First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors

So, there’s reason behind the title. It’s a pretty unfortunate title pick, for readers like me. First of all—I love therapy, and have benefitted immensely from it. I’ve never been to couples therapy, but I don’t really like the implication that marriage and family therapists are all bad at their jobs. Secondly, this is the same women who wrote The Surrendered Wife, and any feminist might be tempted to boycott the book just because of the title.

There are some questionable concepts in this book that seem kind of dated. Also, this discussion is ONLY about a male-female marriage. I think it has potential, if she were to instead say “yin” and “yang” throughout the book, rather than “husband” and “wife.” I don’t know if all relationships have that much of a clearcut dynamic, of course. But this book would be great for the person who wanted to learn to be a better yin, if their partner didn’t want to let go of being the yang.

Without getting too much into the specifics, let me just say that no one ever modeled a supremely healthy marriage communication style for me. I haven’t seen it much in books (I read mostly Young Adult, though, so I don’t know how much exposure I’ve had to married couples beyond all the Outlander books). I haven’t seen it much in the real world, since every couple out there tends to develop an individual style that works for them. Everyone has different pet peeves, everyone has different types of joy and support they get from their partners. Suffice it to say I hadn’t learned a good style for myself and my husband by observing any other couple.

I think there’s a real struggle sometimes for a woman like me, who works in the field of technology with mostly male coworkers, to take off my “work” hat and put on my “partner” hat when I get home. The parent one is easy—it isn’t so different being a self-starting responsible employee to being an authoritative yet loving parent. The wife/partner role, however, feels like it differs a lot. I don’t want to be authoritative to my husband. We’re both adults, and he already has a mom. He doesn’t need me micromanaging his life, or trying to exert control over how everything’s done.

The author, Laura Doyle, makes an interesting (and somewhat understated) point that at some time in our life, we may have learned from experiences that things only ever turn out the way we want them to when we are in control of a situation. It can be really tough for a woman who faces microaggressions EVERY DAY (real talk: this is all women, all the time) to soften up that defensive shell and be vulnerable with her partner. And that’s what it takes to release control—the courage to be vulnerable. To say, figuratively, “I trust you to handle things, and have my best interests at heart.” How many times have I “suggested” a better way (my way) to do something, in the seven years I’ve been with my husband? I think I’m being helpful. I love him, and want him to achieve greater efficiency and all that good stuff. I never wanted to admit before now that there might be a constant, implied, “Because the way you’re doing it right now is wrong” in every one of those suggestions. That’s criticism. And no one really wants to face criticism coated in helpful suggestion every damn day of their life. Constructive criticism is for your writing circles and real-talk time with your best girlfriends. It feels kind of cruel to do it to your partner all the time.

(Big Aside: An exception to this would be calling out sexism and microaggressions. As a feminist, I think it’s super important for me to call to task those around me, when I recognize sexist remarks, or thoughtless microaggressions. How else are we going to bring the rest of the world around to exercising true equality?)

Doyle explains her Six Intimacy Skills, and I have to be honest that I don’t even remember what the six skills are, even though I just finished reading the book last night. What I learned from most were the examples given in all the little sections of each chapter. Potentially real scenarios, contrasting the way you might be tempted to communicate with your partner, with the way that you could respectfully communicate with them. Honestly, who doesn’t want to treat their partner with respect? That sounds like an awesome goal.

For me, this book came along at the right time, and seemed to fit well with the type of joy I want to get out of my marriage. I have a forceful personality, as an Aries woman, and my husband has a strong personality as well, as a Taurus male. We butt heads a lot. It’s nice to get this reminder that I can soften up, be vulnerable with him in a way that I’m not with a lot of other people. There’s also an interesting chapter on receiving help/compliments/gifts more graciously, which is something I’m going to need a lot of practice with to get good at. It’s too easy to brush compliments aside if I don’t agree with them. Which is just another way to keep myself from celebrating myself when I deserve it. As if I’m not allowed to let myself be happy and confident. :/

I think this book would be great for a partner who finds themselves complaining a lot about the small things. The division of chores, managing money, gift giving, even driving styles. There’s a lot of useful, helpful information in here on how to craft a better approach to communication with a partner. If you can look past some of the more binary aspects of her discourse, and take the concepts that seem outdated with a grain of salt, you might just get exactly what you need.

True story: I’m pretty darn frustrated at this book for fixing problems in my relationship in just a few weeks that I’ve been trying to fix myself for SEVEN YEARS. It’s hard to acknowledge that I might have been part of the problem for so long. I’m good at not backing down from my position of strength and control. That hasn’t done much to really encourage equality and joy between me and my husband. We’ve gotten by just fine, of course—but things are even better now.

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