Martha’s Bookshelf: Marriage Rules
I believe this book should be required reading for anyone hoping to interact successfully with any other human, not just for those in romantic relationships. Because Lerner’s advice is so pragmatic and so clear, it is fun to practice her rules for successful couplehood in any interaction, from pillow talk to the exchange with the barista at Starbucks. (And perhaps for some of us, both of these at the same time.)
Here’s just one simple example: Lerner points out that when we are falling in love—what she calls the “Velcro stage”—we automatically pay far more attention to our partner’s positive attributes than to anything negative. (I myself have a history of overlooking small details like sexual orientation.) As the relationship goes forward, this shifts until many of us end up doing exactly the opposite—focusing on negative to the exclusion of huge positive attributes. Lerner gives us a very simple numeric ratio; during courtship, we tend to give our partners five instances of positive reinforcement for every critical or negative interaction. Most married couples criticize each other five times as much as they offer positive feedback. Start counting. Flip your interactions back to the stage of falling in love. Say—out loud—every positive thought that crosses your mind and send your mind in search for more. Dial down the criticism until the ratio is five to one in favor of kindness.
As I read Marriage Rules and applied Harriet Lerner’s advice, I found myself becoming more cheerful and warmer inwardly, not just in my relationships. It turns out that learning to love well for the sake of one’s partner, relationship or social life in general takes me into that best aspect of myself and makes me feel more welcome in my own company. Harriet Lerner has a knack for helping us do that. Whether you’re coupled up or not, I’d give this book a read.