Remember that one time Sesame Street was sponsored by a letter? Marriage is kind-of like Sesame Street. Maybe I could name my book Marriage: Brought To You Buy The Letter C. Maybe not. I’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, here’s a sneak peak at some of the chapters in the book – in alphabetical order.
- Commitment – Kind of a no-brainer. Any healthy marriage is rooted in commitment. A promise to stick with your partner through thick and thin. For better and for worse – even when better is only slightly better and worse is much worse. For richer and for poorer – even though riches are relative and poverty is not simply measured by your bank account. In sickness and in health – even when sickness is bipolar disorder or Down syndrome and health requires you to watch your cholesterol, count your calories and do yoga. But it’s more than simply a commitment to your spouse and to your vows. It’s also a commitment to the institution of marriage. The choice to marry is the choice to set marriage apart and call it sacred. If you’re not committed to the sacrement of marriage, then don’t bother.
- Communication – Another no-brainer. But I think most discussions of communication are misdirected. Couples often want to work on “better communication” as if that’s some kind of silver bullet. And couples in distress will often identify it as the key issue in their relationship. But the inability to communicate effectively is usually a symptom of a more serious issue. Anyone can learn good communication skills: active listening, eye contact, “I” statements, etc…. Indeed, they are all critical skills for the transmission of information; but it’s naive to think good communication makes a good marriage. Good communication only makes it possible to expose, explore and exceed the unspoken expectations that each of you brings to the table every day. Good communication paves the way for meaningful conversation, but that’s another chapter.
- Community – No marriage can survive in a vacuum. Not one. Well, maybe one, but I doubt it. We’ve said it a billion times. Our marriage would not have survived without the care and feeding of good friends who came around us in a time of need. Your community holds you accountable. It sees things you can’t see. It protects you. Reminds you. Encourages and supports you. Sometimes it kicks you in the shins. If it doesn’t, you need to find a new community. Or else, you need to create it. Commit with your spouse today to protect and remind and encourage and support the people around you. Be the community you need.
- Compatibility – Quick quiz: Do birds of a feather flock together, or do opposites attract? Does it matter? Is it a sign if you both like hiking and Mad Men and cross-stitching? What if you’re an introvert and he’s an extrovert. Or she’s a Tar Heel and you’re a Blue Devil (or insert regional rivalry here). Or, what if you’re both chemists who love to study WWII history and share an allergy to shellfish? My bias is that compatibility is overrated. I sure hope you have some interests in common, but more, I hope that your relationship allows both of you to become more of you. And that your spouse brings out the best of you and makes it possible for you to be more of who you always hoped you would be. Remember that cheesy “You complete me.” scene from Jerry Maguire? For my money, that’s way better than birds of a feather.
- Conflict – A necessary evil. But not necessarily evil. Conflict is the crucible for intimacy. Right? That’s why make-up sex is so great. Conflict is inevitable. In fact, John Gottman’s research has revealed that 2/3 of our marital problems are unsolvable. He calls them “perpetual problems”. It’s important then to learn how to fight fair. And to recognize the difference between argument and abuse. An argument is “a discussion offering differing points of view” and “a process of reasoning”, presumably intended to solve a problem. Abuse is just violence. Intended to harm. And any intimacy generated by abuse is a lie. It’s not okay. Ever. Argument = okay. Abuse = not okay. In case you’re not clear on the difference, here’s a clinic.
I’ve got countless ideas for chapters – conversation, creativity, curiosity, competition, compassion – I just need a book to put them in.
And I need a good title.
Anybody got any clever ideas?