Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Book: "Reconcilable Differences" - 7 tips to keep marriages together

TITLE: Reconcilable Differences - 7 essential tips to remaining together from a top matrimonial lawyer
AUTHOR: Robert Stephan Cohen
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster, 2002, (223 pages)

This is a strange book. Written by a 'top' divorce lawyer, who himself is a divorcee, it tries to suggest 7 ways in which couples can avoid walking the path of divorce. The book is arranged in terms of 7 'reconcilable differences.'  Below are some of my brief notes on his seven tips.

THE PROBLEM: Many couples live parallel lives that do not intersect. Thus, they grow further apart as they become caught up with their careers and their other pursuits. As a result, four things happen. Firstly, couples spend less time together. Secondly, they start taking each other for granted. Thirdly, they start talking less, having less things to talk about as well. Fourthly, there are lesser common ground.

THE WORSE WAY: The problems worsens as couples start blaming each other. Otherwise, they ignore the problem. They start to accept boredom in their marriages. They belittle each other. They compromise their personal identity.

THE BETTER WAY: Schedule time to work out differences. Start with little gestures that are subtle but important. Renew vows over and over again everyday. Do a role reversal in order to understand one another's perspective. Return back to the time when it was 'just the 2 of us.'

THE PROBLEM: Poor communications is a major source of conflict. When couples start becoming self-righteous about their point of view, the whole situation gets heated up easily. Couples start to 'fight too much' that they destroy each other. There is a drastic shift in personality, that they behave like a counter-argument to their spouses. They become over-reliant on friends to mediate or to pass information. They hold long grudges, and fail to forgive each other as much. Eventually, they employ total avoidance of each other just to keep the peace. Cohen suggests 4 steps to forgiveness:
  • a) Take charge, take initiative;
  • b) express one's pain honestly;
  • c) Be positive;
  • d) Be prepared for relapses, in the sense that the forgiveness cycle be repeated as often as necessary.

THE WORSE WAY: If the communications problem is not dealt with, couples start to argue for arguments' sake. They turn a deaf ear to each other. They lose control of themselves and their marriages. They use 'emotional blackmail.'

THE BETTER WAY: Five ways are suggested.
  • a) Prepare a statement 
  • b) Connect, not react;
  • c) Right timing is critical
  • d) Prioritize problems;
  • e) Note not only what was said, but what was NOT said.
THE PROBLEM: Sexual intimacy plays a crucial role in marriages. It is more complicated than simply the physical act. Couples generally fail to understand how inadequate sex lives lead to big problems for both. Ignoring 'sudden changes in libido.' People do grow old, and their sex patterns and needs change. Usually it is ignoring the underlying factors that make it worse. This can lead to ignoring and avoiding intimate situations between the couple.They then become reluctant to talk about their sex lives. Soon they fight about sex and frustrates each other.

THE WORSE WAY: Couples ignore each other's needs. They start to criticize each other's appearances.  They hide any sexual dysfunctions from each other. They not only reject but 'recoil' from their spouses.

THE BETTER WAY: Learn to share one another's fantasies. Embrace spontaneity if possible. Learn not to take sexual intimacy too personally. Work to ensure that there is no better place than home.

THE PROBLEM: Money can be taken too lightly. There are some warning signs to note. Firstly, when one hits a poor credit rating, beware of its early impact on the relationship. Secondly, notice that there is a tendency to micromanage monetary aspects. Soon couples get frustrated about their roles.

MAKING IT WORSE: Couples start to draw their lines by 'holding on to their holdings.' They spend 'frivolously.' They 'fold under pressure.'

MAKE IT BETTER: Get informed about money matters, and how to handle finances better. Learn to do proper budgeting. If needed, set regular financial meetings. 'Establish mutual financial goals.'

THE PROBLEM: This is a touch one.Yet, this is included because Cohen believes there is still hope despite the terrible damage. There are signs of infidelity when one has a 'sudden change of daily routine.' The individual starts acting more defensively than before. When they start to provide a lot more information than usual, especially when it was not asked for, beware. Then there is an inability to trust. Unexpected acts of generosity is also a sign.

THE WORSE WAY: Spouse withhold sex from the guilty party. They start picking on each other. They dig up the past. They engage in unprotected sex.

THE BETTER WAY: Learn to talk it through. Make a firm decision to stay with their spouse. Giving oneself time.

THE PROBLEM: Any crisis represents a major transition point. Both spouses need to help each other deal with it. Do not underestimate the potential of transitions to damage a relationship. Warning signs include 'obsessive problem solving,' 'denial of problem,' 'emotional withdrawal.'

MAKING IT WORSE: Spouses lay blame on each other.They start pampering their spouse excessively. They can lash out. They make unreasonable demands.

MAKING IT BETTER: Remain flexible. Learn to work together. Learn to make temporary sacrifices. Find time to play. (I would add, take time to pray).

THE PROBLEM: People underestimate the impact of the extended family. They are not only marrying the person, but the entire family that person comes from. Family squabbles unresolved on the other side, can creep into the marriage. The warning signs are 'feelings of isolation,' bottled up emotions, jealousy. This jealousy is obvious when:
  • one try to maneuver for attention during family outings;
  • one avoids engaging other family members for conversation;
  • one starts to grill the spouse about the relationship with their family;
  • one points out about being mistreated;
  • one finds alternatives instead of spending time with the spouse's family.
MAKING IT WORSE: Couples start to take sides. They try to sabotage each other's family relations. They show disrespect.

THE BETTER WAY: Outline expectations to each other clearly. 'Bow out gracefully.' I will add, to do so courteously and respectfully. Learn to mediate by listening carefully to both sides and constant clarification.

My Comments
This is a helpful and practical book about keeping marriages together. All of the tips center on prevention rather than cure, supporting the adage that 'prevention is better than cure.' Yet, the underlying emotion that is common to all seems to be fear. Beginning with the biggest fear itself is the threat of divorce. It then goes on to tackle the dangers of living 'parallel lives' exemplified by a dual-career, dual-lifestyles manner that fail to connect with each other. The rest like failure to communicate, inadequate understanding of sex, money, wrong approaches toward infidelity, unable to transition well and unable to manage relationships with in-laws, all seem to be intervention focused. This book is like a stop-gate, a door stopper to prevent the door of marriage from closing. Hopefully, this stopper can buy couples enough time to salvage the relationship. Otherwise, the weight of the door itself can wear out the stopper.

Marriages are more than simply preventing divorces. There is more. While the book offers good and helpful tips, marriages are a lot more complicated. The most important people to learn from are not failed marriages of other people. It is actually the marriage of the couple themselves. Hence, whatever lessons we can glean and learn from the book, understand that they are only stopgates to halt any decay. The love, the growing and the loving has to be done as well. Otherwise, the sheer weight of the door will ultimately overwhelm the miserable stopgates.



No comments:

Latest Posts