How To Get The Most From This Book
Every marriage relationship has many untapped potentialities. This is as true of the relatively functional, successful marriage as of the malfunctioning, deeply pained relationship. Here is a book for those who wish to release the rich potentials of average or better-than-average marriages. It is a book on the prevention of serious marital problems by two means -- early recognition and correction of problems which could grow, and a continuing approach to strengthening, broadening, and deepening the total relationship. It can serve as a guide to periodic marital checkups.
The book is intended to be a resource for use by the following: (a) An individual or couple who are interested in achieving on their own, more intimacy in marriage, (b) Individuals and couples in marriage counseling, (c) Those receiving premarital counseling or instruction, as couples or in groups, (d) Participants in courses on marriage and the family, (e) Participants in marital growth groups and marriage counseling groups. (f) Professional persons functioning in marriage counseling and family-life education.
For couples who are relating well in some areas, but desire more of what Paul Tournier calls a "total marriage," this book may be a useful tool. Its goal is not to present a single, monolithic model of a "good marriage" or an "intimate marriage"; rather, it is to encourage each couple to work at developing that style of relationship, with that degree of intimacy which meets the unique personality needs of themselves and their children.
This is a book primarily for couples who desire to awaken or deepen their marriage relationships. As such, its main purpose is practical -- to serve as a resource for helping couples to learn skills of relating in depth. A secondary purpose of the book is to shed light on the nature of intimacy and the process by which it is enhanced. Many couples discover that an understanding of the inner nature of creative closeness and the processes by which couples can move toward it is one important step toward satisfying the universal hunger for such closeness. Other steps must follow -- action steps -- but understanding is like a light on the journey to greater intimacy.
Here are some suggestions to help couples derive maximum benefit from the book:
1. Read and discuss it as a couple. The meaning you discover in these pages will be increased by sharing your reactions, thoughts, and objections with your fiancee or spouse. Set aside some regular time alone together to discuss and reflect on ideas that speak to you. If you enjoy reading aloud to each other, perhaps you will want to use it in this way. If your spouse is not interested in the book, you may find it useful in strengthening your side of the marriage.
2. Apply to your marriage the ideas that are relevant. This will begin to happen spontaneously, if you take step one. Applying what you read is what makes a book like this a marital growth- stimulator. Don't be surprised if the ideas do not seem to work at first. Intimacy in marriage (or anywhere else) takes some doing. Everything has its cost and the cost of a closer relationship, with better skills, is persistent effort.
3. Keep trying the "Taking Action" sessions at the close of the various chapters. Learning occurs by doing. Skills of interpersonal relations are something like muscles -- they gain strength through use. Couples who used these "lab" sessions between meetings of marital growth groups reported that the main barrier was feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment because of the artifice nature of the sessions. You may feel somewhat the same at first. But most couples who persisted until they go; into the swing of , communication sessions found that they were useful. Adapt the suggested procedures of a session to your own style of relating. Even if your first effort seems mechanical or worthless, we would encourage you to try several additional sessions. It takes that long to discover what value they may have in reaching a more intimate relationship. A number of the exercises are much more effective in couples' groups than when used by couples alone.
4. Join or start a marital growth group. Th ideas in the book will come alive more rapidly if you wrestle with them in a group of three to six couples, all striving for more depth in their marriages. One approach is to invite several couples to your home, telling them in advance what you have in mud (so they won't feel they came under false pretenses). Choose couples who have reasonably happy marriages. (A couple with a crippled or disintegrating marriage needs a marital therapy group with a trained leader, not a marital growth group; their presence in a leaderless group may hurt them and will curtail the group's usefulness to the other couples.) After the couples arrive, the two of you can present some of the ideas that make sense to you from Chapter 1. As others begin to discuss these, your group is off and running. At the close of the evening, ask them if they would like to continue, perhaps with everyone reading a chapter a week before the group meeting. Leadership of the discussion can rotate among the couples. If the group meetings are unproductive or disturbing, it is important to bring in a trained leader.
If your minister or rabbi is trained in counseling and group dynamics, invite him to participate as a guide or resource person. Or, he may suggest someone trained in group marriage counseling. A skilled leader is a major asset to a group; he can draw out the group's potentialities and accelerate the communication processes. Perhaps there is a marital growth or enrichment group already meeting in your church or in a community agency. If not, discuss the matter with your pastor, priest or rabbi to see if he would be interested in initiating a church-sponsored group.
5. Go deeper on your own. Some of the ideas in these pages may whet your appetite for deeper understanding. Recommended readings are included in a section at the end of the book. Reading will enhance your head-level understanding. To deepen your insight on the heart level, regular discussion between you may help; or you may decide to join a sensitivity training group, a professionally led growth group, or perhaps a marriage counseling or therapy group.
6. Obtain professional help if you are unable to achieve what you want on your own. If your communication system has never been effective, or if it has "gone to pot" through unconstructive conflict, you will need a trained third party to assist you in building or rebuilding. Through a series of sessions -- individually, as a couple, or in a small group of couples -- a skilled marriage counselor often can help couples work through their walls and learn to use hidden resources for mutual need-satisfaction. To seek such help takes honesty and courage. It isn't easy for most of us to admit we need outside help. But by getting professional help, and sticking with it as long as it takes to be effective, a couple can open the door to a more satisfying marriage. In a sense, this is a do-it-yourself book. But a part of doing it oneself effectively is to use needed resources from outside the relationship. Unscrambling severely distorted communication in a marriage on your own is something like giving yourself a haircut -- possible in some cases, but exceedingly difficult. If a marriage is frozen, the skills of a competent marriage counselor are essential.(1)
The first draft of this book was given a trial run in two groups. To illustrate ways of using this book, a brief description of the groups will be given. The first group was a short-term marital growth group composed of five couples in their thirties. They have functional marriages and had indicated an interest in developing more creative intimacy. The group met two hours a week for four weeks.(2) Couples read certain chapters in the book prior to each meeting; they participated as couples in the "Taking action" sessions between group meetings.
Interaction within the group was vigorous: couples began to discuss their own patterns of relating early in the first session. Striking differences among the couples became apparent to the participants -- for example, in their ways of handling hostility. The sessions triggered increased
marital-partner communication between meetings. After session one, two couples reported that they stayed up until 2:00 A.M. talking about their marriage. Another couple reported at the second session, "We appreciated each other more than usual this week after reading about barriers to intimacy." Group discussions of mutual need-satisfaction and communication produced
constructive efforts at these areas. One of the wives commented that it was "exciting to hear how others relate" and to realize that they are different but successful. The group was pointed and candid in its suggestions for improving the book.
The second group was a church-sponsored class on "Deepening Your Marriage Relationship." Three 2-hour meetings were held within an eight-day period. Approximately thirty-five persons were enrolled. During the sessions, key ideas from the chapters of the manuscript were presented. "Practice session" assignments including the checklists of needs, etc., were given. Considerable time was spent during the group sessions on questions, discussion, and feedback from the "homework" the couples had done in their own lab sessions.
In spite of the short-term nature of the class, it seemed to stimulate constructive communication among some of the couples. These comments are from the evaluation session at the end of the course:
It opened a variety of areas of marriage where we can work constructively, realizing that a more need-satisfying marriage is possible. It is our present view that marital growth groups of at least eight sessions tend to be more productive.
The course started us thinking again about the areas in which we want to grow and suggested techniques that can be used.
Gave us some insight into our problems and made us realize that some problems that seemed only personal are really universal.
The series helped to begin new discussions of us -- who we are and where we expect our relationship to go from here. Even though we didn't agree on some things, at least we are talking more.
My husband and I, for the first time, have discussed many of these areas and hopefully will continue our discussion.
The series confirmed the directions in which we are already moving; we gained courage to experiment more boldly in communication. . . .
It has motivated us to try to develop more areas of intimacy, and to show the deep affection we feel. . .
. . . . made us conscious of our need to grow, to move from the more-or-less satisfying but static level . . . a helpful start to deeper levels of communication.
There was general agreement that the series was too short; the value might have been increased if a part of each session had been spent in smaller interaction groups of not over ten people.
These two groups are described as contrasting examples of two short-term group uses of this volume. Both seemed to be helpful to the majority of couples who participated. Had the groups been set up to meet longer, they undoubtedly would have gone deeper and had a greater impact.
1. One way to discover the names of qualified marriage counselors is to write the American Association of Marriage Counselors, 3620 Maple Avenue, Dallas, TX 75219.
2. It is our present view that marital growth groups of at least eight sessions tend to be more productive.