Sunday, April 19, 2009

Now That You're Engaged (& if you are married)

Book Review: Now That You're Engaged, H Norman Wright

As I've mentioned before, we do marriage preparation with a number of couples and this year I'm reading a few of the more recently published books on marriage and engagement. Ours are all more than a decade old now and I can't remember any of them anyway

I really liked this book. I guess if you read a book preparing couples for marriage 10 years after your own marriage and still get lots out of it - it is a winner. Therefore, this book is for marrieds too. You can still learn from it if you are already married.

He structures the books around the idea of commitment - highly relevant for approaching marriage.
"Your level of commitment is the most vital factor in determining the success or failure of your relationship."
 Each chapter deals with a particular focus, for example:

  • commitment to be free from the past 
  • commitment to change
  • commitment to love
  • commitment to evaluate expectations and develop goals
  • commitment to making wise decisions
  • commitment to listen
  • commitment to resolve conflicts
  • commit yourself to control anger
  • commitment to build positive in-law relationships
  • commitment to forgive and pray together

Some of the more helpful things this book contained were (be prepared, there are lots!!):

1. The Commitment to be free from the past chapter covered a lot of 'family of origin' issues. He includes a questionnaire, encouraging each to think through the details of their relationship with their mother and father, and how it has shaped them. This was a helpful resource, both for personal reflection and also to enable an engaged couple to talk through some of the family background issues that each has.

2. The Commitment to Love chapter. He challenges each to be able to answer the following 3 questions:
i. Why is this the right time to marry?
ii. List 10-12 reasons why you want to marry this person.
iii. Describe why you love them and the type of love you have.

It sounds dry and a bit contrived, but it's not a bad idea. If you can't articulate why you want to marry now and marry this person, that should at least make you pause. Having said that I can't imagine if I had been asked these questions prior to marrying Husband that I would have come up with an especially coherent reply.

He provides a helpful list of character traits that we should look to remove and what we should replace them with, eg. put off pride and put on humility, put of ingratitude and put on thankfulness. Each includes bible references. I intend to type it up for myself - it's a list of character traits all of us should desire, married or not.

This chapter includes 10 things to check whether you really love each other. eg. Do you respect each other? Have you spent enough time together? (eg summered and wintered together). Are you growing as Christians together? This chapter had a number of helpful practical tools.

3. In the chapters on Change and Understanding Yourself, Wright talks about some of the different stages of life that many couples face and starts a couple thinking about how they may deal with those times.

4. The Commitment to build positive in-law relationships chapter was also helpful and wise. You should treat your in-laws the way you treat your friends (in Australia it might be wise to add - with a bit more respect though). He encourages couples to think about what issues their parents are facing at any given time. Much tension can be relieved when each understands the other's fears and worries.

5. The most helpful chapter for me was the Commit Yourself to Control Anger. For me it is not  related to marriage issues, but rather parenting ones. I have commented on that in another post here. However, this is a helpful chapter for anyone dealing with anger issues.

6. The Commitment to Evaluate Expectations and Develop Goals chapter covered how we can often have unrealistic and unfulfilled expectations in marriage, how to be aware of them becoming issues and how to talk about them, being honest and willing to change. As dear Husband has said to me throughout our marriage "I cannot read minds" - therefore if I have an expectation of him, I have to actually say it, not expect him to guess. It took me years to realise he was right.

There are many other positive things I could say about this book. Of course I had some hesitations with it, as with almost anything. However, it's a book worth having, for engaged couples and those who are newly married. I suspect it is worthwhile for those of us who have been married a little longer too, however, since the two books for engaged couples by Wright that I have now read have been so good, I will perhaps venture next into some of his books for marrieds.

Update in 2020
After a re-read of this 11 years later, it is still a helpful and solid book, but it's feeling a bit outdated now, and seems at times a bit more complicated that it needs to be. I think he overplays the different types of love (agape, eros, philios). The chapter on a commitment to control anger probably needs more comments about when to withdraw for safety and when professional help with managing anger might be needed. 

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