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If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, & Loving Your Wife
Author: Gary Smalley
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids
Discovered at: East Village Thrift Shop, 186 Second Ave.
The Cover Promises: Rick Santorum and Markie Post cosplay!
“While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation.” (page 16)
The big surprise of Gary Smalley’s evangelical marital guide If Only He Knew isn’t its insistence that women often need an afternoon or so to steel themselves for arousal. And the surprise isn’t that, in general, the book’s advice is kind of sweet, boiling down to sensible suggestions like “Learn to make decisions together,” “Listen to what she’s really saying,” and “You wife needs your shoulder, not your mouth.” (That one means “Your goal should be to become a gentle, loving, and tender husband who does not lecture.”)
No, the surprising — and utterly dispiriting — thing here is that even as late as 1988, Smalley believed that his readers needed to be told things like this:
“Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
Could Smalley have been right? Did good Christian husbands of ’88 generally consider their wives’ sadness an opportunity for point-scoring?
That advice comes from the centerpiece of If Only He Knew, a list of 100 ways “you can love your wife her way.” By “her way,” Smalley means that to establish a strong, loving marriage the husband needs to learn to think like a woman, as they are “naturally more sensitive and more aware of relationships” than men are.
Here’s the kinds of things he presumed men weren’t sensitive/aware enough to know how to do. The first are familiar from most marriage manuals:
1. Communicate with her; never close her out.
2. Regard her as important.
But they grow more depressing. For example, shouldn’t No. 6 be implied in No. 5?:
5. Ask her opinion frequently.
6. Value what she says.
Number 11 suggests men thought of wives as something like pets:
11. Avoid sudden major changes without discussion and without giving her time to adjust.
In No. 14, even Smalley himself can’t hide some husbandly condescension:
14. Be interested in what she feels is important in life.
Even if it’s, like, doilies? Or Outlander? Or a woman’s right to choose?
But No. 15 offers husbands an out … and the RNC a possible 2016 campaign slogan:
15. Correct her gently and tenderly.
And it goes on like that. Touchingly, whoever owned this book before I did marked these pages with a packing-tape bookmark:
You can probably suss out from 27 and 28 that Smalley, while admirably progressive about the idea of women being people worth listening to, still was promulgating the idea of the man as the divine leader of the family. The list and book are deeply confused: The man is the holy center of the wife’s life, endowed by God with the wisdom to “correct” her, yet Smalley urges him also to treat her as a partner. Sometimes he even urges men to let women dictate the terms of the relationship:
36. Give advice in a loving way when she asks for it.
62. Find out if she wants to be treated as physically weaker.
65. Discover her sexual needs.
66. Ask if she wants to discuss how you can meet her sexual needs.
Weirdly, 67 is not “Meet those sexual needs.” In fact, that’s not here anyplace. Instead, the only other advice about anything sexual is this doozy:
87. Do not let her see you become excited about the physical features of another woman if that bothers her.
Again: That needed to be said? Still, it’s worth nothing that Smalley leaves open the possibility that wives might be into husbands’ extracurricular erections.
Much of the list could be paraphrased as “Keep wearing the pants without obviously being a dick”:
49. Let her take a bubble bath while you do the dishes.
50. Understand her physical limitations if you have several children.
58. Do not expect a band to play whenever you help with the housecleaning.
59. Make sure she understands everything you are going to do.
61. Treat her as an intellectual equal.
83. Do not belittle her feminine characteristics.
84. Let her express herself freely, without fear of being called stupid or illogical.
The list’s final items are my favorites — and the hardest to imagine American husbands ever following:
98. Read a book she recommends to you.
99. Give her an engraved plaque assuring her of your lasting love.
100. Write her a poem about how special she is.
I guess it goes without saying that you should only show her your poems about how excited you get by other women’s bodies if such verses don’t bother her.
You can read the full list here. Also there: The book’s impossibly depressing quiz for husbands, actually filled out by whoever owned this before I scored it. Here’s a sample too sad to make jokes about:
Here’s the full list. Consider your relationship saved!
And here’s that quiz, filled out in pencil and that strangled masculine assumption that all feelings must be kept hidden.
More:Studies in Crap