How to Choose a Husband by Suzanne Venker – book review by Evan Marc Katz

how to choose a husband book

What I’m about to say may not be very popular with my readership. That’s okay. I’m not here to win any popularity contests.

I’m here to give solid reality-based relationship advice. Such advice is not based on what I want personally; rather, it’s based on what is most effective in relating to the opposite sex.

So it’s with considerable ambivalence that I decided to review Suzanne Venker’s “How to Choose a Husband” today. It’s an easy read – I finished the book in one night – and Venker’s got a decidedly colloquial writing style. The reason I’m ambivalent about it is that while Venker’s actual relationship advice is really good, her judgmental opinions may blind you to her wisdom. Which is a shame. Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

She holds special contempt for feminists, Hollywood, liberals, atheists, and casual sex, and since I believe in all five of those things, I could feel the heat rising when I learned how folks like me are unable to have successful and meaningful relationships. This is, on the surface, not true, and it’s a shame that Venker couldn’t have found a little more subtlety and nuance in making her case. Because her case is actually quite a compelling one. And it’s one I’ve been making on the pages of this blog for six years.

Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

-Marriage isn’t always a passionfest.

-Men aren’t bad, or even worse than women.

-Being too busy, too difficult, too opinionated, and too arrogant are big problems for women (and men) looking for love.

-There are many women who have spent so much time working that they’ve lost touch with what makes them appealing to men. It’s not that we don’t love your fertile minds; it’s that if you’re working 60 hours a week, training for a marathon, and telling us how we need to change for you, we might just choose women who are a little more available, warm and supportive.

Any arguments so far? No? Then you should have no trouble with Venker’s relationship advice either (except for the fact that it comes from a very judgmental conservative):

From p. 9 “Marriage isn’t a power struggle; it’s a partnership. Unless your husband’s a Neanderthal — in which case, why’d you marry him in the first place? — he’s not the least bit interested in seizing your identity. Most men don’t want a doormat for a wife. One of the greatest ironies of feminism is that it never even occurs to the average husband to do the thing his wife is steeling herself against. In most cases, all that energy spent putting up a shield is for naught”.

From p. 32 “People’s priorities change when they get married. When you’re single, life outside of work is largely without obligations or sacrifice. When you’re married with children, you learn the art of compromise and unconditional love…. Growth hand in hand with a like minded person is the point — not growth in order to meet a like minded person. Unless the goal is to marry a mirror image of yourself (with a penis), there’s no need to become the person you want to attract.”

From p. 36 “No other role in your life will require more selflessness than being a wife an mother. If you want to be successful at it, you need to start thinking about other people’s needs. You need to ignore all that coddling you’ve been given and stop thinking in terms of what you think you deserve or are entitled to. To have a fulfilling, beautiful life — the best life you can have — you don’t need to find yourself. You need to get over yourself.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

This is so true. And if this sounds offensive being told to women, if you saw this exact same advice for men, you’d say HELL YEAH. Wouldn’t you?

“Guys, get over yourself. Be self-aware. Don’t be so selfish. Communicate more. Give us women what we need!”

From p. 45 “Women have no idea how to use their femininity to their advantage, so they end up rearing their heads, trying to be something they’re not. Instead of becoming wives, they become competitors. This is the number one mistake women make… Men like to chase women and women like to be chased — that’s just the way it is. Don’t become the hunter. Don’t call a guy or make the first move. Don’t try to take charge or be in control. That’s what men are supposed to do. Let them.

A woman’s femininity is unique and powerful. It does not lower a woman’s status, nor does it preclude her from being an independent woman. In fact, many men prefer their wives are independent. So, go. Do what you want with your life — no one’s stopping you. Just don’t try to compete with your husband. He doesn’t want a competitor; he has plenty of those. At the end of the day, what a man wants is a partner and companion who’s concerned with his needs as much as her own, maybe even more.”

From p. 55 “Please read this carefully: you can never, ever, change your man. Ever. Did I say ever? Ever. You can’t love a man so hard and so well that your problems will magically disappear. You can’t convince him to see life your way if he doesn’t… Bottom line: if you don’t love a man exactly as he is, even if he never changes a stinkin’ thing, get out.

From p. 70 “We must stop instilling in women this idea that their lives have in store for them something profound, something magical, something so great it belies description. Unrealistic expectations set up a false reality, and real life can only be disappointing.”

I said nearly the exact same thing in “Marry Him”: “If you didn’t have the fantasy, reality would be just fine”. It’s the “Eat, Pray, Love” model of relationships: holding out for some fantasy man who is perfect and transcendent and feeling that anything less is settling. It’s simply not true.

Venker continues about the principles of having a happy marriage.

From p. 119 “Unless you marry a cad, what you bring to the marriage table may very likely determine the fate of your marriage. Put another way: it’s not what your guy can do for you, but what you can do for your guy? That’s the attitude you need going forward…. (I would give this exact same advice to men, by the way – EMK) Being married isn’t nearly as difficult as you’ve been led to believe — most men are supremely easy to get along with. If you treat your husband well, he will be your greatest support and defender. If you treat him poorly, he’ll either bark or hang his head and walk away. Wives have much more power than they realize.”

From p. 122 “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar.” This is the very aspect of human nature against which feminists have rebelled. To them, being sweet means being a doormat. They are wrong. Being feminine — kind, soft, nurturing, or whatever adjective you prefer — is only suffocating if you’re in love with a Neanderthal…. Most men are much nicer than feminists would have you believe. And if you treat them with honey as opposed to vinegar, you’d be surprised what you’ll get in return.”

From p. 132 “Bottom line: there are more important things in life than work. Like love. I have the most loving husband in the world. He’s as committed to the message of this book as I am (and to my writing career in general) but like me, gets frustrated with the lack of time to get it all done. Time —not men, employers, or the way the system is rigged — is the real culprit when it comes to having it all.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

You may want to shoot the messenger, but don’t ignore the message.

To read the book, click here.

Your respectful comments are appreciated below.

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  1. 1

    Interesting that the title of the book “How to Choose a Husband” seems to have a lot of dedicated pages as to what to expect after you are married and have already done the choosing. Not that I disagree with her advice, but seems like the content has a different audience (already has a husband) than the title suggests  (those still looking for a husband).

  2. 2

    OMG.   I disagree with almost everything this woman says.
    P. 36 start thinking about other people’s needs…get over yourself.
    I would never give this advice to a woman or a man. To your comment that a woman would say “hell yeah” if the advice were to a man, I cannot agree at all. It’s just bad advice no matter what gender is under discussion.   To paraphrase Thoreau, for a good society to move forward, each citizen should “tie your shoelaces and rescue the drowning”. EACH of us (without regard to gender) should be responsible to meet our own needs (instead of whining that others are not what we think they should be) and offer whatever help we can (without compromising our personal integrity) to those drowning in their lives.
    From p. 122 “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar.” This is the very aspect of human nature against which feminists have rebelled. To them, being sweet means being a doormat.
    I don’t know who she’s talking to, but as a feminist, that offends me greatly. I am feminist in the sense that I believe men and women are equal — both hold value. This does not mean we are identical. Many relationships flourish based on complementary skills being brought to the table, so that whoever (without regard to gender) is most capable, does that task. That being said, sweetness is a lovely quality in both men and women. I don’t need to be brittle, critical or harsh. I am kind, thoughtful and giving to those in my life, period. If people treat me well, I treat them well. If they don’t, they are no longer part of my life. Easy.
    p. 70 real life can only be disappointing
    Whaaat? I have a great life. This does not mean that everything is perfect, 100% of the time. It means I have consciously cultivated my outlook to focus on what does work, that is good.   Who decides what is unrealistic? Some of the greatest accomplishments in history had really bad odds. Isn’t that like giving up before you have started? Who decides what is profound? The most simple moment — a sunset, a hand held, comfort from a loved one — can be profound.
    p. 55 If you don’t love a man exactly as he is….get out.
    What bothers me about this is that she’s making this gender specific. It’s not. Both genders deserve to be accepted as they are. Yes, men should be accepted the way they are. So should women.
    P. 119 If you treat him [your husband] poorly, he’ll either bark or hang his head and walk away. Wives have much more power than they realize.”
    Again, she is making something gender specific that should not be. Both genders should be treated well. Both sexes have a lot of personal power to lift up and support their spouse, or tear them down.
    EMK, I don’t believe women are “holding out” for “perfect and transcendent”.   I do believe that many women have personality flaws to which they are blind and fail to take that into account. One of the greatest flaws of these is expecting a man to “complete them”; something no other person can do for each of us. It has been my experience that people who are happy with themselves generally draw in other people, because, who wants to miss out on such a good time?

    1. 2.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Nissa – And that’s why I have an advice column and you don’t.

      The advice is gender specific because the author wrote a book called “How to Choose a Husband”. Wouldn’t it be strange if she gave advice to men in there? Yeah, I thought so, too.

      You seem to take her advice personally. You shouldn’t. If it doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t apply to you. However, this advice does apply to a lot of women, including a lot of feminists who outwardly mistake sweetness for weakness. I’ve had enough strangers ripping my wife for being sweet to know personally.

      So yeah, if this advice bugs you, I’ll echo the author: get over yourself. It’s constructive criticism designed to help women that it applies to, not destructive criticism for women it doesn’t. If it doesn’t apply to you, you’re lucky. There are millions of women – and many of my readers – who need to hear this stuff.

  3. 3

    Looks like good advice from what I’ve seen of this book.   Both men and women should read it though.   Marriage is a partnership, and life is difficult enough without making it more difficult with your own actions or attitude.

  4. 4

    I tend to get confused by the notion not to expect anyone to change contradicted by the belief both sides should compromise.   Doesn’t that mean there does exist an expectation both sides should mold themselves to the other to some extent?   Just a thought.
    Anyway, Nina, Pg 36 about other people’s needs has nothing to do with the individual versus society or the individual versus strangers.   If you reread what the author wrote, children’s needs or the family unit as a whole trump individual needs.   That’s what she was saying.

  5. 5
    Lady Z

    “We must stop instilling in women this idea that their lives have in store for them something profound, something magical, something so great it belies description. Unrealistic expectations set up a false reality, and real life can only be disappointing.”
    This is so deep and true for me. The thing is, once the idea HAS BEEN INSTILLED. How do you get it out? I am already married and the fantasy of which Evan speaks is alive and well. The book I am willign to empty my wallet for is the: HOW TO ERASE THE FANTASY FROM YOUR BRAIN & ACCEPT THAT YOUR LIFE WILL BE ORDINARY. Is it that those of us who already have the fantasy are doomed? I hear a lot of advise, but very little on how women OVERCOME this modren day “problem that has no name”- I WANT to be happy with an ordinary life and an oridnary guy, but Evan, a lot of us a finding to our dismay that wishing it so, ain’t making it so. If a woman recognizes this in herself, what steps can she take to “get over herself”? Its already unpallatable advise, but given its core truth, it seems that no one actually can tell us how “got over themselves”- and how we can do the same. If anyone knows of some good accounts of this, please let me know because I am open to personal growth and spiritual development.
    And Evan, thanks for your work. It fills a special niche for women. The things that are the hardest to hear often contains a potential breakthrough for people.

    1. 5.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Oh, and Lady Z, I got over myself.

      I spent 10 years dating everyone in LA and passing up on 95% of them because I always found flaws with them.

      The 2-3 women I really fell hard for all criticized me, wanted me to change, and broke up with me.

      I soon realized that I was valuing the wrong qualities – the first thing I would value would be a woman who is ACCEPTING and loves me as I AM and doesn’t ask me to change.

      And despite the fact that she is flawed – she’s not as intellectually curious, ambitious and overtly impressive as my exes – I appreciate what a great person she is. In other words, I got over the idea that I “deserved” some Ivy League lawyer/concert pianist/entrepreneur, and “compromised” into a beautiful life with a woman who I can spend 24 hrs a day with and never have a fight.

      And since I got over myself, I’m guessing that everybody here can do the same. I’ve got thousands of clients who have already done so.

  6. 6

    Evan #3- that seems like a pretty harsh reaction to a comment that respectfully disagreed with the author. It looks like the only comments you are looking for here are ‘I totally agree with the author’ or ‘the author is sooo right- I used to be just as she described but then I changed and now i’m happily (but not unrealistically happily) coupled!’ Your choice, but damn.

    1. 6.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You’re right, Jennifer. I own it. I’m just so sick of the way people can twist and misinterpret things that are objectively true. I swear, this comments section is as frustrating as background checks getting denied by Congress. We’ve had two comments already complaining that the advice for women is, in fact, advice for women and not men. We have willful misreadings of objectively sound passages that completely miss the point of said passages. I have toyed for years with killing the comments section. And, as I’m relaunching a new site this spring, I’m coming closer to doing so. It’s a huge time suck to explain things that shouldn’t need to be explained…and yet I can’t knowingly let inane comments sit on my website without clarification. You’re just hearing my frustrations. Everyone has her right to an opinion; not everyone has good reading comprehension skills, however.

  7. 7

    #6 Lady Z, excellent question!    IMO, this is the answer:   open to personal growth and spiritual development.   These two things help us to see the beauty in life, in the inperfection of people, and a constant reminder to be grateful for what we do have.


  8. 8

    Well, I don’t want to marry a guy who’s arrogant, hard, and a workaholic myself! I don’t want to marry a guy who’s competing with me Or trying to change me. That said, you’re in for a world of trouble if you marry someone just bc they’re nice and ordinary and easy to deal with. Get grounded, feel emotionally whole on your own, and then you don’t have to feel like every date is your last chance saloon. Don’t complain that all men are bad or that good relationships aren’t possible. Marriage Won’t make you fuller and being single wont make you emptier. Lastly, I do believe my life has very special and magical things in store, and some have already happened, but I create my own destiny and actively work at that rather than passively imagining that on the sidelines.  

  9. 9

    Marc…Please don’t forego the comments section. Seriously, out of all the places I go to read, it’s often the most interesting.
    Please don’t worry about the comments that didn’t read thoroughly or “didn’t get” what you said. We all know there are commenters like that…just part of life on the blogosphere.   We know that as we read them, you don’t have to rebuff each one. Most of us do that already.
    Please please don’t let go of the comments. Seriously!   I love comments in general and they are 50% of the reason I go to any given article. No comments…boring!

  10. 10

    Suzanne Venker is the niece of Phyllis Schlafley, president of the Eagle Forum. In fact, Schlafley and Venker wrote a book together bashing feminism. The Eagle Forums’s beliefs can be found here:

    Some other choice tidbits from Venker:
    “Women are going to have to become comfortable with sacrifice and capitulation.”
    “It’s okay if your guy’s in charge. It’s okay if you don’t drive the car. In fact, it’s rather liberating.”
    She also argues that, women “like to gather and nest and take care of people” while men “are hunters: they like to build things and kill things.”
    I’m not really sure what all of this has to do valuing and loving your partner as they are, though. I think you can be a liberal, a feminist, heck, even an atheist, and accept and value your partner for who they are. I can think of many liberal, feminist, Christian and non-Christian married couples who have been doing just that for years.

  11. 11

    What rubs some stubborn women the wrong way is that giving this advice to women seems to imply that they then have to accept flaws and poor treatment from men. The thing is, the advice is directed to “she” and “her” because the audience is female (this blog and the book), but the advice is of course as relevant to men. Directing it to female does not negate its relevance to men. It should be pretty obvious to any “smart, strong, successful woman” that when she becomes receptive, kind, and feminine, it’s up to her to select in her pool of newly interested prospects the one who will be equally flexible, generous, and humble. Now if you stay bratty, difficult, and selfish, you’ll keep attracting who you are. Or you’ll remain sigle. Simple application of the law of karma.
    @Lady Z #6: “If a woman recognizes this in herself, what steps can she take to “get over herself?”
    Well, I’ve never had that problem. If anything I had the reverse one: being way to easily impressed and way too easily content. I had to become more discriminative.
    This being said, my suggestion to people living in “lala land”, feeling entitled to unrealistic expectations – whatever they are really, and yet willing to “get over themselves” would be to start volunteering with people with less opportunitites. Does not need to be as drastic as the homeless, but definitely within a community of older single women, at-risk youth, low income families, etc.
    In the last four years I’ve been listening through my volunteer job to every story under the sun, from folks between the ages of 18 to 80, and I can tell you, it’s not pretty out there. I listened to regrets of middle-aged women who made poor choices in their twenties and thirties, stories of rising to the top followed by bitter crashing to the botton, and everything else related to poor income, discrimination, bad luck, lack of character, etc. I can guarantee you that it could turn an entitled brat into a more realistic human being.
    My second suggestion is committing to a practice of radical gratitude. Go buy yourself a new journal, and do not get out of bed in the morning before having written three things you are grateful for. Could be anything, but since we’re talking about relationships, how about starting about that topic? Any aspect of your relating to others, and if you have a partner, anything related to them. Same deal before falling asleep: no shutting of the lights before having written three more things. And you continue Every. Single. Day. Journal, after journal. This practice will work on your heart and spirit in a way that no amount of reading self-help book can. It is simple, yet so profound for people who live in a fantasy and want to land back to reality.
    Good luck.

  12. 12

    Wow, thank you Ruby. I have had some exposure to Phyllis Shlafly in the past, from women who swear by her. Other things they swear by are traditional family, traditional women’s roles in the family, being a “helpmeet” to your husband, having as many children as you physically can… you get the general idea. That an author of a book on relationships, works closely with her, and co-auhors other books with her, would for me be a sign to take what that author says with a grain of salt.
    Want to add, comments like Ruby’s #13 are one of the reasons why I’d like to see the comment section continue. Often, it is as worthy and informative of a read as are the posts themselves. Before I came to this blog, it was recommended to me as one that, among other things, “also has very well-written comments”.

  13. 13

    “She holds special contempt for feminists, Hollywood, liberals, atheists, and casual sex, and since I believe in all five of those things, I could feel the heat rising when I learned how folks like me are unable to have successful and meaningful relationships.”
    I’m  curious (I am serious with my question…I am not being sarcastic or anything else), for those unable to have a sucessful and meaningful relationship…what  does she suggest that they do?   I get that feminists need to change the way they do things to be more feminine and let their feminine side shine and the guy be the guy, and that casual sex people should not engage in casual sex.   But, what does she suggest liberal, Hollywood (I don’t even know what that means unless she’s referring to actors/actresses), and atheist’s do?
    As an  atheist, I’m really curious what she suggests someone like  me should  do.

    1. 13.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      She doesn’t have advice for people like us, Cat5. That’s one of the flaws of the book. Her suggestion is that conservative people who have faith will have better marriages. There is some evidence to support this – that faithful people stick with their commitments longer. There is also evidence that tells us that the highest divorce rates are in conservative Southern states. This is why I would encourage any reader to ignore her personal bias and pay attention exclusively to her dating/relationship advice. She is correct that a little humility can go a long way and that there are many intellectual, liberal, atheist feminists who seem to lack much of it in the context of their relationships (“I don’t need a man! Men are the problem!” etc) This advice is especially for those women – regardless of what label you put on them.

  14. 14
    Jackie H.

    It sounds like an intriguing read, and I’m always down for a well-written and smart relationship book…

  15. 15

    I agree with Kristina, do not forego the comments section.   It really helps me to not only get a professional opinion on a subject, but to hear how other readers feel.   It used to be if you wanted to see a good fight break out, you’d go to a hockey game.   Now all you have to do is go to a comment section on a blog or facebook for that matter and you’ve got willing partipants that will argue their side of debate on how much butter goes into a gooey butter cake and defend theirselves almost to the death : )
    The comment section is every bit as important as the actual blog, in my opinion.  
    And no matter what the full content is or isn’t in a particular book or article, there is always going to be someone who picks every little piece apart.  
    I know my friends who were enthralled with that piece of literary vomit 50 Shades of Grey were sick and tired of me picking apart their trashy romance novel for the content, continuity errors, redundancy and juvenile story line……but I enjoyed the debate, if that’s what you could call it.  
    Oops…I might have just started another debate (fight) online.

  16. 16

    Goldie #15
    Thanks, I appreciate that.
    The problem I have with Venker’s book is that it is part and parcel of her particular political agenda. I don’t think most relationship advisers are writing book based on their personal political beliefs. Personally, I find her politics reprehensible (it’s like dating and marriage advice from the Tea Party), and I think there is much better – and far less biased – relationship advice out there.

  17. 17

    Evan, you should kill the comments section. I support that decision. You seem endlessly frustrated with those of us who disagree with you on anything, and spend an inordinate amount of time “proving” us wrong, instead of leaving ground for differences to simply stand. My reading comprehension is just fine, as is the reading comprehension of most of your readers. That’s not what this is about. I’m well aware that you’ll disagree with me on this point. But seriously, forget about me and the rest of the “disagreeable” commenters. It’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things to offer endless rebuttals to people like myself, Jennifer, Lady Z, Nissa, or whomever. If you really find that this comments section is a time suck and emotional drain, I think it’s worth pulling the plug. You wouldn’t be the first, and perhaps it would give you more time to focus on other aspects of your work.

  18. 18

    EMK, you’re smart for dealing with women.   I’ve never understood people who are expert teachers for their own gender in terms of romance.   I have to say that what happens to her credibility when her own marriage fails, and statistically there is a good chance that it will?   Who can   she blame it on?   Now I’m jumping the gun a little but my first sentence here wasn’t patronizing.   I mean it.   I want to here from the opposite sex what “they” want, not from my own gender.
    I have to disagree with some of her assumptions.   I don’t want to “take charge” or “be in control.”   I understand that there is certain natural gender roles we all fall into.   (If we get a flat tire, I fix it.   That’s just the way it is, I get that.)   But, I also don’t want to chase a woman.   If I have to I assume she isn’t interested.   A woman can be forward as long she’s friendly.

  19. 19

    Well.. It looks like we are at a standoff .. I hope not! Evan, many of us enjoy the comments section inordinately and we DO learn from it. Most of us don’t always agree on what it written, and you don’t have to defend it .. That is not your obligation. You write very good articles and I would try to not take so personally what is written. We are all just hashing out how we feel and God knows.. we all feel differently.
    You are very generous to spend you time writing every week and I know many people, including myself, look forward to your articles and the comments.

  20. 20
    Karl T

    Nathan #21,
    I’m betting that it is not only the consumption of time that Evan is bothered by.   It is the frustration too.   It is obvious, e.g. the post #2 in this thread.   Evan gives advice to women and yet some continually twist it around to either place the blame on men or tell how the gender roles should be and how each one should act.   This is an advice column for women. I think Evan is fine when good arguments are made, but when commenters turn around and resort to the scenario I just explained or they fight against every piece of advice that Evan offers then I can understand the frustration.   Does a ball player argue with everything his coach tells him?? Evan I have  sensed this frustration in your responses over that past several threads, way before you ever mentioned killing the comment section.   I understand your frustration.   I think the comment section is good, but is clearly time consuming.   Perhaps you need a partner to serve as the comment moderator so it frees up time for you to work on your new website, clients, etc.   Shall I volunteer?

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