I needed exactly, but I felt increasingly disappointed and cross that I wasn't getting it.
Harry sensed that he was in trouble and retreated somewhere inside himself that was safe and closed off. On the surface he was working hard to provide for us; he was emotionally engaged and engaging with our daughters. But our own cosy friendship seemed to slip away. At the same time, I pulled away from Harry to protect myself. I hid this conscious withdrawal behind the mammoth task of motherhood and the vortex it creates. We failed to check in with each other. We just functioned.
I know 100 per cent when I'm being noticed and cherished. I also know when I'm not.
When I asked Harry why it wasn't natural and automatic for him to be friendly and adore me, he said that he just didn't think about it. He would never be deliberately unfriendly or unkind. But, left to his own devices, it never crossed his mind that his number-one role was to be my friend, to adore me, to be pleased and interested in me, to be kind. Instead, he focused on work.
I wonder what I could have done better to make Harry know how much we loved and needed him.
Harry and other male friends have recently talked about being left out or cast aside the minute the baby came home. They felt cut out during pregnancy too, as our female brains, bodies, and emotions were already hooked on the baby. I simply didn't ever consider it at the time and, as Harry wasn't very emotionally literate, he never voiced it until much later.
For me, the turning points began with talking to a friend and led to the confrontation with Harry, about which you've just read.
For Harry, the turning points were the confrontation, which came like a bolt from the blue for him, and then a letter I wrote that made him change his whole attitude.
For our marriage, the turning points were all of these, followed by a marriage course we did over a weekend together. Thereafter it's been a question of working it out as we go along.
The changes Harry made were all very real, although it took ages for me to believe it. Harry still has all the qualities that I saw and loved in him when we got married thirty years ago. But the lack of friendship that plagued our early years together has now all but gone.
Our marriage today is scarcely recognizable from what it was then.
Harry puts the transformation of our marriage down to a oneway street. He describes it as the switch in his head that made him remember to be my friend and to treat me kindly. He did take responsibility for sorting out the mess. Both of us are all too aware that it hasn't been all plain sailing since then. But, over time, I've seen the changes and have come to trust that they are real. Our marriage has blossomed.
When a husband is kind and gentle to his wife, when he treats her as his friend, when he is thoughtful towards her and doesn't take her for granted, then she will respond.
When a husband loves his wife, then she will love him right back.
Is it sexist, or unfair, to say that things work best in this direction? Haven't times changed? Shouldn't it be up to both of us equally?
I really don't think so. Times may change; human nature doesn't. Men and women certainly have equal value and importance. But that doesn't mean we are the same.
The one fundamental and indisputable difference between men and women is that women have babies and men don't. Whether it's to do with our genetic programming (which would therefore include adoptive mothers), or merely the mental conditioning of spending nine months pregnant, as mothers we tend to think about our children most or all of the time. Having a baby orients us towards our children and our home in a way that doesn't happen nearly as naturally for fathers.
The research we've looked at seems to show pretty clearly that the recipe for a happy family life is a happy wife. If the wife is happy, then so will the children and the husband be. It doesn't seem to be as true the other way round.
If our husbands want us to look up from our children and focus on them, then it's up to them to shine their light on us first. And when they do that ... aaaaahhhhhhh! It's all that we want.
I sometimes think that the way I think about my children is the way I want Harry to think about me. I love my children. I want the best for them. I am aware of what's going on in their lives. I am interested in them. I encourage and support them. I notice them and listen to them. I spend time and money on them. I make space for them.
So does Harry, of course. But his love and attention to the children tend to come in bursts. Mine is a constant drip that is there in the background all the time.
I doubt whether Harry, or any husband, can sustain that kind of constant attention to his wife. But it's the attitude that counts. As long as I feel I'm high on his list of priorities, rather than an afterthought who is taken for granted, then life is good.
What could I have done differently?
When I became a mother, Harry became part of my child- and-home empire. Even if I wasn't getting my needs met, I should have treated him more like a husband and less like part of my "care package". It certainly didn't help. If I'd been more specific – that I needed a friend, somebody who put me high on their list of priorities and then translated that attitude into actions – then we might have avoided our downward drift.
What we really needed was a book like this!
We hope you won't ever get into anything like the mess we did. But, if you already have, I know what it's like. I know what you're going through because I've been there myself. I've scraped the bottom of the marital barrel.
The whole point of this book is to help you both realize that you already have a rescuer. It's your husband.
Our message is that it is well within the capacity of any man, no matter how dire the state of his marriage, to be the husband his wife needs him to be.
You may have told him a thousand times yourself. But sometimes it takes another voice for him to hear it. That's our job.
This book is all about hope. It's for all you Harrys and Kates out there who needn't get into the mess we did.CHAPTER 2
Men, relax! This isn't another book telling you how to do relationships more like a woman. I want to show you how being a real man means being kind to your wife and showing that you care. That's it. It's not about being a doormat. It's about a simple mental shift that will end up getting you everything you ever wanted, and keep you out of trouble!
Every year, our family spend the first week of our summer holidays at a big Christian festival. I think of it as my annual "pruning" time after a busy year has come to an end. It's a time to relax with my family, let go of the pressures of work and other projects, and allow my mind to be cleared or "pruned" – in the same way that a grapevine is pruned after it has finished producing that year's bunches of fruit. The process of pruning clears away old unproductive branches and gives the vine the opportunity to grow fresh new branches that will fruit the following year. The analogy works for me, anyway.
So, by the time the week's camping has come to an end, I often have the first thoughts about how the following year might begin to take shape, as regards both work and family life. These are the very first shoots that suggest a direction of growth for the year ahead. I can then return to work in the autumn with an idea of what projects to pursue and what to drop, and where I need to focus at home.
Even if this time away only ever gives me clues about work, one subject has come up with regular clarity for many years. It is a reminder to be kind and gentle. Whenever I tell Kate this, she laughs, whether out of relief or exasperation.
"I've been telling you this for years, Harry," she says. "All I've ever needed is for you to be kind and gentle."
"Kind" sounds like such a namby-pamby word. But kindness lies at the heart of what mums want.
My friend Rob runs a successful medium-sized law firm. A few years ago, staff surveys told him that his firm was not a happy place to work. For months he and his staff tried to define the kind of ethos they would like instead. In the end, they reluctantly boiled it down to one word: nice.
"Nice" sounds like another namby-pamby word, doesn't it? "Just be nice." But it's what everyone at Rob's firm really wanted. The amazing thing is that when the people at the top of the firm made a point of being nice, to each other and to their staff, the whole atmosphere at work changed. Today Rob's firm has been voted twelfth out of the top 100 medium-sized firms in the country in which to work. It's a fantastic effort.
Nice. Kind. Gentle. These are the characteristics of a marriage that wives most crave and enjoy.
Today at our annual family camping holiday – and my annual season of "pruning" – I no longer hear a reminder to be kind any more. Other things spring to mind in its place.
Just as Rob's firm is now happy because it's "nice", my marriage is now happy because it's "kind". I have learned to be kind to my wife. It's what she wants. After that dreadful confrontation all those years ago, when Kate and I stood staring into the marital abyss, I can now say with confidence that we have a wonderfully happy marriage – as well as four more children!
* * *
Marriage, rather like parenting, doesn't come with a manual. Mostly, we have to figure it out for ourselves.
That's not so bad if we've been brought up by amazing parents who loved each other, had a secure marriage, and never let their differences come between them. And even if they didn't manage it themselves, our parents' friends may have had great marriages. Watching them gave us hope that great marriage is at least a possibility. It exists. It can work.
But what if we've never seen a great marriage at first hand? Maybe our parents split or fought or were barely ever a couple. Maybe most of our friends lived with only one parent. They'd never seen a great marriage either. Why should we believe something exists if we've never seen it?
I'm here to tell you that secure and happy marriage is an achievable reality that is within your reach. The secret is all in the mind.
Some of it undoubtedly boils down to knowing how to do it, knowing the practical skills of married life. The popular view is that it's all about communication. How to sit down and listen and really understand what your spouse is going through. How to weather the onslaught and not take it personally when she needs to let off steam. How to handle your inevitable differences, which means knowing when to sweep the less important issues under the carpet and how to resolve the important stuff together as a team. How to make her feel loved and special, even when you don't feel like it.
Excerpted from What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know) by Harry Benson, Kate Benson. Copyright © 2017 Harry and Kate Benson. Excerpted by permission of Lion Hudson Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One Dear mum 16
Chapter Two Dear dad 24
Chapter Three It wasn’t meant to be like this… 34
Chapter Four For the sake of the children? 47
Chapter Five Happy wife, happy life 65
Chapter Six What mums want 87
Chapter Seven Learning to love 109
Chapter Eight For better, for worse 129
Chapter Nine I love you and want to be close to you 143
Chapter Ten Back from the brink 162
Chapter Eleven Wise friends 174