It is awesome to sit on the high, rocky coast of Maine and watch the Atlantic Ocean rush again and again to the shoreline. This is an experience of grand waves and tiny pebbles. Of change and sameness. Of decline and growth. Over and over the waves come alive, rush over the rocks, cause imperceptible changes, and then return to the sea.
Life is like that. Always changing, and yet always with some sameness. Feelings, events, and interests rise up like waves. Some recede and come again. Some are washed away forever. We are never exactly the same people we were yesterday. Nor are we now who we will be tomorrow.
Marriages are like that. When a man and a woman marry, they create a new being, a dual being, composed of two ever-changing individuals. As these two individuals share their lives, some of their waves rise together and some move separately. The goal in marriage is not to confine these waves, to make a stagnant pool out of two oceans, but to nurture and encourage the two individuals so that their duality will be a healthy, unique, growing unity.
Think for a moment about things that grow: dogs and cats, trees and flowers, bodies and minds. Anything that grows needs regular attention. A marriage can exist with minimum care. But the healthiest marriages are those that are regularly discussed, cared for and nourished by both husband and wife.
That is what this book is about. It is a book to help you nurture your marriage. It is a growth book. It is a book for fun. (Who doesn't like to talk about themselves?) It is a book for love.
We are convinced that the more information we have about one another, the more we are able to love one another. This book is intended to give a framework for husbands and wives to discuss important personal information: information about who you are, what you like and what you do not like, who you want to be and what you hope for in your marriage. Those with severely damaged marriages should work through this book only with the help of a counselor or gifted friend.
To use this handbook effectively, plan to set aside time for each partner to read each chapter and answer the questions privately in writing. Writing down your answers will provide many more insights than just thinking through the questions. For this reason, it may be helpful for each spouse to have a copy of the book, or at least for each to have a separate notebook.
After you have answered the questions on your own, set aside time when you can enjoy being together to share your answers. Talk about what arrangements will help you do that. Do you need a baby sitter? Do you want to take one evening per week and discuss one chapter at a time? Or would you rather set aside one or two whole days to talk about larger sections? Do you need to go away to a motel for a weekend? Or would you prefer several quiet evenings at home?
Another thing which will help you prepare is to take a brief inventory of your marriage to discover what areas each of you perceives to be strengths and weaknesses. To facilitate this, we have included a series of preliminary questions based on the chapters of this handbook. Each of you should rate your marriage on a scale of 1 to 4 in every area. Because we see growth in marriage as the result of the integrated efforts of both husband and wife, we suggest you answer these questions thinking of yourselves as one unit But if you hit an area where one of you has made a lot of progress and the other is still struggling, then of course you could give two separate ratings. The idea, however, is not to judge and evaluate, but to observe.
Circle one number for each question.
1—hardly at all; 2—occasionally; 3—most of the time; 4—almost always.
1. Are we able to talk about our own thoughts, experiences and desires with each other?
2. Are we aware of our own feelings and willing to communicate them to each other?
3. Are we committed to one another for a lifetime of love and growing together?
4. Do we handle our problems and disagreements effectively?
5. Are we comfortable with the roles we have assumed in our marriage relationship?
6. Are we motivated to make personal changes for the sake of each other and our marriage?
7. Are we able to make large and small decisions together?
8. Are we satisfied with our income and spending practices?
9. Are we growing spiritually?
10. Are we satisfied in our sexual relationship?
11. Do we handle failure in a positive and forgiving manner?
12. Do we know how to establish and work toward goals for ourselves and our marriage?
After you have each taken your inventory, be sure to discuss them with each other. If there are significant differences in ratings, it may be more of a reflection of the individual answering than of the marriage. Or it may be that your expectations were very different in those areas. Whatever the reason, the areas where you differ significantly in your view of your marriage, or the areas where you both agree that improvement is needed, are the areas you will want to emphasize in your discussions. Be sure to start, however, with chapters two and three because the skills discussed in those chapters are essential for progress in the others. And, before you set aside your inventories, take time to enjoy your strengths and appreciate the areas where you are making progress!
Be creative about using this handbook. Make the circumstances surrounding your discussions as attractive and pleasant as possible. It will be difficult to set aside the time. And you may need to spend a little money in order to be alone. But whatever you spend in time or money will be a promising investment. Love grows through knowledge, and knowledge is increased through communication. The hours you spend together will bring lifelong returns, affecting not only your own lives but the lives of those who are touched by your love.