My husband Joe and I have lived in our house for over eight years.  Every Christmas neighbors’ houses all lit up by colorful lights while ours stood silently in the dark.  I asked Joe if he could put lights on our house.  Year over year his answer has always been “We have a big house on a corner lot.  It’s not trivial to get it done tastefully.”  I gave up after year five and accepted the fact that our house would remain dark for Christmas.   I take the Pace vanpool to and from work.  People on the van always commented on our cheerless house when I got dropped off during the holiday season.  I used to find one excuse after another for Joe’s reluctance to decorate the house.

“It’s really not a big deal to me anyway.  I choose my battle.”  I chortled.

Last year Janet the driver said something that pushed my button.  “Doesn’t Joe want do it for your son?  Christmas is magical to kids at that age.”

I realized that I did want the lights not just for me but also for Jake.  So I confronted Joe.  “What’s so not trivial about putting some lights on the house, or just on the trees or the bushes?  Everyone else manages to do it.”
“Well. It’s really not that simple. It takes planning and careful design.”
“How about we start planning now for next year?”
“Okay, I’ll work on it.”

I reminded Joe two weeks ago in early November about the Christmas project.  “We’re going to make our house Christmasy this year, right?  If you don’t feel like doing it, it’s okay.  We can hire someone …”

“They don’t do a good job.  I’ll do it myself.  I’ll light up the tall evergreen tree outside.  It’s going to be magnificent!”

Joe sought my input on the colors and types of the lights.  He went online and ordered a whole bunch them.  It looks like our house will have a face lift this Christmas.

The roles men and women play in the 21st century society may be neutralizing.  We see more and more women holding powerful positions in education, business and politics.  It’s no longer rare for men to stay at home changing diapers.  Theoretically I could have rolled up the sleeves and put up the lights myself.  But in my mind, that’s Joe’s job, a man’s job.  I neither have the desire nor the gift to do it.

It is obvious that men and women are physically different. In the old days, there was a division of labor in which men were expected to perform certain jobs that commanded physical strength while women’s responsibilities required sensitivity and discernment.

Psychologically men are less emotional and sensitive. Many men even view these traits as weakness because they were brought up to be tough and macho.

According to ‘Understanding The Difference Between Men And Women” by Michael G. Connor, women have four times as many brain cells (neurons) connecting the right and left side of their brain. This finding provides physical evidence that supports the observation that men rely easily and more heavily on their left brain to solve one problem one step at a time (one-dimensionally logical). Women have more efficient access to both sides of their brain and therefore greater use of their right brain. Women can focus on more than one problem at one time and prefer to solve problems through multiple activities at a time.

Traditional wisdom teaches men to be more sensitive and less unemotionally logical and women to be more rational and sensible, ignoring the fundamental gender differences. So the idea that both genders should be able to see things through each other’s eyes just because they are in love is totally unrealistic and ridiculous. Growing up in Shanghai, I saw many men labeled as ‘Qi Guan Yan’ (tracheitis, homonym in Chinese with ‘wife rules tight’). These men would agree with their wives under all circumstances and seemed quite happy about it. There were also generations of women who held the benefit of their family above their own. They prided themselves in the sacrificial love.

Living in denial of one’s own self and needs may be honorable but not necessarily satisfying and honest. For most of us who live in the 21st century, we know there are alternative ways of giving and we want more than ever to be our self and to be accepted. If marriage was characterized by commitment for my grandmother’s generation and companionship for my mother’s, the new marriage in the 21st century is characterized by intimacy – physically, sexually, intellectually, and emotionally.

The dilemma. If men were left alone, they would be quite satisfied with the way things were: if they had a good job, remained faithful to their wives, didn’t drink excessively or smoke, they were good husbands. What’s the fuss about all that emotional stuff? Women are the driving force behind the new age marriage model. They demand men to be not only physically but also emotionally available to them and the family. However, when men do open up, often times they are viewed as wimps by the women in their lives and therefore they shut down even more. The disparity between what women want and what they get has caused much anguish and despair and led to the skyrocketing divorce rate in this century.

The solution. We women have to understand that if we want drastically different results, we’ll have to adhere to a new set of drastically different rules. In his book “The New Rules of Marriage”, Terrance Real laid out the five losing strategies:
1) Needing to be right.
2) Controlling your partner
3) Unbridled self-expression
4) Retaliation
5) Withdrawal

Using any of the above strategies may make you feel like winning the battle, but in reality you are losing the war.

Intimacy occurs when two mature individuals choose to share their true selves with each other. To get to that place not only requires determination, humility, generosity, a risk-taking spirit but also a well-executed step-by-step plan:
1) Get in touch with yourself to understand and articulate your wants and needs
2) Do the same exercise for your partner if he isn’t a willing participant. Tell him how you have left some of his needs unmet and what you will do specifically to change that.
3) When he does open up, listen well and respond generously
4) Confront the bad spirit that you’ve adopted in your relationship and make a conscious effort to change course
5) Embrace the personal relationship values introduced by Dr. Philip McGraw in his book “Relationship Rescue”:
a. Own your relationship
b. Accept the risk of vulnerability
c. Accept your partner
d. Focus on the friendship
e. Promote your partner’s self-esteem
f. Aim you frustration in the right direction
g. Be up-front and forthright
h. Make yourself happy rather than right
i. Allow your relationship to transcend turmoil
j. Put motion into your emotion
6) Last but not least, have a sense of humor. Not every issue needs to be brought in front of Judge Judy. Loosen up as you are working your way towards intimacy and let yourself and your partner off the hook if either one of you occasionally take a step backward instead of forward.

Men can benefit as much from an intimate marriage as women. For one thing, a happier and thriving wife will enrich any man’s life. Secondly, the bar has also been raised by our childen. They want their dad to be more connected, involved and understanding towards them. They desire for a emotionally accessible dad.

I am glad we didn’t blow the Christmas decoration thing out of proportion with me labeling Joe as ‘lazy’ and him calling me ‘demanding’.  I made my wish known and offered an alternative (hiring help), all done in a respectful and understanding manner.  The end result was win-win for both: Joe to show off his artistic talent and me to have a holiday-looking house. I know it’s going put sparkles in Jake’s eyes as well as get the people on the vanpool off my back.  I can feel in my bone that it’s going to be a fabulous Christmas with a glow!