Monday, October 23, 2017

It Takes One To Tango

It Takes One to Tango, Winifred M. Reilly

As many of you know we’re involved in marriage ministry and so I try to keep up with reading. Sometimes this means I grab books off the library shelves to see what secular titles are on offer. It’s good to have a wide range of recommendations.

This one caught my eye with its subtitle “How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse – and How You Can, Too”.

Reilly takes the reader on a journey, explaining both her own marriage and its near demise; and also draws on her experience as a marriage therapist. She starts by debunking the myth that marriage should be easier:
Most people believe that marriage should be easier than it is. It’s one of the great myths … No one told me the one thing that would have helped me the most: “It isn’t just you. Marriage is hard.”
She also challenges a widely-held view that you both must be willing to change for any progress to occur. The core of her message is that change has to start with you, not your spouse. Stop focusing on what they do that is wrong, annoying, irritating, etc, and work on yourself instead. Figure out what you add to conflict, why you fight the way you do, what pushes your buttons. You are responsible for yourself alone, so take charge.

She draws strongly on Bowen family theory so there were strong echoes to things I had read in Jenny Brown’s Growing Yourself Up. I also appreciated her analysis of the stages of a relationship (from Ellyn Bader) which move through four stages:

  • Symbiosis - high interconnectedness (in those early heady stages of in-love),
  • Differentiation - seeing the differences and struggling to resolve them
  • Exploration – developing separate selves, own interests and needs, and having more independence
  • Rapprochement – turning back towards each other with more connectedness

A lot in this analysis made sense, especially how it is at differentiation where most problems lie and where many couples become stuck.

She moves through three sections – how to identify the real problem, how to implement change by yourself, and how this will develop into a stronger relationship.

She identifies the cause of many problems: “Anxiety is at the root of most of the craziness that goes on in our relationships”. The time she takes to consider this is well worthwhile. One comment really struck me, quoting trauma expert Dr Noel Larson: “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical” – if some issue really sets either of you off, there’s a reason why.

A lot of what she says makes perfect sense: you have to be in control of yourself and manage your own reactions; take a break from conflict and find ways to dampen it rather than escalate it; and you have to develop your own self-soothing and self-management and not expect your partner to meet those needs. None of this is new, and for those of us who are Christian, there are similar elements of what we would expect a marriage to look like: seek to serve each other, not yourself; manage your anger; be self-controlled; exhibit the fruits of the spirit in your marriage as well as the rest of your life. While she doesn’t label it as such; there are also ideas of giving forgiveness, extending grace and not bearing a grudge.

I would recommend this book particularly to:

  • Non-Christians. Most of the books I read are Christian and that doesn’t sit well with everyone. But there is good general wisdom out there, and this book has it. She doesn’t assume couples are married, and includes same-sex couples in her stories, thus widening the audience appeal.
  • Couples who are mired in conflict. Some marriage books assume that goodwill, grace and forgiveness is occurring between couples. Some don’t get to the nitty-gritty of what to do when you are mired in bad patterns of relating. The stories she tells of her own and her client’s marriages are real and raw, they are honest yet give hope of ways forward.

I’m glad I picked it up!

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