Toward Commitment: A Diologue about Marriage [NOOK Book]


With extraordinary candor and generosity, Diane Rehm, the nationally known Public Radio broadcaster, and her lawyer husband, John, open up for the reader their marriage of forty-two years, revealing the strong and passionate bond between them as well as the conflicts and turmoils that can overtake a relationship. In a series of highly charged dialogues, they grapple with their pronounced differences of background, attitude, and expectation, so that we actually watch them working to understand each other and ...
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Toward Commitment: A Diologue about Marriage

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With extraordinary candor and generosity, Diane Rehm, the nationally known Public Radio broadcaster, and her lawyer husband, John, open up for the reader their marriage of forty-two years, revealing the strong and passionate bond between them as well as the conflicts and turmoils that can overtake a relationship. In a series of highly charged dialogues, they grapple with their pronounced differences of background, attitude, and expectation, so that we actually watch them working to understand each other and themselves, and to resolve issues that even after their decades together have remained hurtful and destructive.

Their book is divided into twenty-six chapters, each centered on a difficult and important issue: the expression or repression of anger; strong disagreements about money, about family, about religion, about raising children; temperamental differences—she gregarious, he a loner; the complexities of sexual relationships, and the dangers of sexual estrangement and of the intrusion of a third person into a marriage; challenges arising from professional conflicts, from retirement, from aging, from illness.

What makes Toward Commitment so fascinating is the opportunity to overhear a husband and wife bravely anatomizing their relationship and confronting their points of discord. What makes it so extraordinary—and so valuable—is their total honesty. These perceptive and searching discussions will resonate with any two people who care enough about each other to reach painfully deep inside themselves in order to resolve their difficulties and emerge closer than ever.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Diane Rehm, the popular host of radio's The Diane Rehm Show, and her attorney husband, John, have been happy married for 43 years. In this honest, well-organized book, the Rehms lay out marital problems in 25 easy-to-understand chapters. Money, sex, in-laws: They cover it all.
Publishers Weekly
The Rehms met in 1958, when Diane had been married and divorced once and John had had "scant experience with women." They married a year later, and that they are still happily married poses the inevitable question, "How did you do it?" In an unusual format of essays and dialogues, they offer their response "in the belief that an honest account of a marriage of more than forty years may encourage other marriages and comparable relationships not only to endure, but to flourish." Diane has been a well-known radio talk-show host for more than 20 years, and except for her highly successful career (which did not begin until their daughter was at boarding school and their son was working abroad), theirs has been a traditional marriage for their generation. John, an attorney first in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and then in private practice, attended more to his career than his family for many years, and the authors discuss this and other common marital issues, in alternating voices. Each chapter covers a single topic, including expectations, anger, sex, solitude, money, careers, religion, parenting, friends, in-laws, retirement, illness and aging. Focusing solely on their own personal experience restricts the amount of knowledge they have to offer on some subjects, while in other cases they speak generally rather than providing detailed real-life anecdotes (perhaps the fault of the dialogue format). Blaming the difficulties in their marriage on ignorance of themselves and each other, they recommend individual therapy, premarital counseling, couples counseling and thoughtful discussions of both marital issues and childhood experiences affecting assumptions and behaviors within the marriage. Insufficient as either a marriage manual or revelatory memoir, this "dialogue" offers useful, if limited, relationship advice from a seasoned married couple. (Oct. 2) Forecast: Diane Rehm's wide popularity as a radio personality and a 12-city author tour will undoubtedly promote strong sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
John B. Rehm is a retired attorney, while radio personality Diane Rehm authored Finding My Voice. Together they have been working at their marriage long enough (43 years!) to make it look easy. Like everyone, they started out "with gross ignorance" of themselves and each other. Through devoted, sometimes dogged commitment to each other, they found that "marriage-or any long-term relationship-is a never-ending process of exploration and growth." The reader becomes a fly on the wall during the couple's discussions of some 25 topics (e.g., food, sex, commitment) in individual and then mutual conversation. These transcriptions tastefully make public the very private and often profound musings, reflections, and wisdom of two intelligent people who have been through life and now know something about it. Readers should listen up-they just might learn something. While the Rehms chose the straight and narrow, Robinson (Star Country) and Shaw walked the razor's edge. Two former alcoholics (now in recovery and in their sixties), they here describe their courtship and chronicle their misspent pasts in lurid detail. The authors alternate first-person narrative, a method that quickly becomes tiresome and confusing, and their pompous, self-important tone doesn't hide their obvious desperation. This offers zero how-to advice and is a bit too confessional in nature. Both books present the very personal side of the individual/couple dynamic as examined in self-help books like Martha Baldwin Beveridge's Loving Your Partner Without Losing Your Self. Of course, marriage doesn't universally equate to happiness and success, as Xavier F. Amador reminds us in Being Single in a Couple's World. Also consider Laura Davis's I Thought We'd Never Speak Again for a concerned, optimistic take on reconciliation. Toward Commitment is recommended, while Falling in Love is not. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307492074
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/21/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 266,355
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Diane Rehm has hosted The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington, D.C., since 1979. Currently it is broadcast to approximately sixty cities across the country, as well as internationally by the Armed Forces Radio Network. John B. Rehm, a highly successful Washington lawyer, both for government and in private practice, has recently retired. John and Diane Rehm live in Bethesda, Maryland.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Assumptions and Expectations


Looking back to the time before our wedding in December 1959, I am shocked by the naïveté of the assumptions I held about the experience we call marriage. In the ardor of intimacy, sexual and otherwise, I gave little thought to what lay ahead. I assumed that children, in some indeterminate number, would come, and that a family would emerge therefrom. I further assumed that, as a hardworking and ambitious young lawyer, I would see my income steadily rise and come to afford a decent standard of living. Most tellingly, I assumed that Diane and I would establish a mutually rewarding relationship, with no special efforts by, or demands upon, me. In short, the way we lived together in the first year of our marriage, before our son, David, arrived, would, in some deterministic fashion, serve as the model for our coexistence thereafter.

These assumptions concealed deep and even dark questions that I would be forced to face in later years, especially in therapy. How would I deal with my strong inclination at times to be alone and withdraw from others?

How would I become sensitive to Diane's need for intimacy beyond sexual gratification? How would I achieve a reasonable balance between the conflicting demands of family and profession? Above all, how would I learn enough about myself to develop into a warm and understanding husband and father?

In short, coasting on easy assumptions, I failed to articulate--to myself and others--any realistic expectations about the many facets of marriage. Unlike assumptions, expectations lend themselves to discussion with the other partner, and thereby to adjustment and accommodation. Assumptions, which by nature tend to be concealed and static, are traps that I fell into. Expectations, on the other hand, can serve as a foundation for a dynamic relationship. At the time, however, it never occurred to me to share my expectations with Diane.

In the absence of articulated and shared expectations, I--and we--blundered upon important truths about ourselves. This process of trial and error proved to be inefficient and emotionally costly. In time, therapy proved to offer a far better way of identifying problems and trying to attack them. At the very least, therapy gave me the support and guidance I needed to become a constructive partner in our marriage. But I am struck by the price we paid for the ignorance with which I entered into our relationship.


Having been married once before, I did come to our marriage with both assumptions and expectations. My first assumption was that this marriage was forever. I vowed to myself that divorce would never again be a factor in my life. I assumed I had learned enough about myself--and how to live with another person--through that failure, that I would be a perfect partner to John. After all, I told myself, I was no longer the same person who had married at nineteen. I was now a "mature" twenty-three. I had lost my parents. I had successfully lived on my own for the first time in my life. I had virtually separated myself from my community of origin here in Washington. I assumed that, because of those experiences, I had become a wiser, more independent person.

John and I enjoyed a wonderful romance, what every young woman dreams of. He was warm, sweet, kind, and attentive. On one of our very first dinner dates, I developed a terrible stomachache, perhaps a result of nervousness at being with the first man I'd dated since the divorce. I was embarrassed, but to my total surprise, John exhibited a kindness and caring I'd never before experienced, even from my own parents.

We went to concerts, to plays, to art galleries, to movies. We went on long walks, talking constantly, glancing at each other, shyly kissing for the first time in the boxwood gardens at the home of George Mason. We loved taking long drives into the countryside and then going out for pizza and wine at Luigi's, talking with each other about our dreams, our fantasies, our attraction to each other. In vino veritas, John said to me, and then had to translate.

I naively believed I understood how to deal with tensions in personal relationships because I had undergone a three-year marriage and the trauma of divorce. So much of what my ex-husband and I brought to our marriage was based on similarities: culture, language, status. Our families knew one another, we came from the same community, we enjoyed the same foods, we understood our heritage. There were good times, of course. For the most part, however, those good times were not spent by ourselves, but rather when we were with friends, sharing laughter and good food.

When the breakup came, after the death of my parents, I knew in my heart that, as much as leaving my husband, I wanted to leave that very same community which had surrounded me for my whole life. I yearned for freedom from the familiar, and my search--both internal and external--was leading me in directions I sensed would allow me to experience that freedom.

When John Rehm came into my life, I believed that he represented all of those "new directions" I was seeking but unable to articulate: a broad worldly outlook, sophistication in music and art, and sensitivity to each and every aspect of my mood, my tone, my actions. When he finally came around to proposing (and writing it down!) I accepted because I knew marriage to John would bring with it an entrée into "the world" that I had never before experienced.

Of course, I also saw in John a tendency to withdraw, to separate himself from me, to "close down." However, I convinced myself that whatever the causes of such episodes--lasting moments or hours--they would magically disappear if we were married. He was, to my eyes, perfect.

Dialogue on Assumptions and Expectations

Diane: The whole question of marriage revolves around assumptions and expectations. I was twenty-two, you were twenty-nine, and we never talked about such ideas. I don't know how that might have affected how we behaved toward each other. What do you think?

John: Well, I think it would've made for an easier relationship, because we would have shared plans, shared commitments, a sense of where both parties were going, instead of making up the decisions as we went along. I think it would have been a more stable foundation for a marriage.

Diane: But you had this whole external set of expectations. Number one, that you would be "in charge" of the family. Number two, that you would be the breadwinner. Number three, that I would take care of the household and the children. And, of course, I shared those expectations. Mine were no different from yours. The area where we differed was in our internal lives: how much I expected you to be a partner to me, and how much you expected to be solitary. That's where the expectations and the anticipations differed.

John: Yes, I agree, and that's where I think the expectations move into the trickier realm that I call assumptions, because the expectations you've just mentioned rested upon my own personality, which had never been tested, because I'd never lived with anybody else before. It took some years for me to gain at least some understanding of who I was in that respect, and that's of course where therapy helped. So it's particularly the area of assumptions, unstated assumptions of which we're largely ignorant, that I think was the most troublesome aspect of our marriage.

Diane: Beyond that, because I did not understand your unstated need, the first year after David was born, you assumed that we were not going to make it. You said to me at that point, do you remember, "I'm not sure we've made the right marriage."

John: I don't recall the specific instance, but I'm not surprised, because for me, how shall I say it, this marriage was a brand-new, unforeseen test of who I was and how I could get along with others. That need had never arisen in my life before. My parents were happy to have me lead a solitary life if that's what I wanted and to follow that course for the rest of my life.

Diane: But why did you get married in the first place then?

John: Good question. Sexual desire was, without question, a powerful motive.

Diane: But you could've had sexual relations with other women.

John: That's certainly true. But somewhere in me, obviously, there was a desire for a more permanent commitment, something I could count on, and I suppose that's another one of the unstated assumptions, lurking below the surface, that I made. In a sense, though paradoxical, I needed some degree of security as well as, within that security, the freedom to be on my own. That's quite a tension.

Diane: And that's where we got into trouble. Because you had the security of coming home to me every single night, or, as the need arose, you said, "I have to work. I have to work six days a week. I have to work seven days a week." So that I was left thinking and feeling, Well, my God, where is he in this marriage? And your excuse was always work!

John: You've put your finger on it. I was both in and out of the marriage at the same time. Or that's what I wanted, to be in and out of the marriage at my choosing. So that, when I wanted to, I would have a companion, beautiful, sexually attractive. At other times I would leave the house, primarily through work, but in other ways as well, as they occurred to me.

Diane: Do you think other young men behave in similar ways? Do you think you're that different from other young men, not only of your generation but of this generation?

John: Well, not that different, though I may be a bit farther along the spectrum. As you and I have discussed before, I am convinced that there's something in the male psyche which does make it difficult to make that commitment. Our literature, culture, movies, are full of instances where young men are dragged into marriage, on the one hand thinking that it's what society expects, but on the other hand resenting it, resenting the loss of freedom that marriage entails. I think many--perhaps most--men go through that, at some level. I think we've known male friends who've been able to balance the two reasonably well, and other cases, not so well.

Diane: You and I have seen instances in the last ten years where parents have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on weddings, and then the couples have divorced or separated within a year or so. Do you think that if I had somehow not been as committed as I was to the relationship, you would've said, "Well, this didn't quite work out the way I wanted, so I'll help support the child, but goodbye"?

John: I think there's a good chance that that would've happened. I've long felt, and I've said to you several times, that your almost irrational commitment to the relationship, growing out of your own prior relationship, is what sustained our relationship at its darkest moments, and that, given my free choice--it's not that clear to me, but there's certainly a good chance that I would've walked away, because I simply was not making, and was not prepared to make, that fundamental commitment to the marriage.

Diane: But what did that fundamental commitment constitute in your own mind? That word "commitment" comes up so often, and yet I'm not quite sure I have an understanding of what the word means to you, what it might mean to other people--other men, especially. You hear young women say, again and again, "This man is not willing to make a commitment." What did that mean to you?

John: For me, commitment meant a dedication to our family, which at times would override, and should override, my own desire to be off by myself, doing things by myself. It was a little easier for me to do so because you were fighting so hard to keep the marriage together. We've been talking about some of the problems I had in making a commitment and what that means. I'd like to ask you, from where do you think came the strength of your desire for commitment, your ability to make a commitment--where did all that come from?

Diane: Well, first of all, deep down, I think I knew I married a good man, though there were times when I was angry, I was frustrated, I was beyond belief at your behavior, at your lack of interest, at your failure to even be part of the family for long periods of time. But remember also that, having been married once before, I was absolutely determined that this marriage was going to be a lifetime commitment. You know, you and I fell in love, and a year later we were married--we didn't really know each other. But I felt this was a marriage worth having, that our first child, our son, was so beautiful, and such a gift from heaven, and that we had a family worth having. I knew you were a dedicated worker, I knew you were loyal, I knew you were committed to the idea of supporting this family that you had, materially but not yet emotionally, and I knew that that was going to be the long-term challenge, to find for both of us that balance. Of course, there was the economic underpinning, but where was the emotional underpinning? That's what I was committed, in a sense, to find.

John: Even at the worst times, you still had something you could rely upon, that sustained you? That sounds truly irrational, when you look at all the considerations at the time, and the nature of my behavior. Why persist in an almost masochistic fashion?

Diane: Don't get me wrong. There were many times when I thought, I can't stand this anymore. I'm going to leave him! I'm going to find an apartment. I'm going to take the baby and live on my own. But still, I felt it was important--and by that time Jennie had come along--I felt these two children needed two parents. Now, that's very different from the thinking today, but that is my old-fashioned--

John: But suppose the husband in question is behaving in a destructive fashion, destructive to the family? Then what? Surely there's no point in maintaining--

Diane: I think you're absolutely right.

John: Did you reach that point in our relationship?

Diane: No, because I think the fundamentals were there. We were economically supported. You loved the children--that was clear. When you were around, you maintained a wonderful relationship with both of them. My complaint was that you were not there often enough, and when you were there, frankly, you were more engaged with the children than you were with me. Or else you were sleeping, claiming fatigue, or claiming that you didn't have the energy for anything.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An honest, open dialogue

    Being a huge Diane Rehm fan and admirer, I opened this book more inclined to learn about her life and challenges than I did to improve my own relationship. However, the questions she and John raise, the unflinching honesty with which they each approach the subject matter, has me reexamining how I do approach communication.

    On the one hand, Diane and John have been together for decades, and are able to be completely honest with each other without fear of the other up and walking away over something that shouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker; on the other, shouldn't any relationship be able to discuss these things frankly, if it is to succeed and make each partner happy and fulfilled?

    The book asks important questions and offers suggestions for dialogue by example. I enjoyed the book immensely, even though it did raise questions for me about my own life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    Will you marry me?

    Jannice, I have always wanted to know you... the day that we met. I love you, and always have. Of all the conversations we've had, meeting over coffee at Barnes and Nobles, I've grown to love you... and so I ask you... Will you marry me?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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