Thriving Marriages, 2nd edition
Even though conflicts inevitably arise in marriage, they are challenging nonetheless. Research shows that Christians are less likely to divorce than non-religious individuals. However, it is essential that Christians be consistently reminded of what a life-long commitment entails, and that they be given the skills to handle daily marital struggles. If left unresolved, conflicts can break apart marriages. How can married couples better handle their disagreements? Dr. John Yzaguirre, Ph.D., and his wife, Claire Frazier-Yzaguirre, MFT, M. Div., provide a how-to guide for married couples who want to keep their marriages strong. Their book, Thriving Marriages, is now in its second edition and provides an approach to strengthening marriage that incorporates both Christian spirituality and psychology. The Yzaguirres write for the lay person, avoiding complicated language. Additionally, they offer practical tips for couples to adapt to their daily lives.
Thriving Marriages focuses on three keys to promoting unity in a marriage: empathy, autonomy, and mutuality. Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre write that these three factors (empathy – other, autonomy – self, and mutuality – both) affect the marital relationship overall. The authors also present helpful questionnaires and inventories for the reader at the end of each section of the book.
The authors begin by listing suggestions for spouses to increase their emotional connection to each other. They recommend making room in their hearts for each other, becoming interested in each other’s feelings, and validating those feelings.
Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre go on to explain that spouses can also make room in their hearts by fulfilling each other’s needs and wants. The authors confirm that it is essential for spouses to communicate these to each other and to perform visible, concrete acts of love to show their love for one another.
Finally, the Yzaguirres assert that compassion is at the root of empathy. Spouses are empathetic when they love one another with “intelligent love” and are motivated out of love for each other. The authors remind readers that Christ’s death on the cross is the perfect example of sacrificial love and that married couples actively love God by loving each other.
Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre then go on to relate the individual person to a house with seven rooms. The state of the individual houses (individual spouses) affects the quality of a marriage.
The first room, family, consists of systemic, familial relationships. The authors recommend that spouses decide which relationships (besides their own marital relationship) require the most attention.
The second room, work, can sometimes consume identities. However, Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre distinguish between “working to live” and “living to work”. They encourage couples to discern how much time they dedicate to their respective jobs. The authors remind spouses that careers should not define the entirety of their self-worth; rather, work is a part of a much bigger picture.
The authors acknowledge that the soul is the most significant room in the house, explaining that spouses take care of this room by paying attention to their relationship with God and how God wants them to treat others. In this place, spouses find their true identities, the meaning and purpose of their lives. The Yzaguirres reiterate God’s ultimate role as teacher and author of love.
Thriving Marriages also discusses the significance of friends, and how friendships strengthen marital relationships. Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre remind spouses that through participation in community activities, they can also learn how to give of themselves more freely to each other.
In the remaining part of their book, Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre describe the foundations of effective communication, unity, and mutuality. The authors recall an important Scripture passage: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matt 18:20). Christ is fully present in a marriage when both spouses commit to loving each other freely. The authors say that “love is like a fire that needs to be fed constantly” (122). In other words, a husband and wife must choose to love each other no matter what happens. The Yzaguirres recognize that worry and anxiety can override individuals in the midst of financial crises, illnesses, etc. However, the authors advise spouses to prioritize their marriage in spite of these legitimate concerns.
Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre emphasize that the unity of spouses is only attained through devotion to Christ: “Unity and Jesus Forsaken [Jesus’ abandonment on the Cross] are intrinsically linked; we cannot understand and live one without the other” (125). The authors recommend that in times of suffering, spouses place their love for each other before all else, striving for unity and calling on Jesus with great courage. They conclude this section by asserting that unconditional, marital love transforms a couple’s individual and mutual suffering into new life.
The book could have been strengthened if it acknowledged and discussed the challenging process of forgiveness and reconciliation between persons. Yzaguirre and Yzaguirre discussed the absolute necessity of daily forgiveness, and even provided an extensive guide for spouses to attain genuine reconciliation. However, although forgiveness is absolutely possible through Christ, it is not easy to attain. Forgiveness can sometimes take years to manifest itself. Spouses (and people in general) need not fear if forgiveness (either forgiving another person, or being forgiven) does not happen instantaneously.
The strengths of Thriving Marriages are many. The authors accurately emphasized both the psychological and spiritual dimensions of a thriving marriage; it is evident that these aspects go hand-in-hand with each other. The authors used language that was easy for readers to understand, they offered helpful tips that re-capped the most significant points in each section, and they even provided questionnaires at the end of each chapter. The book is highly applicable for non-married persons as well, in that it provides room for personal reflections on relationships.
Currently studying psychology and theology at Saint Vincent College, Alexandra Lahoud is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.
Disclaimer: Book reviews do not imply and are not to be used as official endorsement by the USCCB of the work or those associated with the work. Book reviews are solely intended as a resource regarding publications that might be of interest to For Your Marriage visitors.