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Marriage advice from the 1980's

So I've been reading and pondering a book that was loaned to me not too long ago by my mother. Getting the Love You Want is an interesting relationship book, both for what it contains, and what it does not (so highly heteronormative). In a nutshell, its goal is the promotion of "the conscious marriage," defined as "a state of mind and a way of being based on acceptance, a willingness to grow and change, the courage to encounter one's own fear, and a conscious decision to act in loving ways."

There are a lot of elements to unpack. I'll touch on the omitted subjects first, mostly to remark that with the way the book is written, it doesn't necessarily come into any direct conflict with alternative relationship structures except in how it stresses the importance of "closing your exits" to create a critical degree of security in the relationship at hand (boiling down to making time for the relationship instead of avoiding it). Sexual in/compatibility isn't directly addressed, either.

Laying those elements aside, I'm still left pondering several aspects of the book's approach to marriage. It is based around some rather Freudian notions, in addition to a specific concept of individual development and relationship progression. Specifically - it posits that we have all experienced unmet childhood needs, which have deeply shaped our personas and affect who we are attracted to, date, and marry (generally, significant others who resemble our parents or caretakers in key ways). These things don't rise to the surface until an intermediate relationship stage is reached, when the interplay of those combined unmet needs leads to conflict and a power struggle. For the relationship to progress beyond the stage of the power struggle, it can be helpful to go through a series of exercises to identify those suppressed unmet needs, cope with the emotions that arise upon their identification, and develop concrete methods to ask for, give, and receive these things from one's partner.

I feel like the Freudian aspect is one that a person could take or leave, depending on one's perspective on developmental psychology. There's clearly a lot that happens in terms of emotional development when one is young, but it seems to me this basis leads to the creation of a "just so" story. On the flipside, we are all sample sizes of one, and I don't think there's any serious harm that would come from taking this perspective unless it was used deceptively. And deception just wouldn't really hang in this whole framework - at that point, it isn't much of a relationship anymore. And if it helps a person pinpoint his or her hangups, well, that's useful, regardless of the source of those hangups.

The "development" aspect of the book kind of made me rock back for a minute, because it made me realize a longstanding implicit assumption of mine - the notion that a human's lifetime is a developmental experience (emotionally and intellectually). This notion is highly ingrained, tied to a concept of lifelong "spiritual development" (which can occur whether one is religious or not). I operate under an assumption that a life-long developmental process is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. The thing to ponder is, what would be an alternative to this perspective? I don't think it's the notion of being "stuck" - that just brings you back to the context of development. Humans aren't simply random, either - memory comes into play, somehow. And regardless, I *do* think the book is correct that one's personal development is intimately tied to one's relationships with others, even though the book has defined the nature of those relationships a bit narrowly. Working through this line of thinking has been helpful in figuring out why I put emphasis on long-term relationships (best friend, family members) in thinking about my own identity and priorities.

Food for thought, at least.

I also suspect that, regardless of whether one accepts the underlying theories or not, the prescribed set of activities will nurture a relationship in concrete, pragmatic ways, by creating structured opportunities to talk about and practice good, kind, and loving behavior. Will I sit down and do them? I'm not sure yet. But I can't help thinking about them anyway.

There's also a section in the book on figuring out how to express and deal with anger in constructive ways. I hadn't thought about the subject so directly before, but it touches on the notion that it's important to be able to express and experience the full range of one's human emotions.

-

While work is busy, I have grabbed the closest fluffy read I could find, Gnarr, about the Icelandic comedian who unexpectedly launched a political career, starting a new political party, the Best Party. After that, I am going to read The Book on Forgiveness, and then I think Nonviolent Communication. I suspect these two will be thought-provoking as well.

Comments

( 2 remarks — Remark )
randomdreams
Sep. 23rd, 2015 03:34 am (UTC)
I was looking through Gnarr the other day. It looks like a lot of fun.

I've tried hard to do the 'closing your exits' thing.
rebeccmeister
Sep. 23rd, 2015 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, Gnarr is refreshing!

The book Opening Up uses slightly different language to talk about "closing your exits," and I kind of prefer its language. In a nutshell, it says that relationships take time. If you're going to try to maintain more than one relationship, you need to be really pragmatic about this element.

I mean, my overall feeling is that having a relationship with just one other person is enough of a stretch that I wouldn't want to try maintaining multiple romantic relationships simultaneously. And S and I both feel like just keeping the one relationship going is hard when we're both stretched pretty thin among other commitments. In general, those other commitments don't represent avoidance behavior, but at the same time we *do* need to work at the whole aspect of continually making time and space for the relationship.

Man, these things take work. :-)
( 2 remarks — Remark )

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