As a therapist practicing since 1995, one of the most common requests I receive is for a good book about marriage. This request is especially common among newly engaged couples and people who are struggling to decide whether to marry their current partner.
There are some interesting self-help books about the psychological aspects of wedding preparation and how the planning process can reflect the individuals and their relationship: Lies at the Altar and The Conscious Bride are two frequent suggestions. There are also some useful books about strengthening or repairing a marriage. Getting the Love You Want works well for those who want to explore how childhood experiences influence current intimate relationships. All of John Gottman's books about marriage (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work) offer practical information and strategies based on current research. 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married—while at times superficial—is a comprehensive conversation guide for engaged couples or couples contemplating engagement. 1001 Questions is unusual in that it is a marriage preparation guidebook without a religious bent.
These materials have been wonderful resources for many of my clients (and friends) over the years. Certain books make more sense for certain people. However, for many people, self-help books simply do not resonate. To this end, the book that I have found most useful to those who are newly engaged or contemplating marriage is Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.
As many know from her breakthrough bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert struggled with the heartbreak of her own divorce and grieved this loss in part by writing of her remarkable journey through Italy, India and Indonesia. Indonesia represents the "Love" portion of her story where she meets and falls madly in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born Australian citizen and gem dealer. Since they both survived awful divorces, the book ends with them pledging their love through the shared commitment to never, ever marry.
Their steadfast commitment to not marry is where Eat, Pray, Love ends and Committed begins. When the couple is pulled aside at a border crossing and told that Felipe has used too many temporary visas and may not enter the United States again unless they marry, Gilbert sets out on a quest to learn everything there is to know about marriage. With a remarkable blend of self-depricating humor, wit and intelligence, Gilbert becomes marriage's ultimate anthropologist. She opens chapter one with Robert Louis Stevenson's quotation: "Marriage is a friendship recognized by the police." She writes beautifully of her research of the institution of marriage in a Hmong village:
"I was granted the clearest possible insight....I asked the tiny old Hmong grandmother one final question, which again, she thought bizarre and foreign. 'Is your husband a good husband?' I asked. The old woman had to ask her granddaughter several times, just to make sure she'd heard it correctly: Is he a good husband? Then she gave a bemused look, as though I'd asked, 'These stones which composed the mountains in which you live—are they good stones?' The best answer she could come up with was this: Her husband was neither a good husband nor a bad husband. He was just a husband. He was the way that husbands are....With rare exceptions, one man is pretty much the same as another...'Everybody knows that this is true.' The other Hmong ladies all nodded in agreement."
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