Change Your Life Not Your Wife
Marriage Saving Advice for Success Driven People
Tony Ferretti, PH. D.,
Peter J. Weiss, M. D.

According to one online service, marriage for a woman is "giving a husband family control over her sexual services, labor and property." That's a crude but probably accurate summary of the state of matrimonial bliss in America. In Islam, a man is limited to four wives. In the Bible, if you had enough donkeys or cows, the number of wives was unlimited. Jacob only married his two sisters, Leah and Rachel, but Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He was said to be the master of sagacity, although no one interviewed any of the 1,000 for their opinion.

Luther condoned polygamy in exceptional cases: he permitted Landgrave Philip of Hesse to take two wives. Unfortunately, most contemporary societies are opposed to the matriarchal model of spousal plurality, the one known as polyandry, where a female can have as many husbands as she wants.

If the Mormons had wised up 150 years ago and embraced polyandry as their operating system, they would not have had to put up with so much obloquy, certainly would not have been forced --- as Mitt Romney's forebears were --- to either take the pledge or move to Mexico.

One should never attempt to build a superior moral state which gives all the benefits to one sex and none to the other. Women have always been a powerful tool for wisdom and sensitivity for inchoate men, should always be able to share in the spoils. It might be enlightening for all concerned if modern Mormon women could come to have eight or ten husbands to order around and discipline.

Few western observers have been astute enough to point out that the power of Islam comes from its matriarchal system, where women, after a certain age, have as much influence as the men. Mormons might benefit even now by abandoning the hierarchy of dry old men as heads of their stakes. Feminine elders would give the institution a warmth that is still missing in their narrative. Mormons may be already on the road: few outsiders know that there is a kindly Mrs. God in their theology --- the "Mother in Heaven." A holy prophet by the name of Eliza Roxcy Snow, published a poem (now a Mormon hymn) that contains the following language:

    In the heavens are parents single?
    No, the thought makes reason stare.
    Truth is reason: truth eternal
    tells me I've a mother there.

§   §   §

Everyone knows that marriage in contemporary America is a crap shoot. Almost half of all official church-approved couplings end in divorce. The odds for a successful second marriage are even worse: around 20% that it will survive beyond three years. Don't even ask about marriages #3 and #4. People forget that early Christian marriage was a business contract (in many senses, it still is. If you doubt that, read over sample pre-nuptial agreements available on Google).

One of my college buddies who was quite wealthy hitched up with a woman who was also quite wealthy. Friends said that it wasn't a marriage but a merger. It turned out to be a powerful corporate entity that survives to this day.

Because of the Christian emphasis in celibacy, marriage always came off as second best. As the old and much hallowed plainsong chant has it, "Love and marriage love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage." It is never specified whether it was the man or the woman who was to imitate the horse, the other the carriage.

Demosthenes said a bit callously that "We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health, and wives to bear us lawful offspring." In India, Hindu religious practice included "sati:" the wife sacrifices herself on her husband's funeral pyre rather than live on as a widow. Thus Indian women were forced, literally, to burn with love.

In Kenya, in the first month after the wedding it is the custom for the groom to wear women's clothes to fully understand how hard is being on the distaff side. And after the wedding reception is over on the Marquesas Islands, the relatives of the bride all lie side by side in the dirt, face down. The bride and groom then walk across them ... and thus the marriage is consummated. It is the obvious symbolic message that someone is going to get trampled on further on down the line in this union --- but no one knows exactly whom.

When a wedding is over in Korea, friends of the groom remove his socks, tie a rope around his ankles and start beating his feet with fish in order to prepare him for his first night as a married man. It's a stretch to try to figure out the symbolism of this odd custom, though we would hope they don't use catfish or shark or spiny croakers.

Gregory Bateson claimed that Henny Youngman's most profound insight was the old tried and true wheeze, "How's your wife?" Response: "Compared to what?"

§   §   §

Ferretti and Weiss's book is heavy with quizzes (called "self-assessments") and tales of people named John and Casey and Kevin and Tom who are driven and harried and hard-working and are lousy husbands and who suffer from codependency and passive aggression and fragmented lives and how-did-it-come-to-this?

For the women, typically, Mary is a nurse and John is a surgeon and he runs the hospital and there are two boys and John is sure he isn't appreciated and she is sure she isn't appreciated and when they have an appointment with a shrink who is supposed to save their marriage guess who comes in fifteen minutes late because he's married to his job and not to you-know-who?

What Ferretti and Weiss seem to miss is that marriage as a concept is out-of-date. It has always been a deeply flawed operational system which --- in Christianity --- degrades women and elevates men. Ask any Texas Baptist preacher the proper place of a woman in a marriage and his response will sound like something borrowed directly from the Marquis de Sade.

In Renaissance England, a marriage was an economic device to join the finances of two families. Love was no part of it: both husband and wife were expected to manifest their romantic selves with other partners. The thought that one could actually be in love with a housemate was simply not on the table.

§   §   §

    Q: "How do you become emotionally and spiritually healthy?"

    A: "Change the way you approach and experience life."

If a marriage is broken, I have some doubts as to whether a book entitled "Change your life not your wife" --- from which this quote is taken --- is going to stick it all back together again. There is no end of clichés floating around here. In the chapter titled "Steve and Mary Come Together" we find ourselves with Dr. Ed Tucker, "a therapist recommended by her friend Susan." Doctor Tucker asks "Tell me how you've contributed to these problems in your marriage?"

Tucker is much given to babble. In their third session, he says to John and Mary, "You will both need to change. The issues between you have been building for years, and it's going to take some work to overcome them. Each of you has, in you own way, lost your focus on your relationship and you've grown far apart. Poor communication and failure to resolve disagreements are the two main causes of your estrangement." He tells Steve that he is not been "emotionally open" with Mary. He tells Mary, "you have focused on Steve's faults and responded by withdrawing."

There's something screwy with all this palaver. As the old wheeze has it, "Ultimate insight is the booby prize of life." Evidently Tucker --- and the authors --- feel that a broken marriage can be fixed by mere insight. This is despite all obvious evidence that it is a part of a broken system wildly out of date in the 21st century. We'll set all right with words is the operating theory here: Let's sit in a room, all of us, chewing the fat about what's gone wrong. "Both of you were hitting below the belt with very negative and harmful comments," says Dr. Prolix.

I suspect successful family counselors never use this let-me-tell-you-where-you-went-wrong nonsense. One of the most artistic family therapists, Carl Whittaker, brought the whole family together and shut his mouth. He let the members of the system do the talking, involving everyone. Thus "a family" would include friend Susan and the two kids and the maid and a couple of grandmothers if there are any around.

One video of Whittaker operating successfully on a broken family shows him and all of them out in his courtyard, he settled back in his lawn chair where he promptly goes to sleep as they are wrangling. When he comes to, he utters an off-the-wall comment --- it came to him in a dream --- which means nothing to me, but a great deal to them. Over the next few weeks, we see that this exchange was a catalyst for what they call "strategic" change.

Conversely, Salvador Minuchin wanders around smoking a cigarette while his at-risk family --- mother, father, two daughters (one of whom had tried to kill herself at least three times) --- act out their agony while he starts to build another structure (it's called reframing). The point is to make this stuck family somehow spring loose, move on in another direction that will not force one child to murder herself to set everything right. He never makes a direct statement like "You will all need to change." Too easy to nod, agree, and ignore. He would rather talk (as he did in one scene) about Yiddish theatre, how his aunt loved it so because she could cry openly at the tragedy of it.

Ferretti and Weiss's book may thus be fatally flawed. It uses standard rhetoric from your standard counselor within your standard Middle Class America values to try to force change in a house that has already collapsed, not acknowledging that the old clichés that we've already absorbed from television about ambitious husbands and clingy wives are just that: clichés.

A fallen house demands powerful other-worldly (often straight-from-Mars) interactions to make a difference in lives. No one willingly changes because, even though the situation may stink, its our own old familiar stink. We change only because something comes along to offer a better operating system which may have bits and pieces of the old, but at the same time, a couple of prizes stuck in there. This means we can change without abandoning what got us into this miserable hole in the first place. To give it up might be just too scary. Unless something strange comes along. From Mars. To tempt us.

--- Cathy Klein, MSW
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