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Secrets of Great Marriages: Q & A with Authors Charlie and Linda Bloom
Courtesy of New World Library
Do you believe that full disclosure is necessary in order to have a great marriage?
It's important to define what the term full disclosure really means. It does NOT mean telling someone everything about what you have done or currently think or feel. Full disclosure is an agreement that has to do with the intention to share with another person those aspects of one's life that are relevant to the relationship. The key word here is relevant, which is obviously a subjective term and subject to interpretation.
Nearly all of the couples that we interviewed for our book had a full disclosure (usually explicit, but in some cases implicit) agreement. This doesn't, however, prove that such an agreement is necessary for all great marriages. The key question has to do with the nature of the agreement that both partners have and what their individual and shared intentions are with respect to the quality of trust and openness that they desire to experience in their marriage. Generally speaking, full disclosure refers to any actions that might be of concern or potentially upsetting to one's partner. If for example, one partner might feel upset if a significant financial expenditure were made by the other partner without being informed of that action. That would constitute an example of a failure to adequately disclose something that was relevant to the relationship. The lines are drawn in different places for different couples and one couple might be comfortable with a condition that another would be uncomfortable with. What's most important is that there is a clear understanding between both partners of what it is that each one considers relevant to the relationship and that efforts are made to address each partner's concerns without either one feeling that their needs are being neglected.
Linda and Charlie Bloom
What do you consider to be deal-breakers?
Like full disclosure, deal-breakers are not absolute but rather tend to be subject to the individual and shared values of each person and each marriage. The term itself refers to those situations, circumstances, beliefs and actions that are intolerable to one or both partners in the relationship. Deal-breakers are things that we just can't live with. They generally have more to do with unwillingness on one partner's part to acknowledge a particular behavior pattern and/or an unwillingness to change that behavior. Deal-breakers don't necessarily involve a zero-tolerance approach to things, but are more likely to kick in when there is a lack of motivation to change a destructive personal or interpersonal behavior pattern.
When there are persistent and repetitive patterns of behavior, deal-breakers can include:
- Untreated addictions (such as drugs, alcohol, work, sex, spending, eating, etc.)
- Physical violence
- Emotional abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Chronic dishonesty
- Extreme personality differences
- Inability to resolve differences regarding whether or not to have children
- An unwillingness to take any responsibility to repair relationship issues
- Refusals to stop projecting blame and fault onto the other person
It must be stressed that deal-breakers are examples of unworkable aspects in a relationship and are not necessarily permanent conditions. Even the most entrenched patterns can be subject to change, given adequate motivation.
When it comes to deal-breakers, the most critical variable is not the nature of the offense, but rather the level of intention to provide the necessary healing and repair work
What is the biggest mistake that most couples make?
They tend to underestimate the amount of attention and care that committed partnerships take and assume that something is wrong with one or both of them if difficulties arise. There continues to be a prevailing myth that love is enough and that if two people love each other things should always go smoothly and if they don't there's something wrong. The truth is that it takes more than love to maintain and deepen a healthy marriage. It takes commitment, patience, skill, perseverance, compassion and effort, as well as other positive traits and qualities. Fortunately, as the book points out, it's not necessary to be fully cooked before you get married. Most of these couples got their training on the job.
What would you say are the most important secrets of Great Marriages?
Although we found that there were many different forms that great marriages can take, it was impossible not to notice that there were several themes that ran through nearly all of these relationships. They include:
This has to do with the recognition that the happier that my partner is, the happier I'm going to be. While this notion represents a belief that most people would agree with, few couples actually live in accordance with it. Many couples are primarily motivated by the impulse to pursue their own desires even at the risk of causing distress or a sense of loss to their partner. Nearly all of the couples with whom we spoke claimed to experience a sense of pleasure and even delight in bringing greater fulfillment into the life of their partner and did not feel that they were sacrificing anything in the process of doing so. On the contrary, they claimed that the discovery of new ways to bring greater happiness into their partner’s life was one of their greatest joys.
Intolerance to grudge holding
The couples with whom we spoke, practically without exception, had an extreme intolerance to the accumulation of withheld resentments and consistently dealt with upsets and disappointments swiftly and effectively whenever they arose in the marriage.
A willingness to take personal responsibility for their part in any upsets or conflict that occurs in the marriage
While it is natural and common for most people to become defensive and blaming when they find themselves in a situation which involves feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger or hurt, most of these couples were very willing to consider their part in the creation of the circumstances that led to the breakdown and could acknowledge their responsibility with a minimum of defensiveness. While there might often be an initial impulse to defend their position or actions, the amount of time that they would spend in a defensive mode was very brief, compared to most couples, before they became willing to recognize and acknowledge how they might have contributed to the situation.
While most of us value honesty as a trait that is essential to good character, it is all too easy to rationalize, justify or excuse more subtle forms of dishonesty, such as white lies, justifications or exaggerations. Most of these couples were not only scrupulously honest with each other, but also were conscientious about expressing their thoughts and feelings in ways that were sensitive to their partner and rarely communicated their experiences in ways that could be characterized as being brutally honest. This combination of consistent honesty with high-level sensitivity led to a deep level of trusts and respect in the marriage.
Integrating responsible self-care with care for the marriage
What may be perhaps the greatest challenge of any marriage is that of simultaneously addressing and fulfilling one’s own needs without neglecting those of the relationship. Nearly all of the couples that we spoke with were adept at both of these aspects of their lives and tended to see them as so inextricably linked that there was no apparent conflict or even difference between the two. They frequently tended to see their own well-being as being inextricably linked to the health of their relationship and approached this responsibility with a sense of privilege, rather than a sense of duty or obligation.
Living in gratitude
For most of these people, the glass is always half-full. They are fundamentally optimistic and that sense of optimism generally spills over to their marriage as well as to other relationships in their lives. It is important to note that many of them hadn't always had a natural temperament towards optimism but had cultivated it in the course of their marriage. Many were influenced by an optimistic partner whose attitude supported them to cultivate a more positive world-view in their own lives. Consequently, there was a strong tendency to feel and express gratitude to each other and to others on an ongoing basis. This tendency to live in gratitude becomes a self-reinforcing experience that over time seems to permeate one's overall quality of life experience.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that most couples face?
Fulfilling the needs of a committed partnership without losing your sense of self.
Do all marriages require a lot of hard work?
No. We have included some couples who have not had to work hard on their relationship, but for the majority of couples it takes more effort and time in smoothing out the rough spots, at least in the early stages of the marriage, than they think it should.
An excerpt from the book "Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love" by Charlie & Linda Bloom. © New World Library. Reprinted with Permission