in: People, Podcast, Relationships

• Last updated: September 29, 2021

Podcast #379: How to Spot Red Flags in a Relationship

Research has consistently shown that a good marriage can significantly improve a man’s happiness and quality of life.

But a bad marriage can make you utterly miserable, and even ruin you financially as well.

While many men chalk up the odds of a successful marriage to the luck of the draw, my guest today argues that by looking for certain red flags in a relationship, as well as certain positive attributes, you can avoid getting involved in a draining marriage, and instead marry someone who will make your life better.

His name is Shawn Smith. He’s a clinical psychologist based in Denver and the author of The Tactical Guide to Women: How Men Can Manage Risk in Dating and Marriage. Today on the show, Shawn and I discuss the risks and rewards of love and the mistakes he’s seen men make over and over again in his counseling practice when it comes to dating and marriage. Shawn then shares the script most men follow to find a partner, why that script can backfire on them, and a better, alternative script men should use instead. Shawn then walks us through the character traits men should be looking for in a woman and the changes men should make to ensure they have a fulfilling marriage. He then explains why “happy wife, happy life” is terrible advice and what to do if your marriage isn’t doing well right now. 

Show Highlights

  • The risks people face in the dating and marriage game
  • The legal and health statistics of how divorce affects men 
  • The biggest mistakes men make when choosing a dating or marriage partner
  • Why sliding into an ambiguous relationship is so unhealthy 
  • The script that most men follow in choosing a mate, i.e., how men and women size each other up 
  • How do you figure out what a good “fit” really is?
  • Why it’s so important to know your core values (re: money, sex, big life philosophies) 
  • Why a long relationship is beneficial to that relationship’s health 
  • How our neurobiology changes during and after a relationship’s “honeymoon” period
  • What women mean when they say “you’ve changed” 
  • How to get your mojo back and reconnect with your wife when you’ve stopped being affectionate
  • Why men need to maintain connections with other men 
  • Why “happy wife, happy life” is actually terrible advice 
  • The false dichotomy of the “nice guy” problem 
  • The “bright triad” to look for in women (as opposed to the famous “dark triad”)
  • 5 non-negotiable emotional skills that any potential partner should have 
  • What to do if you and your partner’s values diverge
  • What to do when you have a partner with mental health or substance abuse problems 
  • How to get to the root problem of an argument or disagreement 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of "The Tactical Guide to Women" by Shawn T Smith, Psyd.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of “The Art of Manliness” podcast. Well, research has consistently shown that a good marriage can significantly improve a man’s happiness and quality of life, but a bad marriage, that can make you utterly miserable and even ruin you financially. While many men chalk up successful marriage to the luck of the draw, my guest today argues that by looking for certain red flags in relationship as well as certain positive attributes, you can avoid getting involved in a draining marriage, and instead, marry someone who will make your life better.

His name is Shawn Smith. He’s a clinical psychologist based in Denver and the author of the book, “The Tactical Guide to Woman: How Man Can Manage Risk in Dating and Marriage.” Today on the show, Shawn and I discuss the risk and rewards of love and the mistakes he’s seen make over and over again in his counseling practice when it comes to dating and marriage. Shawn then shares the script most men follow to find a partner, why that’s script can backfire on them, and then provides a better alternative script men should use to help them find a compatible mate. Shawn then walks us through the character traits men should be looking for in a woman, and the changes men should make themselves to insure they have a fulfilling marriage. He even explains why ‘happy wife, happy life’ is a terrible marital advice and what to do if your marriage isn’t doing well right now.

Shawn Smith, welcome back to the show.

Shawn Smith: Brett, thanks for having me.

Brett McKay: We had you on, man, it was about a year ago, I think, to talk about your book “How to Survive Aggressive People.” You got a new book out, “The Tactical Guide to Women: How Men Can Manage Risk in Dating and Marriage.” This is based on your work as a clinical psychologist and doing family counseling and helping men and women with their relationship problems.

Let’s talk about that subtitle of the book, How Men Can Manage Risk in Dating and Marriage. What are the risks that men face in the dating and marriage game?

Shawn Smith: Well, the risk with bringing the wrong person into your life is that you put, basically whatever is most important to you at risk potentially.

I had this teacher a long time ago who said … He had this quaint little saying that he who walks through poopies gets poopies stuck to him, and it was just a warning to be careful who you run with. And the people that you bring into your inner circle, they have the potential to really add to what’s important to you or to really take away from it.

Can I tell you a quick little story?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Shawn Smith: This book has a hundred different back stories. This is one that didn’t make it into the book, but it’s always been emblematic to me why I wrote it. This was a guy named Dave who was in his late 30s, and he had been really smart about business. He had built this business for himself that was probably never going to make him rich, but it was always going to sustain him. Down to the point where it was running itself and was generating a decent little income.

Late 30s, he decided that he had been neglecting the personal side of his life, and he wanted to get married. He wanted to have a family, have kids, and so forth. For the first time, he really started in earnest looking for a woman, and the first woman that he came across, they were instantly smitten with each other, very taken by each other physically, and they seemed to click right off the bat. Within about six months, he moved this woman into his house, which he owned ’cause, again, he’d been smart about his money. He had no payments there.

Things were going okay for a few months, but she was struggling with her career, and so he decided to bring her into this company that he had built. Within about nine months, he had brought this woman into his house, into his home that he lived, and into his company that he had built up.

You can probably tell where this is headed. It is not headed in a good direction. She, after about a year, started to show some different sides of her personality, and he started to notice that she was getting abusive and very confrontational. Eventually, it even got physically abusive, and so, about three months after that, probably 15 months into the relationship, he decided he needed out. Well, she was not down with that. She didn’t want to go quietly. She didn’t want to break up. Then she decided that she was going to get litigious about it, so eventually, she put him in a legal spot where he either had to liquidate his company, to get rid of her, or liquidate his company so that he could fight her in court because she was making the case that this was now hers, his home and his business. Of course, it wasn’t, but it didn’t really matter. The point was that he had to invest all of these resources in getting rid of her.

He decided, under the council of his lawyers, to just settle, which meant that he had to, basically, liquidate a huge piece of his company and start over. This is a guy, getting back to your original question, what do you put at risk? This is a guy who had always valued his freedom and his autonomy in the world. By bringing this woman into his life so quickly, he put all of that at risk, and he actually lost a huge chunk of it. Not permanently ’cause he could rebuild it, but he lost that thing that was so important to him.

Brett McKay: That’s great, and they weren’t even married, right?

Shawn Smith: No. No, and you throw, on top of that, you throw in had he married and had kids, if you throw in the family court system, which to this day is still pretty heavily biased against men. Women get 96 to 97% of alimony payments. Six out of seven, or no, five out of every six custodial arrangements go to women with the children. Women get child support when they have primary custody 23% more often than men get child support, so you throw all that into the mix, and it can get really ugly.

Brett McKay: Right, and not just the financial stuff, which can just be terrible, but just the emotional strain as well, I can imagine, is just no fun at all.

Shawn Smith: Yeah, and it’s harder on men, the emotional stuff. It’s been well-documented that divorce, it affects men more negatively than it does women. They tend towards more substance abuse, more social isolation, more mortality, and women generally have more of a social network. Yeah, it’s our fault not theirs. It’s men’s fault if they don’t have a social support network, but women fair better emotionally and physically after divorce, too.

Brett McKay: Interesting. But what’s interesting, so there’s a huge amount of risk, right? And that amount of risk, for a lot of men, that’s like I’m not even going to do that. I’m not even going to date women. I’m not even going to marry them, but that’s not the case you’re making in your book. You’re also arguing, okay, marriage comes with a lot of risk, but if you do dating and marriage right, it can be one of the biggest boons to your life.

Shawn Smith: Well, absolutely. That’s been pretty well documented, too, that men who are in happy marriages, they live longer, they’re healthier, they make more money, they have more sex, life is just better for men when you’re in a good relationship, but it’s a lot worse for men when you’re in a bad one.

Brett McKay: Alright, so the whole point of this book is to help men steer clear of those risks, and then really develop a relationship that’s strong, good, and healthy.

Shawn Smith: Yeah, and you alluded to this community, this men going their own way community out there. These guys who’ve decided that women are just not for them because this is too risky. Yeah, I get it, and I sympathize with them, but this book isn’t for those guys, probably. It’s for guys like me who actually want women in our lives. I’ve been married for 18 years, and it’s great. I love my wife and daughter. I just can’t imagine life without them.

Brett McKay: In your clinical practice, what are the biggest mistakes you’ve see men make over and over and over again when choosing a woman to date or to even marry?

Shawn Smith: Well, let’s talk about the psychological side first. The biggest mistake men make psychologically is just not knowing their history and knowing where they come from. What I mean by that is really understanding what they learn from their parents, their role models, about relationships because men are not … We’re not as attuned to that as women. I think we’re getting better, but we don’t pay as much attention to our past and what drives us as women do, and so I see so many guys who come in and they just repeat the old mistakes that their parents make, or they’re doing the same thing over and over in their relationships and wondering why it’s not working. That’s really the biggest mistake.

But the biggest tactical error, by far, is letting a relationship progress unintentionally. Basically, I think you’ve had these authors on your show, the authors who … the University of Denver who talk about sliding into relationships-

Brett McKay: Right. Stanley.

Shawn Smith: … and not making it. Yeah. Yeah. They talk about not making conscious decisions. The woman will start sharing an underwear drawer, maybe she’s got her tampons under your sink. The next thing you know, you’re moving in just out of convenience, and then you’re getting a dog and you’re getting a lease, and pretty soon, these guys end up, essentially, married. They’re like the proverbial frog that’s in the boiling water. The frog doesn’t know that it’s getting cooked to death, and these guys don’t know that they’re essentially getting married to death by making these little decisions along the way out of inconvenience.

By the way, there is some other research out of Australia where the researchers ask couples who are co-habitating how did they end up living together, and a huge majority of them said it just happened, as if this thing just befell them, moving in with somebody. This is the most momentous decision, far reaching decision of your life, and it just happened. That’s not really the way to go about it.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and going back to the research from the University of Denver and Stanley, I thought it was interesting the thing that he mentioned, when people do that sliding into relationship, it actually make ending the relationship much more difficult than if, say, you were very intentional and say, now we are dating. Now we are getting married, et cetera, where there’s a much cleaner break if you need to do that. It made me think of that story you started off with. The guy who kind of sorta slid into this relationship, didn’t even get married, didn’t really have any definition for it, as you see how it was very messy for him to get out of it.

Shawn Smith: Yeah, absolutely. The research on moving in, you know, I don’t take any moral stance on living together. I think it can be a useful thing, but variable that really matters is intentionality because there’s been some research that shows that if you move in with the intention of a longer plan, and this is just one step in your plan to build a life together, then it doesn’t have any bad outcomes on the marriage. It’s the unintentional sliding into the relationship that has terrible outcomes, and yes, it is very difficult to extricate yourself as Dave’s story showed us.

Brett McKay: You talk about there’s a script that most men usually follow when choosing a mate. What is that script, and how does that script lead to trouble?

Shawn Smith: Well, there’s a script that humans follow, and men and women do it a little bit differently, but it’s basically the same thing. We all know what it is. There’s nothing particularly surprising about this, but there has been some research out of evolutionary psychology that confirms it. That men tend to size up women based on appearance first and the goodness of the fit second. Women, in general, they tend to size up men based provisioning ability first and then goodness of fit second. This leads to horrible relationships. When you’re picking, basically, the person who fits best out of the pool of women who are most attractive, you’re not getting the best fit for you. What I suggest in the book is a better way to go about it is to find the most attractive person within the pool of people who are a good fit for you.

I’m not suggesting that men should date women who are physically unattractive to them, because that’s a recipe for disaster, too. We can make just a slight little change to this recipe and put goodness of fit before attractiveness.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. I think it’s interesting. We’ve had people on who specialize in Jane Austen, and Jane Austen, this 17th century little … She’s a spinster, basically, didn’t ever marry. Her whole point of some of her books was you marry for fit first and then provisioning later. A lot of the characters in her books, they were going for the guy who had the status, the prestige, the money, and they end up miserable. She was arguing, her heroines were always the ladies who found the guy that was really great but also could provide for them. That was an afterthought.

Shawn Smith: I know nothing about Jane Austen, so I’m going to have to check her out now, but I’m glad to know that this isn’t a new idea.

Brett McKay: Okay. Let’s talk about fit. Okay, so, alright, we’re going to start off with looking for a partner who fits us well, and then, from that pool, we’re going to choose someone we’re physically attracted to because that’s important. How do you figure that out? What is fit? How do you know if a woman is a good match for you?

Shawn Smith: Well, let me give you a little structure of the book. The last two thirds of the book are about what kind of woman has what it takes to succeed in a relationship and how to avoid the basic tactical errors and don’t screw your life up by bringing the wrong person in. The first third of the book is really about you, the male reader of this book, and getting a few things, making sure that you have a few things in order before you even start considering settling down with a woman.

One of those is values. Values being the things that drive you in life, like when I was talking about Dave. One of his biggest values in life was freedom and autonomy, so he built that into his life. Unfortunately, he lost that temporarily. When you have a good sense of why you’re on the planet, what your purpose is, what gets you up in the morning, where your values lie, you have to have those things in order, in order to get the right woman into your life because otherwise how do you know she’s a fit and how does she know that she’s a fit for you?

Brett McKay: So how do you figure that out? Is it just ask yourself certain questions? What do you do?

Shawn Smith: There’s a lot of … well, first of all, there’s a couple of lists that I give you in the book, specific, two different lists of ten specific values, domains. One is philosophical. It comes from the social psychologist called Shalom Schwartz, and he looks at things like self-direction and achievement and security and freedom. It gives you a way to think about, alright, what are the big philosophical things that matter to me in life?

Then there’s another list that comes out of just clinical behavioral work that a lady named JoAnne Dahl, well, she’s the one who encapsulated everything, but it comes out of this behavioral clinical work where behaviors look at, alright, what are you actually doing in the world? What are you doing with your cure? What are you doing with your leisure activities, your religion, your community involvement? What do you see yourself doing that really matters to you? There are some questions that you can ask yourself, like alright,  if no one was watching, and if money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing with your life?

I give these two lists and some ways to think about how to pin down where you sit. Then I add a couple of more to them, sex and money, because those are the things that couples really can get after each other about, so getting really clear about what are your values about money, what does it represent to you? Like for Dave, at the beginning of this talk, money for him represented freedom. That’s what it represents for some people, but for other people it represents security. For other people it represents the ability to have leisure time security.

Then sex. What is your appetite and what is her appetite? And what do you like? And what does she like? And kinks do you have, and what kinks does she have? Because these things can really, they really can become a barrier in relationships. Getting these things sorted out in your life really helps you know who’s going to fit in.

Brett McKay: So besides money and sex, what are smoke of the other values that cause the most conflict in a couple when they’re not lined up?

Shawn Smith: I’ve noticed in my practice it tends to be the big philosophical stuff. I told the story in the book about Chris and Sophia, and I’ll give you a real quick glimpse of that. Chris was this really motivated, very motivated political science student in college. Sophia was, she was finding here way, so she didn’t really have any passions in college. Chris, on the other hand, was very passionate about what he was doing. He wanted to be a political fundraiser, a politician, whatever he was doing, he was going in that direction.

She saw him and she saw this guy who was really directed, and she just fell in love with that. He saw her and saw this girl who would go along for the ride, basically, and support him. They were doing his political stuff, and they were going to all his fundraisers, and even in college he was working at a think tank as an intern. She was always with him at the functions and so forth. They got married.

Down the road a little ways, she started to come into her own in her values, and she started to figure out that she was getting really tired, number one, of talking about all the politics all the time. It was interesting up to a point, but it was starting to wear on her. Also, she was discovering that she was more of a homebody. She had a nice stable job, and she just wanted to stay home at night and watch some movies and have a circle of friends around her. He wanted to be out at fundraisers and events and doing stuff, so they eventually, because they hadn’t really pinned this down, their differences in values at the beginning, and because they didn’t really have a language for talking about their values, they just started getting angry at each other. They eventually got really resentful and had this terrible, ugly divorce that cost him a lot of money. It was just a case of not being clear on what they wanted, because they’re a wonderful fit otherwise. These big philosophical issues really tripped them up.

Brett McKay: Okay. Let’s say you spend the time figuring out what your values are, how do you figure out what a woman’s values are? Because when you first do that initial date, or the first few dates, that stuff doesn’t typically come up. I mean, you usually try to keep it light. You don’t go right to, “So, tell me about your life’s philosophy,” when you’re at Chili’s eating an Awesome Blossom on your first date. How do you go about that? How long does it usually take before you get a really good idea of what her values are and if they line up with yours?

Shawn Smith: Would you really eat an Awesome Blossom on the first date? That sounds a little dangerous to me because the breath.

Brett McKay: My first date with my wife, I took her to Chili’s, and we had an Awesome Blossom. But that was clear back in college when Chili’s was hip.

Shawn Smith: Alright. If it works out.

Brett McKay: Right. It worked out.

Shawn Smith: Good. Yeah.

How do you get to know? Yeah. You’re right. You don’t jump into this stuff. It’s weird and creepy to start asking those really intense questions right off the bat, so I’m going to jump ahead to one of the most important tactical strategies you can have with a woman is to date her for a good, long time, number one. Then, number two, don’t hide who you are, because we tend, us guys, we tend to be a little big chameleon like with women where we want to be what they want us to be, and we can’t do that. We got to show them right off the bat, through our behavior not our words, what’s important to us at work and how we’re living our lives. They’re watching us. Women are very good at watching how men move through the world, so if we’re honest about how we’re moving through the world, then we’re not selling them a bill of goods.

Getting back to that idea of dating somebody for a nice, long time, can I talk about the honeymoon period for a minute?

Brett McKay: Yeah, no. Go ahead. Right.

Shawn Smith: Alright. The honeymoon period, we all have this vernacular idea about what it is, and we all know what it is. It’s that period where you’re just infatuated with each other, and things are going great, and nothing the other person does bothers you. They’re just perfect, and all their little quirks are adorable and so forth. This is a tough thing to pin down biologically, but there have been some studies where people have looked at serotonin signatures in the blood to determine, to try to get a sense … You can’t really determine this, but try to get a sense of how our neurobiology deviates from its baseline when we’re in this infatuated stage.

It turns out that there are some chemical changes, and again, it’s really hard to know exactly what they mean, but there are some chemical changes that deviate from baseline for about somewhere between nine and 18 months. During that nine and 18 months, we’re basically operating under the influence. We are not seeing the world the way we normally see it, and we are not presenting ourselves to the other person the way we normally are. During that honeymoon period is a terrible, God awful time, to start making decisions about longterm relationship stuff like getting a dog together and we want to move in. That’s what your brain wants to do. You want to get the relationship moving quickly, but you got to rein that in, and to some degree, I think it’s, and this may be a little sexist to say, but I think it’s up to us men more than women to really slow that down because women traditionally are wanting to push it along. It’s up to us to say, no, no, we got to get past this honeymoon period.

Getting past that honeymoon period, you know that you’re past it when the other person starts to look at little more human to you, like all those little quirks that used to be adorable, now they’re starting to get a little bit annoying, and hopefully, not to the point where you can’t live with them but you’re starting to notice that they’re not on a pedestal the way they were during that first nine to 18 months. And the other parts of your life that receded start to come back into importance, so when you’re in the honeymoon phase, you two are really focused on each other, and you exclude things. You exclude friends and family a little bit, some of your activities a little bit. When that stuff starts to come back online, and you’re seeing the other person as human, that’s a pretty good indication that your neurochemistry is starting to return to baseline and you’re getting beyond that honeymoon phase. That’s when the real trial begins. That’s when you get to see, alright, for a year or so, do I still love this person? Is this still the person that I want to be with now that I’m not drunk with neuro-chemicals?

Brett McKay: So basically you’re arguing bringing back the idea of courtship.

Shawn Smith: Exactly, yeah. It’s this very old term. It sounds ancient. It sounds Victorian, but man, it can save your life.

Brett McKay: Alright, and so let’s say you get through this honeymoon phase, and you discover that not all your values are absolutely lined up, is that a deal breaker?

Shawn Smith: No, no. No, absolutely not. Conflicting values are a deal breaker. So, if you are, yeah, I don’t know. If one of the partner, I’m not going to say the man or the women, but if one partner is a 40 year old computer programmer with a masters in computer science and a minor in philosophy is dating somebody who’s 22 and is a high school dropout and working the drive through window at Wendy’s, those two people might have a huge attraction to each other, but they might not fit philosophically. They might have conflicting values, conflicting goals, conflicting everything. That’s a bad situation.

I guess a more realistic examples of that is somebody who is passionately Republican dating somebody who is passionately Democrat. That’s really a tough thing to navigate. It can be done, and certainly people have done it, but there’s probably someone out there who’s a better fit.

So conflicting values are bad, but differing values, they can be great. You can actually bring different things to each other. If one person is kind of into politics, and the other person is kind of into religion or family or whatever, then you can add to each other, and your different values become an additive thing rather than a subtractive thing.

Brett McKay: Continuing on this thread about personal values and their importance in a relationship, you talk about in the book that one of the most common complaints that you hear from women when they come to counseling with their husbands is that, or their boyfriends, is that the man changed. What do women mean by he changed?

Shawn Smith: What they mean is a couple of things. Usually it’s this service level issue where he stopped being affectionate, and he stopped pursuing her and stopped doing little romantic things that he did when they were dating. My thought on that is don’t stop doing that stuff. That stuff is fun. Keep doing it. Keep telling your wife that she looks great, and keep buying her things and keep taking her places and treat her nicely. That’s a really easy fix.

The harder fix is when we aren’t presenting ourselves accurately to them throughout the courtship, and then they marry us, or we take it to the next level, whatever that means for you, and then suddenly they start to see who we really are. Maybe we weren’t as motivated as we portrayed ourselves during the courtship, and we’ve sold them a bill of goods. You can imagine how disruptive this would be if you commit yourself to somebody. This is a big decision for women, too. You commit your life to somebody. You start making all these changes and all these plans, and then you wake up next to them one day, and they’re a different person than you thought they were. Very disruptive.

Brett McKay: You talk about in the book, women are attracted to men who know what they want in life and go after it.

Shawn Smith: Yeah. There’s this movement. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, Brett, but on college campuses, for example, right now, it started out in one Ivy League school, but is trickling down to other schools where you can take classes to cure yourself of your toxic masculinity. This is not what healthy, well adjusted women want. They don’t want heterosexual women. They don’t want to date a girl. They want to date men. This is, again, this is common sense. We all know this, but as if we need confirmation of common sense, there are some studies that are starting to come out that say, you know? Actually, surprisingly to us academics, women tend to like masculine qualities. They like strength and protectiveness and those things that this other group of malcontents is calling toxic.

Brett McKay: What do you tell the guy who, alright, when he was dating his wife, he had that motivation, he had that drive, but now he’s lost it several years into the relationship, and the wife’s not happy? How do you get that mojo back where you reconnect with your values, and you start acting on them?

Shawn Smith: That’s an interesting question. I do meet a lot of guys in my practice who, a few years into marriage, they get depressed. I think it’s a little bit different for every guy, but if there’s a common theme in all of it, I think that it’s that men need to be very careful after they’ve committed to a woman that they maintain their connection to other men. That they maintain their connection to their purpose in the world, and that they find that balance between all the competing interests.

If you’ve got a woman in your life who’s very important to you, she’s going to want your time, but then if you’re a man who’s doing something in the world, you’ve got this team over here on the other side that needs your time and your commitments. You have these competing interests. I think men who lose that balance, that involves saying no a lot. It involves sometimes saying no to her. Sometimes saying no to your team, but mean who lose that balance and that ability to keep everybody happy, but also make sure everybody understands that you’ve got other commitments. That’s a huge contributor to men getting lost in the marriages.

Brett McKay: Right, and you talk about in the book that advice you hear a lot of men spout of, like ‘happy wife, happy life,’ it’s actually probably bad advice?

Shawn Smith: It drives me nuts. That’s just the worst relationship advice. What guys mean by that is that in order to keep your wife happy, essentially to keep her from chewing on your ass, you need to just do what she says and don’t argue with her and don’t complain, and just follow along, and that’s terrible advice. The advice is basically shut up and give her her way so that she doesn’t punish you. I can’t imagine any scenario where women would say that to each other. Just shut up and do what your husband tells you so that he doesn’t punish you because woman are smart enough to say, “Hey, that’s an abuse relationship, girlfriend. You need to get out of that.”

We give this advice to each other, and we’re trying to help each other. We’re trying just to … If I said that to you, Brett, I would be trying to, I guess, protect you from having an angry wife, but the problem with that is that obviously we, the man, are going to get resentful of this woman who we have allowed to control us. They’re going to get resentful of us for a couple of reasons.

Number one, we’re not giving them who we really are if we’re just bowing to them all the time. Also, women, typically, don’t like men who have allowed themselves to be emasculated.

Brett McKay: Right. Sorry. Don’t do that. So, yeah, stand up for yourself, never give up on your values. I mean, you don’t have to be a jerk about it. People will often time will often times, when they … there’s a lot of guys I know, who they were, they grew up the stereotypical nice guys. They think to counter that, they have to become and a-hole, basically. You don’t have to do that to be assertive.

Shawn Smith: No, that’s really not what women are looking for. I did some surveys on this a few years ago, and I was really interested this nice guy problem because there’s this false dichotomy and I think men create this. I don’t think women have created this where we believe that we have to be this nice guy who just lays down and gets run over or we have to be this big jerk who throws our weight around. It turns out women really aren’t interested in that. What they’re looking for is assertiveness, a guy who can defend his values, and you can be the nicest guy in the world and be assertive. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. That’s really what most women are looking for.

Brett McKay: Alright, so the first thing we got to do, let’s recap what we’ve talked about, is figure out what you value in life. That’s going to do two things. First of all, it’s going to make you more attractive to women because women like a guy who knows what they want in life and goes after it.

Shawn Smith: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Then second, it allows you to filter for women who line up with your values and have the same values as you. Find a good fit.

Shawn Smith: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Alright. So let’s talk about … so, we’ve got our values. We talked about courtship and dating to figure out if a woman’s values line up with ours. What are some of the other attributes to be looked for in women. You talk about this thing, what you call the bright triad. It’s a play on the dark triad. I’m sure people have heard of that. What is the bright triad, and how can you determine if a woman has traits from this triad?

Shawn Smith: The bright triad is just something that I came up with. I was looking at the dark triad is people that you don’t want in your life. They’re manipulative and they’re Machiavellian and they’ll use you and so forth, but knowing what you don’t want is only so useful. What do you want? I started looking through literature and looking through my own clinical files and just finding, looking for qualities that women possess who are successful in a relationship. I boiled it down to clarity, stability, and maturity.

That first one, clarity, has to do with communication. We assume that women are the best communicators on the planet. That’s not necessarily true. It’s true in some ways. It’s also true in some ways that men are better communicators in other areas.

Then stability, just how does she handle her mental health. It doesn’t mean that she can’t have any mental health problems like depression or substance abuse or so forth, but she has to be willing to address them. That’s just a deal breaker. If she has some mental problems or emotional problems that she’s not dealing with, the relationship simply can’t progress.

Then emotional maturity. Just how does she handle life, and what are her coping skills like because you’re going to come across some bad times, and you want somebody in your corner who knows how to handle herself emotionally.

Brett McKay: Let’s just talk about those emotional skills. Talk about there’s five, you think utterly non-negotiable emotional skills that any potential mate should have. What are those?

Shawn Smith: Yeah, again, I went through the literature. I went through my own files and boiled them down to, boiled down a whole lot of qualities to these five. I’ll list them out, and then we can do whatever we want with them. Insight, which is the ability to know what makes her tick and what makes the relationship, what makes you tick.

Intellectual nuance, which really boils down to her ability to see the world and people as mixed bag. If she’s upset with you, she has the ability to say “I love and I’m angry with you” rather than “I hate you or I love you.”

The third one is resilience. Just what it sound like. The ability to handle hard time, get through life.

Internalization, I think is probably the single most important ability that anybody has in a relationship. That’s the ability to take responsibility for the relationships that you’re creating and the outcomes of your behavior.

Then number five is self-maintenance, just the ability to get your sleep, your diet, your exercise, so that you’re bringing your best self to the relationship.

Brett McKay: Alright, so I would imagine that if the woman isn’t displaying any of these things, that should be a red flag?

Shawn Smith: Huge red flag. Yeah.

Brett McKay: Huge red flag.

Shawn Smith: Any one of these.

Brett McKay: Going back to this idea of stability, you brought up emotional and mental disorders. You have a section in your book about that. Are there some common mental and social disorders that can cause relationship problems, whether the man has it or a woman has it?

Shawn Smith: Yeah. I listed four in the books. There are just your garden variety mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Chances of divorce double when somebody has untreated depression. Now, I’m not saying depression. I’m saying untreated depression. It’s important that she’s willing to, number one, acknowledge that that problem exists, and then number two, get treated and take responsibility for handling it.

Then there’s substance abuse and compulsive behaviors. Over the last few decades, men traditionally have far outpaced women on substance abuse. In fact, our substance abuse mirrors their depression, so for every woman who’s depressed, there’s a man who’s abusing substances. It could be that we’re depressed and we’re covering it up with substance. But anyway, women are catching up in the substance abuse department, unfortunately, particularly prescription drugs and pot. And compulsive behaviors, like eating disorders, and so forth.

Number three, there’s unresolved emotional injuries. The injuries that she experienced in her development that she never came to term with, and she is either protecting herself from, in all of her adult relationships, or she’s, more likely, recreating and seeking out in her adult relationships. Even if you’re not the guy who’s abusive or who gets angry at her, or whatever, I don’t know that a woman can make you do so, but she will, woman and men, will tend to recreate in their partners, they’ll turn their partner into the person that mistreated them unless they learn how to come to terms with those and resolve the emotional injuries.

Then finally, the big one is personality disorders. These are particularly troubling because there are some personality disorders, and let me define the term. It’s basically a personality style that has serious trouble getting along with other people, maintaining a relationships that are free of chaos and conflict. The personality disorder, I go through several of them, but the main ones that are really dangerous are ones like borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. The reason they’re so dangerous is that these folks, men or women, they tend to be very charismatic in the beginning, and they can make you feel like your just walking on clouds. They’re wonderful, but then there comes a point someday where everything flips, and now you’re the bad guy and suddenly everything is chaotic, and it’s just terrible. It’s real easy to get drawn into these folks.

Brett McKay: What do you do if you’re dating someone and you find out, okay, they’ve got this issue, or maybe you’re married and the issue pops up later on in a marriage, and it’s causing a lot of strain, what’s the next step for a man there?

Shawn Smith: Well, it’s really important to know what line not to cross with that sort of thing. If your wife develops some kind of … If she develops depression or substance abuse or something like that, your job as a man is to really advocate for her, be in her corner, help her get treatment, but not to be a white knight about it. You can’t rescue. You can’t treat somebody’s depression in your living room anymore than you could fix their broken arm in your garage. It’s really your job to help them get the help they need. Then it’s their job. That’s where it stops. That’s where your job stops. It’s their job to participate in treatment and take responsibility and participate in the help. You can’t make them do that.

Brett McKay: So, yeah, if they’re not doing that for a continued amount of time, would that be something where you might have to consider ending the relationship?

Shawn Smith: Yeah. This is where I’ll give my personal opinion, which may or may not correlate with data. I don’t know. My personal opinion is that if you’ve done everything reasonable to try to get somebody help, then it gets to a point we got to give them a choice. I don’t like ultimatums. I don’t like saying to somebody do this or else. I don’t like it when women necessarily say, “Hey, marry me or I’m leaving.” That sort of thing. I don’t like saying to somebody, “Get help or I’m leaving.” But you can give them a choice and say, “Hey, I have to make a decision. I’m the one that needs to make a decision here, so if you’re not in treatment by such and such a date, then I’m going to know that you’ve chosen your substance or your depression over me, and I’m going to have to leave. It will break my heart, but I’ll know where you stand.” So you’re giving them a choice. It’s a little softer. It’s basically an ultimatum, but it’s a much softer ultimatum, and it’s putting power in their hands rather than taking power away from them.

Brett McKay: Right. I think it’s going to fall back to the guys, too, have these problems. Understand that you have a role. Don’t use your depression, or whatever, as an excuse for the bad relationship. You can still take steps on your own to solve that or to manage it.

Shawn Smith: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Well, hey, I want to go back. I should have done this. Let’s say you’re in a relationship. You’re married, and you discover that the values you have conflict with your wife’s values, what do you do in that situation? And it’s causing strain.

Shawn Smith: Yeah, this comes up, and people’s values change over time, too. People mature, and they change, and they develop new philosophies, so what do you do when somebody, when you discover that your values are diverging, or you discover that you married somebody with very different values? The problem that a lot of people run into is that they already have kids, and they already have this family. They already have some reason for trying to stay together and maintain the relationship.

If there’s nothing there, and your values are absolutely conflicting and there’s not kids or anything to worry about, then yeah, maybe, maybe you go your separate ways, and you try to remain friends or at least respectful to each other.

But if you have some reason for trying to stay together, I think, number one, as the man, take the lead and put it out there that, look, we have developed some different values. We probably care about the same things, like we care about our kids, but maybe we care about them differently. Having that conversation and just acknowledging that it’s out there.

But then as far as actual techniques that you can use, one is just to embrace the other side of the coin. What I mean by that is there were probably some qualities that you found attractive to her in the beginning that were maybe irresistible to you in the beginning, but now it has flipped and those values have become, or those qualities have becomes annoying. There is actually a study on this. I can’t remember the name of it, but it had a clever name like ‘From Attractive to Repulsive,” or something like that. This woman looked at, this researcher looked at, qualities that people found attractive initially, like a free-wheeling person became flighty, so that flipped for the person. Or a person who was funny became flaky, or a person who was philosophical became irresponsible. One thing you can do, if you find your values are diverging is to remember that, hey, this thing that I don’t like about this person there’s actually another side of that that I really do like, and stay in touch with that.

Another thing you can do, just in terms of communication, is agree to disagree on some stuff, and agree that some things are just going to be you choose not to talk about them because you’re just not lined up on it, but there’s all this other stuff that you are lined up on and you can talk about. Talk about things up to the point of diminishing returns. When it gets to the point where you’re rehashing old stuff, maybe you both decide, alright, this one’s off limits.

Brett McKay: Here’s a question. I can imagine you see this a lot with couple you counsel is that the couples fight about something really stupid, but there’s an underlying bigger issue. How do you figure out that underlying bigger issue is when all the focus is on this really dumb, trivial thing?

Shawn Smith: Yeah, these rabbit holes that people drawn into. I had a couple that came in and they were wanting to know what to do with their son because their son … I don’t work with kids, but they wanted some insight on this. Their son had started to have all kinds of problems in school. His grades were going up and down. He was having a little trouble getting along with folks, and as I talked to them, it came out that they both had been veering in and out of alcoholism for years. What they came in with was this rabbit hole discussion of their son that they had been bickering over. The son wasn’t the issue. The alcohol was the issue.

It’s tough to spot those things sometimes, but I think when you find yourself having the same arguments, conversations, over and over again, and you’re not getting anywhere, I forget who said it, but some clinician said, “If you haven’t solved something by the third or fourth time, you’re not going to solve it on the 30th time, so step back and try to figure out exactly what’s going on.” There’s a real easy thing to look for, it’s just patterns in arguments and things that aren’t getting solved and then exploring what might be behind that.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well, Shawn, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book?

Shawn Smith: Well, the book is in all the usual places, and you can find me at, and I just posted a blog post on how to talk to girlfriends about prenuptial agreements. If you’re a guy who doesn’t need that right now, maybe you know somebody who does.

Brett McKay: Alright, well, Shawn Smith, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Shawn Smith: Thanks, Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Dr. Shawn Smith. He’s the author of the book, “The Tactical Guide to Women.” It’s available on You can also find out more information about his work at Also check out our show notes at where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the “Art of Manliness” podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out “The Art of Manliness” website, Also, check out our archives. We’ve got over 300 episodes there, and it’s all ever green, still relevant. Go to to check that out.

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