Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1 - Susie
Chapter 1 - The Explanation
. . . There is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things,
but penetrates all the way through:
We've won it. It's going to get better now.
You can sort of tell these things.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
After twenty-one years of living together in a marriage, decades of scientific theories and data about relationships, and an amalgam of what we've gathered from our years of working with people in therapy settings, no matter how we think of them or try to write about them, making sense of love relationships can be baffling at times. Is the science flawed? Have we been deluding ourselves all of these years? Or is it simply that the array of successful human possibilities is defined by an infinite number of conceivable genetic combinations? There are over 6 billion people in the world right now, and you'd have to multiply that by another billion to get an estimate of how many types of successful relationships there could be at any given moment in time.
And so, rather than being exhaustive or definitive, this book consists of some of our thoughts about relationships and some of the research on them. Before we send this manuscript to our publisher, scores more will be sent to other publishers to be in print next year, too. This book is just one way of putting together some of the things we see. When two people come to us for therapy, they are coming to see what they can see, using us as catalysts. When they go to someone else, they are going for different catalysts. In the same way, our children are a product of our lives, not yours. Your children are a product of yours, not ours. As obvious as that may seem, we say it because it underscores the crucial part of relationship therapyùthat only you can improve your intimate relationship. Nobody else can do it for you.
The Patterns of Life
Part of the science of relationships is captured in the principle of reenactment.
We have a friend who enthusiastically participates in Civil War reenactments, during which he and his compatriots dress up in authentic uniforms from the mid-1800s, brandish authentic Civil War-era weapons, eat the kinds of food that soldiers ate back then and fight the famous battles of the war, to the delight of thousands of onlookers. In the study of relationships, reenactment refers to the fact that the patterns we display as adults are based on patterns that began when we were children. It also helps explain how patterns are passed on from one generation to the next not only by genetics, but also by learning.
On paper, at least, it's fairly simple to comprehend. As a child, you loved to read. At thirty-five years of age, you love to read. As a child, you were active and dominant, and at forty you are still active and dominant. When you were angry as a child, no one listened to you, or they told you to be quiet and go to your room-that a good child does not get angry. At thirty-five years of age, your husband brings you in for marriage counseling because he can't stand your pouting and silences anymore. It explains why, despite making a strong childhood vow to the contrary, a woman who had a controlling father is quite likely to either be very controlling herself, or to marry a controlling man.
As adults mature and deepen across the life span, we are blessed with a gift that replaces and far exceeds the value of the physical prowess that we gradually lose-ùwe gain wisdom. In the arena of human affairs, a fair piece of this wisdom comes from understanding, accepting and becoming at peace with our psychological histories. It is common to have either an idealized or a "demonized" picture of our childhoods when we enter our twenties, and to assume that whatever was, was, and that we just have to press on in life. It is normal to begin tripping over the ghosts of our past somewhere between our mid-twenties and our mid-forties. And if we embrace the challenge of deepening and growing,
we eventually gain a piercingly clear appreciation of the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of life.
Contrary to what some believe, the goal of growing up, whether or not you had a painful childhood, is not to rewrite your psychological history. Not only is it impossible to do so, but it wouldn't be emotionally or spiritually wise even if you could. An interviewer once asked us, "We eventually stop picking partners who fit those painful childhood patterns in any way, shape or form, right?" Our reply was an emphatic "No." The goal isn't to eradicate our childhoods. The goal is to master them. If you had a physically abusive, rageful father, your pattern may be to enter relationships with men who then become physically rageful. It doesn't mean you'll always have to marry physically abusive men. Once you've mastered your childhood and live in Emotional Adulthood, you now have the power of choice to stay or to leave and move on. But the man you eventually find happiness with may still be more on the stronger/controlling side, but within the healthier range. And, being in Emotional Adulthood, you will have a strong enough core self to maintain your power in the relationship.
The process of "emotionally growing up beyond childhood" and mastering our psychological history is represented in chapter 8, entitled "The Rocks." It is a snapshot of the long, rewarding process of growing up and mastering and integrating our history rather than trying to erase it. It is part of the magic of being human. It is man and woman at their best. The two chapters following the one you are now reading are comprised of descriptive lists of what really great love does and does not feel like. These two lists are also designed to tap into the "magic" much more than the "science" of relationships. They are verbal paintings or impressions.
About List I and List II
As you read the two lists that follow in the next two chapters, we urge you to read them more than once. Savor them. Let them soak into your unconscious mind. If you do, perhaps you won't need to read the rest of this book, because painted in these two lists are pictures of what is and what is not part of really great relationships. Reading through the lists, you may notice that there is only one statement that is exactly the same in both lists. The letters and words in the two sentences are identical, and they are in identical order, yet the differences underlying the two represent the cutting edge-the subtle six- to seven-degree differenceùbetween a really painful relationship and a really great one.
As you finish with the lists, we suggest that you let yourself pause and reflect on the stirrings in your heart and soul, and spend some time leafing through the pages of your life to see from whence those passions came. When you've done this, tell your partner about that part of you. Share it with your partner. Thus intimacy begins.
It is through connecting one heart to another, around seemingly small things, that love grows.
¬2002 All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Seven Best Things (Happy) Couples Do by L.B. Smith. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.