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*****How One of You Can Bring the Two of You Together

Breakthrough Strategies to Resolve Your Conflicts and Reignite Your Love

by Susan Page

Reviewed January 2, 2006.
Broadway Books, New York, 1997.  300 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#4, Relationships)

Here’s another book that I read awhile back but didn’t want to review, since I wasn’t ready to admit that we were having problems in our marriage.  Now that my husband has moved out, I can’t exactly keep that secret any more, and I want to tell people about this excellent book.  I’m reviewing it today so that I can put it on my list of Sonderbooks Stand-outs for 2005.

I like it that the title does not mention divorce or relationship “rescue” or at all imply that your relationship is on the rocks.  If you only want to get closer to your spouse, the ideas in this book can help.  I wish I had read it before I knew there were problems in my marriage. 

The author herself says that this book is appropriate for individuals in a wide range of relationships.  “Perhaps you are feeling disillusioned or disconnected from each other.  You are confident the phase will pass; but you are finding it most unpleasant and worrisome.  Or, you may be in the transition from infatuation to enduring, everyday love.  This passage can begin on your wedding day or even three or four years later, but whenever it comes it is disorienting.  Maybe you are in a crisis, caused by a sudden event or by a long, slow buildup of resentments and unresolved problems.  You may even feel on the verge of divorce—that your relationship is beyond hope.”

She says, “No matter what the present status of your relationship, you will find an approach in this book that is refreshingly different from all the two-way ‘discussions,’ ‘communication skills,’ and ‘listening’ exercises you’ve heard about and maybe tried before.  Many people have found that working alone is both less hassle and more effective than trying to work together.”

At the end of the book, she talks about evaluating whether you should stay in the relationship or not.  Though she does admit to situations where you should end the relationship, I like what she says here:  “Happy couples seem right for each other because they do what they need to do to make their marriage happy.  Thriving couples start out with the same incompatibilities, power struggles, dissatisfactions, and conflicts that beset most marriages.  But—because they believe in their relationship and want it to work—it does.  It is not the raw materials they have to work with, but what they do with the raw materials that makes them happy.”

Susan Page gives you ideas for helping to make your marriage happier.  One way she does this is in the form of “experiments.”  She says, “I quite deliberately call my action suggestions ‘experiments.’  The sole purpose of an experiment is to gather data, so no matter what its outcome you can never fail; you will have gathered some kind of data!  If your result is not what you wanted or expected, that is important information for you.  It doesn’t mean you failed; it means you succeeded in eliminating one strategy because it isn’t going to bring expected results.  So you will go on to a different experiment.”

The author begins by explaining why the book only needs to have one member of the couple read it.  How often it is that one partner in a relationship wants to “work” on the relationship, but the other one isn’t interested.  Then that disagreement becomes an issue in itself, a new form of conflict.

The author says, “The reason one person acting alone can make a major impact is that a relationship between two people is a single unit with two parts.  When one person acts, the other is affected.  Your behaviors and attitudes have an impact on your spouse.  Right now, you may not be consciously choosing exactly what impact you want to make.  If you decide to start improving your relationship, you have to make deliberate choices about the results you want to achieve.”

“A marriage is like a seesaw.  Even when one partner acts alone, it affects the other.”

I like where she discusses couples who have lost hope.  “That’s okay.  A feeling of hopelessness may be quite appropriate for you right now, and it won’t affect the results you will get if you follow the suggestions in this book.  It is quite natural that you cannot imagine your relationship any different from the way it is now.  When you are deep in the middle of one feeling, you can’t feel, or even get a picture of how it will feel, to be deep in the middle of a completely different feeling.  But that doesn’t mean such a change can’t happen.”

She also points out that “Deciding to work alone on your relationship gives you enormous power, not power over your partner but inner power, personal strength, and an unparalleled opportunity to grow.  Suddenly, instead of looking unfair, this system seems exceptionally fair, because now you do not have to wait for your partner to change before you can take your life into your own hands!  What would be unfair is for you to allow your partner’s lack of cooperation to hold you back.” 

“By undertaking to work on your relationship alone, you will be, in effect, giving your spouse a gift, possibly a quite powerful gift.  And it is not in the nature of gifts to be fair.  You don’t give a gift with the idea that you will get an equal gift back.  This wouldn’t be a gift but some kind of barter or bargain.”

As part of this working alone, she says you need to “let go—just a little bit—of your ego.  You don’t worry about getting acknowledged for what you do.  You give up being right, or making sure your spouse knows you are right.  You become more interested in good results for the other person than in being acknowledged for what you did.”

After convincing you that this method can work, the author goes on to discuss specific strategies and experiments to help you become closer to your partner.

The first strategy is:  “Give away the booby prize and go for the gold.  The booby prize of life is being right.”

She explains this view:  “Pause for a moment and figure out what you are right about in your relationship.  What are your complaints about your spouse?  What would you say if you were in a group to improve your marriage by yourself, and you were asked to describe the problem?

“Probably, few would argue with you that you have a difficult problem, and that you have a perfect right to be upset, to feel angry, possibly even betrayed, and to be completely exasperated.  Whatever your problem with your spouse is, I and probably many of your friends feel a great deal of concern and anguish right along with you.  How I wish things were different for you!  Why can’t that blankety-blank spouse be more reasonable?”

“You are right.  Your partner is being difficult, and you at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you are on the right side, that you are the fair one, the reasonable one of the two of you.”

However, she continues, “The problem with being right about the way you analyze your problem is that that’s all you get.  That’s it.  You get to be right.  You don’t get to solve the problem.  You don’t get to be closer to your spouse.  You don’t get to reduce the conflict in your relationship.  You don’t get to stop feeling angry.  You don’t get the changes you long for.”

Another bad thing about being right is that you usually conclude that the problem is your spouse’s fault.  “If the only solution to the problem is that your spouse needs to make a change, this puts you in a terribly weak position.  Because if you can’t induce your spouse to change, there is nothing left for you to do.  Another dead end.

“Besides, as you work on getting your spouse to be different, you are always giving the indirect message, ‘You are not okay.’  This will drive him or her away from you even more, when what you truly want is closeness!”

Instead, she asks you to try to figure out what your own role is in the situation.  “Your ultimate goal is to let go of being ‘right’ about how thick-headed your spouse is about some area of your marriage, to find your role in perpetuating whatever is going on, and to stop trying to change your spouse.”

She helps you see that instead of criticizing your spouse when he does something you don’t like, you need to accept him or her—and change your own reaction.  Then surprising changes will happen.

After the chapter on going for the gold, Susan Page teaches the Emergency Resentment Abatement Procedure.  Whether you are an Anger Expresser or an Anger Eclipser, she gives you ideas for dealing with your anger without it hurting your relationship.

Then she talks about what you should do when your partner is angry with you.  It’s natural to get defensive, and then the situation gets even worse.  She says, “You can’t expect yourself not to feel defensive when your mate hurls a verbal assault or accusation at you.  The idea is to feel defensive, but to avoid a verbal defense.”

“Acknowledge your spouse.  Don’t express your defensive feelings, if you can help it.  Just listen to his or her side of the story and let your partner vent.  Think ADD:  Acknowledgement.  Don’t get Defensive.  This requires courage and restraint.”

But there’s a payoff:  “It doesn’t matter who is right.  If you take care of your partner’s feelings and needs, the assaults and complaints will stop.  Your partner will appreciate you.  And you’ll both feel good.  Isn’t that the result you want?”

The next part of the book deals with short-term strategies for creating a thriving relationship.  The first of these is creating harmony in your home by focusing on the positive things in your relationship rather than the negatives.

“You can be happy together, even if you don’t solve all your problems.  Focus on your desire for a close relationship.  Pay far more attention to the parts of your relationship that you like, and to the positive qualities in your partner, than to your areas of dissatisfaction.”

“If you believe you have to solve all your problems before you can be happy, that will be true for you.  But if you can make an inner shift, adopt a different ‘mind-set’—believing that first you can learn to be happy together and later you can work on certain problems—transforming your marriage becomes a whole lot easier.  You don’t have to convince your partner to believe something different.  All you have to do is change your own belief about your marriage.”

“The difference between couples who thrive and couples who don’t is not that the couples who thrive don’t have problems.  They have incompatibilities, conflicts, annoying habits, personal weaknesses just like all the rest of us.  The difference is, thriving couples begin with a desire to be happy together, a belief that they will be happy together, and a commitment to staying close through adversities.  They begin with a picture of themselves as a happy couple, and they actively nurture that picture.  You can do the same.”

“After all, your goal in your relationship is not to get more help with housework, to spend your money the way you want to, to be on time to dinner parties, to be able to watch TV without being pestered, or whatever you feel your problem is.  Your goal is to feel close, to enjoy each other’s company, to experience pleasure, and to feel mutually supportive.  It makes sense to focus on your true goals, and not forever on your lesser ones.”

Then she gives some specific ideas for helping that happen.

First, “act as if” you are a loving spouse.  “If you can ‘act as if’ you love and adore your spouse and you are happy in your relationship, even if only for five minutes a day or two hours a week, you may be doing more to ‘solve your problems’ than if you spent five hours ‘working things out’ with your spouse.  You can create the atmosphere and the feelings you want with your mate directly, rather than assuming that these feelings are the light at the end of a long tunnel of ‘hard work.’  If you start to behave as you would if you were happy, and make your body behave as you would if you were happy, your feelings will actually follow suit.”

“‘Acting as if’ is a critical skill for a happy marriage.  You act as if, not as a deception, but as an experiment, a deliberate effort to change, and a gesture of good will.  ‘Acting as if’ is a simple, direct way to set change in motion.  If you want to feel close, act as if you feel close, even if it just for a moment.  If you wish you were looking forward to seeing your partner at the end of the day, act as if you are happy to see him or her.”

Another important idea is to think “good will.”  “Because good will is such a predominant distinguishing characteristic of thriving couples, I believe the cultivation of good will is the most direct route to turning a lagging relationship around.  If you just begin thinking good will, positive actions will occur to you, but without good will, positive actions will occur to you; but without good will, even the best of intentions are likely to fall flat.”

A third way of building your relationship is to focus on positive qualities.  “What would happen if you forgot all about the things you have been trying to change or to put up with, the things you wish were different, and you focused all your attention on what you love about your partner?  What would happen if you started to look for evidence that your mate loves you, instead of always focusing on any evidence that your mate doesn’t love you?”

You should also focus on the positives in your own life.  “When you pay attention to what makes you happy, you will enjoy yourself more and feel better.  When you enjoy yourself more, you will be more attractive and more fun to be with.  When you are more fun to be with, your spouse will find you more appealing and will start to feel good also.  When your spouse starts to feel good, you’ll feel better.”

I think that women tend to want to say “We need to talk,” when something negative comes up.  I know I do.  But Susan Page says, “Focusing on the positive qualities in yourself, your partner, and your relationship means that you will need to put your negative thoughts and feelings on the shelf for awhile.  Don’t talk about them.  Talking about them often only escalates them anyway.  When you find yourself thinking about problems, gently encourage yourself to think about something positive instead.  It is difficult to make yourself stop thinking about something; what is far more successful is to replace a negative thought with a positive one.”

The fourth concept is to change “incompatible” to “complementary.”

“What most people really want in their relationship is to feel close, to be friends, to be allies.  If you focus on your closeness, you will be able to manage your differences.  If you focus on your differences, you will lose your closeness—and then wonder where it went.

“When you pay attention to and nurture your closeness, differences become something you appreciate and manage.  For example, when you are feeling close, if one of you likes to save money and the other spend, you will be able to see the balance this brings to your family and be grateful that you have complementary attributes.”

The fifth idea is to create relaxing time together.  It’s pretty self-explanatory, but needs to be made a priority, if you want to feel close.

For the sixth idea, the book presents seven specific things you can do to bring the two of you together—things like a surprise date or a love letter.

Chapter Five deals with resolving your most upsetting problems by yourself.  She’s got eight specific approaches.

The first approach is Act On Your Own—sometimes, the problem is solved by taking matters into your own hands.  “Don’t expect your partner to take care of your needs.  Instead, be certain that you meet your partner’s needs often, so that when you feel a deep inner certainty about something you need for yourself, you can feel fine about doing it even if it makes your partner uncomfortable or unhappy.”

The second approach is “Reverse Direction:  Do the Opposite of What You Have Been Doing.”  This matches the “Do a 180” approach mentioned in the book The Divorce Remedy.

“Doing the opposite works because it shifts the roles the two of you have been automatically playing.  When you do the opposite, you give your partner a chance to do the opposite too.”

The third approach is “Reframe the Power Struggle.”  “When you get into a tug-of-war with your partner over something, that awful feeling of powerlessness and frustration may emerge:  You feel as though you are in an arm wrestle, struggling to survive but being pushed almost beyond tolerance.  The anger rises, and you find yourselves in opposite corners.  The more you talk, or shout, the more you polarize your problem.

“A black-and-white, either/or view of any problem is virtually always inaccurate, and always limits the possibilities for solutions and for personal growth.  The secret to getting out of the trap is to depolarize, to find the third way out.”

“Creating the conditions that will allow a third alternative to present itself involves two steps:  (1) Develop empathy for the other point of view, and (2) relax the urgency about your own.

“Taking the initiative to depolarize a conflict is not easy.  But commensurate with its difficulty is its potential to expand and deepen you.  Here you are, doing all the work again.  But here you are reaping all the personal rewards too.”

A fourth approach is to “Enlist Your Partner’s Help in Solving Your Problem.”  “Sometimes it is possible to reframe what seems to be a problem between the two of you so that it becomes your problem, and you can persuade your partner to help you out of your distress.”

The fifth approach is simply “Express Empathy for Your Partner’s Position.”

“Expressing empathy out loud is usually not difficult.  Most often we fail to do it only because it doesn’t occur to us.  The secret to success is just to remember to do it.

“First, figure out what your partner’s position is.  Then, sometime when the subject arises naturally, or when you feel comfortable bringing it up, casually affirm your partner for what he or she is doing or what he or she believes.  You must be very careful not to let any sarcasm or cynicism creep into your message.  This doesn’t mean you have completely overcome your anger or upset about this issue, and it doesn’t mean you are agreeing with or that you understand your partner; it only means that you can express your partner’s point of view.

“After you make your empathic statement, add the phrase, ‘Is that right?’”

“Expressing empathy could be the single most powerful suggestion in this book.  It can de-escalate hostilities, calm tension, create a safer atmosphere to talk.  It will feel loving for both the giver and the receiver.  It is the simplest action you can take to bring the two of you closer.

“Remember, expressing empathy for your partner’s position does not mean that you are agreeing with it, or that you are giving in to it in any way.  Not at all.  Expressing empathy for your partner’s position will make it easier for you to express your own, and will make your conversation far more effective.  When you develop the habit of expressing empathy, you will find that you use it several times a day—in a whole variety of situations, from happy to excited to disappointing or frustrating.”

Approach Six is to “Gracefully Accept What You Can’t Change.”  “One of the most empowering inner shifts you can make is to stop fighting the quality or situation you don’t like, and to accept it.  Simply stop labeling whatever you don’t like a ‘problem,’ and start labeling it a ‘fact of life.’”

“When one partner is trying to change the other, the conflict is usually caused by the partner who is not willing to be accepting, not the partner who is not willing to change.  If you are experiencing a conflict with your spouse, ask yourself, Is it your demands, your opinions, your judgments that are causing the problem, or the circumstances themselves?”

“Every couple, without exception, fails to meet each other’s expectations in some ways.  The primary difference between couples who thrive and couples who don’t is that couples who thrive gracefully take what they get, even when it turns out to be different from what they thought they were getting.  They adapt.  They focus on what they love and graciously accept what they don’t love but can’t change.”

The seventh approach is to “Ask for What You Want.”  However, Susan Page warns us, “Ironically, asking for what you want is usually the least effective method of getting what you want.”  She tells us when not to ask and gives some tips for when you do ask.

The eighth approach for solving problems is split into two parts.  Men are told to “Space In.”  Women are told to “Stop Coaching.”  I’ll focus on that one, since that’s the one I need to learn.

She says, “Exactly what are you accomplishing with your persistent coaching?  You are certainly not causing the behavior to change; otherwise, you wouldn’t still be harping on it.

“Instead, your subliminal message to the man you love is, ‘You aren’t quite good enough the way you are.’”

“Do not read his unwillingness to change as deliberate stubbornness or lack of cooperation.  The truth is, he is doing what he needs to do to feel good about himself in the face of your criticisms.  (No matter how you phrase them, that is how he hears them.)  Your husband is taking care of himself.  But in order to do this, he has to keep a certain distance from you.”

This ties in completely with what was said in Love and Respect and For Women Only.  I have to admit that this is a big change I need to make in my own relationship with my husband.  I was trying to be helpful—but it’s not going to be heard that way.  It sounds like a lack of respect.

We are reminded, “No matter what he is doing that upsets you, your relationship is more important than any particular behavior or habit you don’t like.  When you coach and advise, you aren’t succeeding in changing your husband’s behavior; you are only making it hard for your husband to feel close to you—the one thing you most want.

“Just stop.  Your husband does not need your advice, your suggestions, your reminders, or your corrections.  Give it all up, right now, cold turkey.  You don’t get to call all the shots in this marriage.  You don’t get to control your husband’s behavior.  That wasn’t in the marriage vows.  Both you and your husband will start feeling better right away when you go on total abstinence from your coaching and advising.”

I’m up to Chapter Six in my summary.  I’m going over this in great detail in hopes that will help it stick in my head and my behavior.  There are powerful ideas in this book.

Chapter Six talks about the Intimacy Gap between men and women.  We have differing ideas of a romantic relationship.  Women “want men not only to love us, but to realize that they love us, to pay attention to how it feels to love us, and to express those feelings.  We don’t want men to take us or our love for granted.”

But men seem to want something different.  One man said, “I don’t stop and reflect on our relationship.  I take it for granted.  I believe that ‘taking the relationship for granted’ should not have a negative connotation!  For me, taking the relationship for granted is a good thing.  It’s what I long for.  I’m confident and secure.  The relationship is easy.  I know we love each other deeply.  I have real joy in having found my soulmate and in being at ease with that.  I don’t have to worry about it.  And I don’t have to do anything to make it happen—or to keep it that way.

“If a relationship is going badly, I can’t take it for granted.  I was in a marriage like that for years, and it was awful.  I was always on edge.  I couldn’t relax.”

The book then gives some tips on closing the Intimacy Gap by yourself.

First, “recognize that the intimacy gap is equally felt by both sides.”

I like the way the author puts it:

“Women feel deprived of a kind of intensity of closeness and overt expressions of love.  They feel taken for granted.

“Men feel deprived of the ability to relax into the relationship and trust it.  They feel unappreciated for all they do to contribute to the relationship.

“Women feel a double bind:  If I ask for intimacy, he backs off.  If I don’t ask, he spaces out.  Nothing I do gets me the result I want.

“Men feel a double bind:  If I ask her to back off and let us relax together, she gets sad and angry.  If I don’t ask her to back off, she’s on my case all the time.  Nothing I do gets me the results I want.

“(Remember, you experience a double bind only when you are trying to get the other person to change.  If you focus instead on changing yourself, the double bind disappears.)”

Second, “don’t make your partner wrong.  Recognize that your partner has a right to be the way he or she is.”

Third, “as much as possible, create what you want in your relationship by yourself.  Take care of your own needs.”

For women, she says, “You are the partner who is more affectionate and demonstrative, so go ahead and be that way with pleasure.  Tell your partner your loving feelings.  Initiate hugs.  Touch your partner affectionately.  Enjoy this, and let it be okay that you are the one who does most of it.

“As the man I quoted above said, one reason he is disinclined to say ‘I love you’ all the time is that he feels verbal affirmations are ‘handled’ by his wife.  He enjoys her being lovey-dovey, but he does not feel he has to duplicate what she does.  He appreciates that she speaks for both of them.  See if you can feel okay about playing that role for the two of you, even if your hugs and words are not reciprocated as much as you would like.”

Fourth, “look for the contribution your partner’s style can make to your personal growth and your mutual happiness.”  The idea here is to learn from your differences instead of resenting them.

Fifth, “give some attention to giving your partner what he or she wants.”  Again, I’ll focus on her suggestions for women:  “Your husband would love for you to notice and thank him for all the contributions he makes to your family. . . .  Even if you see these actions as his ‘duty,’ acknowledge and thank him for being the great guy he is.  And take pleasure in what he does.”

Chapter Seven begins the fourth part of the book:  Long-term Strategies for Keeping Your Relationship Robust.  The first of these is to practice taking care of yourself.

Among other things, in this section, she reminds me of a principle I learned in the book Against Depression.  “The simple phrase, ‘I can do this,’ can make an actual physical difference in your life.  According to psychiatrist and writer Daniel Amen, when you think negative thoughts like, ‘I can’t do that,’ or ‘Things in my marriage will never change,’ your brain actually releases chemicals that make you feel bad.  On the other hand, when you think positive thoughts, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good.  Positive thoughts like ‘I can do this!’ help to sustain and fulfill themselves!”

She also reminds us to be patient and let go.  “As long as you are doing all you can to make your marriage into what you want it to be, you can relax.  You are responsible for the activities of self-care and good will, but you are not responsible for the results.  You have enormous control over what you do, but none over what you do does.  If you lack patience and the ability to forego specific outcomes, you run the danger of giving up on yourself or your spouse too soon and losing out on the rewards that would have been there if you had been patient.”

Chapter Eight focuses more on cultivating good will.  “Since it incorporates qualities like tolerance, forgiveness, and generosity, good will sounds like it is all designed to benefit your partner.  But in fact, good will will do more to make you into a happy person than anything else you can do, and it is the ultimate secret to success in marriage and long-term love.  You should practice cooperation and good will, not only because this is a nice way to be, but because good will solves problems.

She’s not asking you to just to put up with a bad situation.  “The main reason good will won’t make you into a doormat who just puts up with things is that exercising good will is not a passive activity but an active one.  A spirit of good will requires initiative, imagination and courage.  While it sometimes means that you have to become vulnerable, it also puts you in control.  ‘Putting up with’ something, and deciding you will graciously tolerate it and make the best of it are two entirely different things.  Good will is empowering.  It puts you in charge and gives you a sense of accomplishment, even victory.  Any average wimp can grudgingly ‘put up with’ a bad situation while constantly complaining about it; it takes a strong, independent self-loving person to respond with good will.  Offering good will to another person is as much a gift to yourself as to him or her.  It makes you feel good about yourself, in control, a Good Housekeeping-type seal of approval that says you are managing well.”

“Remember, accepting something is not the same thing as liking it.  It just means that you stop spending useless energy fighting something that is not likely to change.  Until you make the shift to acceptance, you will never know what other shifts may also take place.”

Another strategy that sometimes works is telling yourself, “This has nothing to do with me.”  This “is most appropriate when you feel your mate is doing something to you.  If your mate is advising you, criticizing you, ignoring you, being impatient with you, even yelling at you or lying to you, try on the idea, ‘This has nothing to do with me.  My mate is just being my mate, just doing what my mate does.’”

One woman even was able to forgive a husband’s affair and lying about it with this strategy.  Eve said, “I realized that lying was Gary’s way of surviving in the face of what he had done.  Lying was his defense mechanism, the way some of us deny things to ourselves or get judgmental or defensive.  He felt terrible and was terrified he was going to lose me.  I was angry, but I also felt a lot of compassion for him. . . .  Gary wasn’t lying to me.  He was just lying.  That is what Gary does.  It had nothing to do with me. . . .  I don’t believe affairs should always be treated this lightly.  I had a big context in which to see what Gary did, and I knew I would be a fool to throw away what we had.  Only because I know what a struggle he was going through could I forgive him and get on with things.  I knew his affair and his lying were not about me but about him.”

The author comments, “The affirmation, ‘This has nothing to do with me,’ allows you to pour out good will toward your partner without having your judgments stand in the way.  Eve didn’t like that Gary had lied.  But she was able to separate her judgment about his behavior from her support for Gary, the person.  She was able to support him though not the behavior she didn’t like.  She didn’t take it personally, and she didn’t take on the responsibility of ‘fixing’ Gary so that he wouldn’t lie.”

“A spirit of good will requires that you take the focus off yourself and put it on the other person.  Hurt, resentment, anger and the urge for revenge keep the focus on you.  Compassion and forgiveness put the focus on the other person.  Eve was thinking not about herself, but about Gary.  This requires courage and vulnerability.”

Sometimes, of course (and even in the above example), your mate does something that is definitely wrong.  Now you have a choice.

“When your partner does something thoughtless, inconsiderate, or hurtful to you, you will probably feel sad, angry, hurt, betrayed, and/or cheated.  That is normal and appropriate—but it doesn’t have to stop there.

“You also have the option of forgiving your spouse and feeling compassion toward him or her.  Anybody can feel angry after being wronged; it takes a more evolved, more conscious person to call upon good will in these difficult situations.”

“People screw up.  People make mistakes.  People do nasty things, dreadful things.  Why?  Probably because other people have done nasty, awful things to them in the past.  You can either continue that cycle, or reverse it by offering your compassion and forgiveness in a spirit of good will.  You always have a choice.”

In Chapter 9, Susan Page talks about how the topics of the last two chapters, Self-care and Good Will, need to balance each other.  Ideally, couples doing well “don’t experience themselves as either asserting themselves or being accepting.  What they experience instead is a blend:  assertiveness and acceptance at the same time.  They feel like they are taking and giving at the same time.  The WE and the I work in rhythm with each other in a way that supports both the WE and the I.”  She calls this blend “Loving Leadership.”

She finishes up the book with a chapter of evaluating whether you should stay in a relationship, and then a chapter on your relationship as a spiritual path.

“The most spiritual question you can ask yourself in any situation, whether it be painful or joyful, is, ‘What is the lesson in this for me?  What can I learn about myself?’  Usually, we’d rather ask, ‘What is this other person’s problem?’ or ‘Why did this happen to me?’  But if you can make yourself look for it, you are bound to discover some new nuance on who you are.”

She also points out that what she’s suggesting in this book fits in well with the principles of all major religions.  “The program laid out in this book offers you practical, easy-to-implement techniques for behaving in accord with the great spiritual principles.  Everything we have suggested grows out of love, forgiveness, generosity, authenticity, and reverence for life.

“I’m quite well aware that some of what I have suggested asks a lot of you.  Accepting qualities in your mate you don’t like, acting as if you are happy when you are angry.  These endeavors aren’t easy.  But you don’t have to be a master to understand spiritual principles and to live by them to the best of your ability.  Indeed, that is probably what you are already doing.  The ideas in this book are simply a boost.  They suggest specific ways that you can behave like a spiritual master without actually being one.”

I went into great detail in this summary because I wanted to remind myself of all the wisdom found here.  If you want to have a loving relationship, there are many tips here for making yourself a more loving person.  I highly recommend this book to anyone in a serious relationship, whether happy or troubled.

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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