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To communicate better, I'm going to keep my mouth shut

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe
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Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily, and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She is now director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.

It was all quite legitimate: I was sitting, chatting with my son-in-law about perfectly innocuous things, when he began talking about sex. Oh, nothing specific or personal. Tripp is a life coach, whose mission in life is to help men become "New Men" and, as his website (thenewmanpodcast.com) says, "Navigate the changing course of relationships." I think this means that with Tripp's help, men learn the art of being "present," and thus will be able to understand their wives, girlfriends, and significant others in an empathetic and sensitive way. A noble cause.

His new quest is to explore the whole men are from Mars, women from Venus thing. He clearly understands that men and women think differently about almost everything, and he wants to teach his clients how to better communicate with women, which ultimately would lead to a closer understanding of each other. Needless to say, to be complete, these discussions sooner or later have to deal with sex.

Tripp is 40. He is married to the most perfect woman in the world. They have the most perfect child … and the most perfect mother-in-law. I wasn't about to volunteer my older and somewhat more cynical views on the subject. Thinking about sex rarely, in my experience, leads to a sheltered private island of sanity and wellbeing. Thinking too much about sex tends to get you kicked off that island, even at my age. Our urges are comprehensively disruptive. That most men understand that is a given. This should be a fertile field for Tripp's practice, as most men think about sex something like every seven seconds. Drawing the logical conclusion: men are in a state of constant disruption. They probably all need Tripp's help.

A recent book, "How to Think More About Sex" by Alain de Botton, reflects more of my thinking. Given the subprimate level of intelligence and wit in most self-help books, you run the risk of leading your thousands of brain cells into a non-redemptive land of over-simplified thinking if you read one. However, this book wanders to some strange and counterintuitive places. Mr. de Botton proposes new, more accurate language for brides and grooms to employ at the alter: "I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone. I promise to make you the sole repository of my regrets, rather than distribute them widely through multiple affairs and a life of sexual Don Juanism. I have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is you I have chosen to commit myself to."

When spouses cheat, de Botton suggests that the betrayed should consider saying sorry first: "sorry for being themselves, sorry for getting old, sorry for being boring sometimes, sorry for forcing their partners to lie by setting the bar of truthfulness forbiddingly high, and (while we're at it) sorry for being human."

I am not this highly evolved. When a long-ago husband cheated on me, I wanted to gouge out his eyeballs (and a couple of other vital body parts), make soup out of them and force him to eat it. On the other hand, I get that any close relationship takes more understanding than any of us has, more compassion, more empathy and more humor. The occasional feather boa and garter belt can also provide a boost. And being fully appreciative of the other person's talents, accomplishments and even bad jokes goes farther toward keeping couples together than frolicking in a hot tub.

But, I am keeping my wisdom to myself. I applaud my son-in-law's ambition and hope he makes enormous progress, both in the teaching of this kind of appreciation and in the practicing of it. I hope he will understand how to counsel a client whose wife is earning 30 percent less than he is and whose career is going all Titanic when the question, "Who will look after the kids?" raises its head. Or someone whose wife is upset with his pleasingly nonproductive activities like fishing, golf, listening to records, playing on the Xbox and pretending to be goblins in World of Warcraft. Or a guy who is baffled by the fact that his wife spends her spare time taking on the never-ending list of self-improvements or domestic tasks: homework, counseling the troubled, deworming the cat, doing pelvic-floor exercises, trying to be inventive with cabbage and exfoliating ingrowing hairs.

I'm confident that he will help men by telling them to eliminate self-sabotaging patterns, how to engage in the practice of mindfulness and tell them how to go about rewriting the narratives that define them. 

And, since I am the perfect mother-in-law, I'll continue to keep my big mouth shut.