Chapter 2. The Intentional Marriage Method — A Basic Growth Tool
Genuine responsibility exists only where there is real responding . . . to what is to be seen and heard and felt. 1.
-- Martin Buber
One important aspect of a good love relationship, is what may be called need identification, or the pooling of the hierarchies of basic needs in two persons into a single hierarchy. The effect of this is that one person feels another's needs as if they were his own and for that matter also feels his own needs to some extent as if they belonged to the other.2.
-- Abraham Maslow
How can we help couples -- ourselves and others -- learn to develop more liberating, mutually-fulfilling relationships? How can we apply the growth-counseling approach to marriage? Before discussing this on a level of theory, I'd like to invite you to experience the growth approach. Whether you're a pastor, a counselor, or a lay person, the best way to learn to use growth methods is to try them yourself.
At the close of a marriage enrichment workshop (co-led by Charlotte and myself) one woman wrote in her evaluation:
"The most helpful thing was to tell your spouse the things you like and appreciate in him. . . also to tell him your needs. We haven't done that in twenty-three years of marriage!" The experience to which she referred is the heart of our approach to both marriage enrichment and growth-centered marriage counseling. Over the last five years, a majority of those who have participated in our marriage workshops and groups have identified this as the "most helpful" part of the experience and the "most useful" tool they acquired. It's called the "Intentional Marriage Method," which we can call 1MM for short. It's a simple, four-step tool that a couple can use on their own to help their marriage grow in the directions they desire.
The 1MM sounds so simple, it's hard to believe it could work so well. But I hope you'll try it. If you're married, invite your spouse to join you in experiencing the 1MM. If you're single, invite a close friend (of either sex) to join you in learning the method. Enjoy yourselves while you learn!
The Growth Formula
Personal growth occurs whenever human beings experience two things in the same relationship -- an affirming love that we don't have to earn, and honest openness. This is the "growth formula": CARING -~- CONFRONTATION = GROWTH! The truth stated theologically is, of course, the same: grace (the love one doesn't have to earn, because it's there in the relationship) + judgment (confrontation with how one is hurting or limiting the growth of oneself or others) movement toward greater wholeness. The growth formula helps one understand why healing and creative change occur in some counseling, education, enrichment groups, marriages, and preaching, yet not in others.
Both parts of the formula are essential. In traditional Christian terms both law and gospel are necessary. Acceptance without honest confrontation is experienced as incomplete acceptance. Confrontation without caring and acceptance is experienced as judgmentalism and rejection. A relationship stimulates growth when persons can "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15 NEB), as the New Testament describes the growth formula.
Growth counseling aims at implementing this formula in helping relationships. The 1MM uses the formula to let you build on whatever you have going for you in your marriage (or other close relationship). It can be useful to many couples
-- from those with chronic conflicts to those with "happy" marriages which include a mixture of pain and joy. The 1MM allows couples to reduce their pain and increase their mutual satisfaction.
The IMM in Four Steps
Identifying and Affirming the Strengths of Your Relationship
We usually introduce the 1MM in a group or retreat by saying to the couples:
Let's become aware of more of the positive strengths in our marriages as a basis for meeting more of our needs. Each couple please find a comfortable place to sit facing each other somewhere in the room, not too close to other couples. Sit on the floor if you like.! (I'll use this slash to mean that the task just described is now to be completed.)
OK. Begin the Intentional Marriage Method by one of you completing the sentence, "I appreciate in you . . . " as many times as you can. Tell the person all the things you really like. For example, I may say to my co-leader, "Honey, I appreciate your hair" (or) "I appreciate the ways you enjoy using your mind." The other person just listens, receiving these affirmations. As soon as one person finishes, the other does the same thing, completing the sentence, "I appreciate in you . . ."/
(In leading groups or retreats Charlotte and I usually take part in the structured couple experiences. We don't want to appear in the manipulative position of asking others to do what we seem unwilling to do ourselves. Besides, we find that it actually helps our marriage.)
Now discuss how you feel about what you have just done./
Write on a card all the things you can remember that your partner appreciated in you.!
Your communication skills can be improved by practice, so look at each other's lists and see how well you listened to each other.!
I hope this first step helped you get in touch with many of the strengths and assets in your marriage; these provide a foundation on which to build in the steps that follow.
Identifying Growth Areas -- Unmet Needs/Wants in Each Person
One way to improve your marriage is to state your needs and wants clearly and directly. In this second step complete the sentence, "I need from you . . ." Begin as in step one with
one person and then give the other equal opportunity to list his or her needs. For instance, I may say to my partner, "I need more time alone with you, time when just you and I can be together" (or) "I need for you to touch me more." It's important for each of you to get your separate list of needs out on the table before you discuss them.!
Now discuss how you feel about this part of the experience.! List on the reverse side of your own card all the needs expressed by your partner.!
Now check each other's lists and discuss how well you heard each other this time./
This next part may seem a bit tedious but it's important. Working together, pick out those needs which are the same or similar on both lists and put an A beside them./
Now put a C beside the needs on your two lists that conifict or collide -- for example, one of you needs or wants more frequent sex and the other less.!
Now put a B beside the needs that are left, those that don't contradict the other's but are simply different.!
Recontracting for Change -- Deciding to Meet More of Your Needs
Now you're ready to make things more mutually satisfying for yourselves. Discuss the A needs on your lists and decide on one shared need which seems both important and achievable to you both. It's important to experience success as you begin to improve things. After you have picked an A need as your marriage-growth goal, plan exactly how and when you'll take action to meet it.
To practice the skill of making a clear, workable change plan, write out a brief, joint description of the need and of your plan to meet it. Describe the changes you intend to make in terms of each person's behavior, that is, what you each plan to do. This written description will allow you to check back later and know when you've done it.!
Congratulations! You have just used the skill of writing a small but significant new clause in your marriage agreement or covenant!
Taking Action -- Checking Out the Plan, Implementing It, and Keeping Track of Progress
The final step in the 1MM is to meet your shared need by implementing your plan. It helps in doing this to use a growth-support couple or a small group of couples committed to encouraging each other's growth. So find another couple with whom to share your plan (or, in a retreat you might suggest:
join with three other couples with whom you'd like to get better acquainted).!
Now share your plans, giving each other feedback. Give each other encouragement and raise questions about anything that may need clarifying or strengthening to make the plans more workable.!
Discuss your experience in checking out your plans, including how you might continue to use a sharing group for mutual support and growth.!
In taking action to make your marriage more mutually fulfilling it helps to keep a record of your ongoing progress (or regress) in working out your plans. For instance, if you decided you both need a regular time each day to communicate, keep tab on yourself so you'll know how you're doing and can plan your next step accordingly. Some couples do this in a Marriage Growth Diary; in it they also make daily entries of their significant events, sharings, and insights.
How to Move Ahead
After you've had your first success using the 1MM, and feel the rewards of satisfying a mutual need, move on to another shared need and devise a plan to meet it. Repeat the "I appreciate . . ." step regularly in order to keep in touch with your positive feelings and strengths.
If you tried the 1MM and it didn't work, remember, it takes practice to master any new skill. In the complexities of being human and married, one can't "win 'em all." Don't waste valuable energy blaming each other or analyzing why you "blew it." Instead, use your energy to create a more workable change plan, or simply choose another need. Are you both committed to meeting the need you selected? If one of you is giving in to please the other, forget about that goal for now and pick one about which you're both enthusiastic. Use your support group to strengthen your plan and affirm your efforts, however minimal your initial success.
Satisfying More Difficult Needs
After you've learned to use the 1MM to satisfy several shared needs -- the easiest place to make a difference in your marriage -- move on to type B needs which don't contradict each other but also don't coincide. To use the 1MM here a new skill is required: You must learn to negotiate a mutual agreement which satisfies one need of each person.
Learning to satisfy type C needs -- those that are in conflict-- is the most difficult. It requires two skills: negotiation and compromfse to find the fair midpoint where both feel partially satisfied. (See the discussion of conflict resolution below, pp. 35-36.)
Some couples build up growth momentum by successfully meeting a series of shared and nonconflicting needs. This momentum makes it easier to negotiate a creative compromise of conflicting needs. When persons are feeling hungry emotionally, perhaps unloved or unappreciated, it's almost impossible to resolve conflicting needs. Also, accepting what one can't change in the area of conflicting needs in a marriage is easier if the satisfaction quotient is already rising.
The IMM: Recontracting
Some couples work out personal covenants or contracts -- often in writing so that there'll be no misunderstanding -- before the wedding or at regular intervals during a marriage. Items covered often include: (1) division of household chores; (2) the agreement concerning having, adopting, or not having children; (3) responsibility for child rearing; (4) career plans for both spouses; (5) obligations in various areas such as work, leisure, religion, community, and social life; (6) range of permissible relations beyond the marriage; (7) property, legal, and inheritance rights; (8) grounds for splitting; (9) frequency of renegotiating the agreement.
The 1MM is a workable model for renegotiating the marriage covenant or agreement. It can be used to work out such an understanding for the first time or to modify ineffective parts of a previously implicit covenant. The objection that recontracting is "too legalistic" is valid only if a couple has already achieved the kind of mutually acceptable level of fairness in the marriage that lets their love flower fully. Love flows from justice and mutual fulfillment in a marriage. Furthermore, our needs change at each stage in marriage; it's essential to update our working understanding regularly in order to satisfy emerging needs.
Broadening Your Growth Goals
The process begun in using the 1MM should not stop with simple quid pro quo agreements -- I'll meet your needs if you'll meet mine. As love and trust grow, each person's needs increasingly include the satisfying of the partner's needs. When this occurs, any apparent conifict between self-actualization and marriage-actualization (or enrichment) gives way to the awareness that self-other actualization is, in the long run, the only real self-actualization. As Buber makes clear, true actualization is living in a new creative unity in which both persons are enhanced and fulifiled in their uniqueness. Self-transcendence is essential for self-fulfillment. Self-transcendence doesn't mean self-negation. It means becoming a more fulfilled self through sharing in a fulfilling relationship.
If a couple's growth goals are entirely self-centered or marriage-centered, it is important to offer them an opportunity to broaden their goals. What they want may not coincide with what they need to develop their full marriage potential. After a couple has learned to use the 1MM, to satisfy their mutual heart hungers (deficiency needs), their understanding of what they need in order to continue to grow may be broadened in these ways: (1) Discussion in counseling, or in a group, of the various ways in which one's own marriage growth is enhanced by becoming a positive influence in the growth of others. (2) Confrontation by the example of other couples who have discovered the pay-off in their marriage which results from a "cause" that turns them on. (3) Values clarification exercises to confront the inadequacy of in-turning values. (4) A gentle but firm confrontation, by the leader or by group members, with the pay-off of enlarging their marital horizons by making their circles of concern more inclusive.
The Christian Life-Style and the 1MM
The 1MM (and the growth formula which it implements) expresses central, interdependent emphases in Jewish and Christian theology -- and in other religious and humanist traditions, of course -- the emphases on love, freedom, responsibility, and justice. It assumes that we have the power and the freedom to help create our own marriage futures by changing our relationship intentionally rather than drifting.
The Christian life-style is intentional but it is more. The direction of growth is crucial. The Christian understanding challenges us to self-investment in the needs of the world. We can't have dead-end marriages without becoming stagnant. Individual families can remain healthy, creative, and enriched only if they are involved in enriching others in the wider human family. To paraphrase a familiar New Testament insight: The marriage which tries to hoard (or save) its life will, in the end, lose its real vitality. Only by investing your marriage in the needs of humankind can you find the greatest depths of enrichment for yourselves.
1. Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (Boston: Beacon, 1955), p. 16
2. Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), pp. 248-49