August 28, 2006

Getting the Love You Want

Category: Marriage :: Permalink

Years ago, when I lived in Lethbridge and was still unmarried, I frequented Brewster’s, a microbrewery and pub.  One of the regulars was a man — I think he taught at the college or university, I think his last name was “English,” and I know he himself was English — who used to alternate years in which he allowed himself to drink beer and years in which he didn’t.  There were exceptions, of course.  For instance, if he was “out of jurisdiction,” as he called it — which usually meant if he was in England — then he wasn’t bound by the rule.  But this was his regular practice.  I, of course, ran into him only on his “on” year.

The reason I mention him now is that, way back then, he mentioned to me once how valuable he had found a book by Harville Hendrix entitled Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.  Since then, I’ve seen it in used bookstores and at the Goodwill and haven’t bought it.  But a few weeks back I did finally pick it up from the library.

It’s a mixed bag.  Hendrix presents a lot of psychological stuff that I find questionable.  I haven’t considered it worth reading in depth, so I’m only skimming.  But some of what he says is worthwhile.

For instance, he describes the difference between what he calls an “unconscious marriage” and a “conscious marriage” (pp. 90-92).  Among the characteristics of a “conscious marriage” are these: 

You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner.  In an unconscious marriage, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs.  In a conscious marriage, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication….

You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own.  In an unconscious marriage, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically.  In a conscious marriage, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs….

You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage.  In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner.  In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner.  As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.

All quite basic stuff, right?  Yes, but it’s still good to be reminded of it. 

The last point, in particular, is something that I think singles need to hear.  We tend to think that the most important thing is finding the right partner.  Certainly that’s important.  But if that’s our main focus, we’re going to be terribly disappointed when our partner doesn’t act the way we think he should (“This isn’t the woman I married!  What have I done!  I’ve made a terrible mistake!”  Now what!”).  Having the right partner, as Hendrix says, isn’t as important as being the right partner.

Along this line, Hendrix tells the story of a man named Walter who complained about not having any friends.  He’d been looking and looking, but he couldn’t find them.  Hendrix thought he was being childish: 

He was locked into a view of the world that went something like this: wandering around the world were people on whose foreheads were stamped the words “Friend of Walter,” and his job was merely to search until he found them (p. 93).

Hendrix finally told him that the reason he didn’t have any friends was because there were no friends out there: “All people in the world are strangers.  If you want a friend, you’re going to have to go out and make one!” (p. 94).

So, too, with love.  We don’t want to work at it and take responsibility for it.  We simply want to “fall in love” and “live happily ever after” (p. 93).  And then, when we discover that our spouse doesn’t make is “happy ever after” we “fall out of love” instead of acting like grown-ups and working at love.  “We are slow to comprehend that, in order to be loved, we must first become lovers” (p. 95).

Reading further, I see that some of what Hendrix prescribes for healing marriages looks quite practical and helpful.  So, Dr. English (if that was your name), for this book recommendation which I didn’t take too seriously at first, I’d buy you a pint of good ale.  Except that I think 2006 is an “off” year for you….

Posted by John Barach @ 8:23 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Getting the Love You Want

  1. Charles Chambers Says:

    Excellent John and thanks for your insights. If you don’t mind I’m going to forward this piece on to the couples in our Frist Sunday Marriage Group. It goes right along with much of our current topic of husband’s and wives Biblical responsibilities.

  2. John Says:

    Feel free to pass on my comments, Charles, if you think they’ll be helpful.

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