Opening to the table of contents reveals that Take Back Your Marriage has no chapters on communication skills or conflict resolution and none devoted to finances or sex. Instead William Doherty, a practicing therapist, professor and director of the University of Minnesota’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, focuses on overarching issues: commitment, building an intentional marriage and community connectivity.
Doherty maintains that “success in marriage today requires two ingredients that no previous generation has ever had to put together: powerful commitment combined with an intentional focus on maintaining and growing one’s marriage.”
Some chapters have catchy titles for themes that are not out of the ordinary, but Doherty always offers valuable ideas. In “Resisting Consumer Marriage” he describes the harmful effects of self-focus, personal entitlement and a predilection for disposability. To avoid a consumerist approach to marriage that often leads to divorce, both spouses need to take responsibility for change that starts with oneself.
“Take Back Time for Your Marriage” discusses overfocus on work, volunteering, recreation, television, the Internet and other common marital distracters. Practical suggestions include advice for “pursuers” and “distancers,” roles readily assumed in unsatisfactory relationships.
Other chapters have not only provocative titles but also subject matter that might surprise some readers. “Don’t lose Your Marriage to Your Kids” could sound crazy to couples raising children. Don’t parents have to sacrifice for the kids? Doherty warns that children can be voracious consumers, and he has seen couples enslaved by their children’s wants and whims. He calls it a “tricky task” to be “terrific parents in a terrific marriage” and courageously recommends strategies to convert from being a child-focused couple to a marriage-centered family.
And what is a reader to make of a chapter titled “Resist Family and Friends Who Would Undermine Your Marriage”? In truth, some well-meaning kin have the consumerist mentality described earlier and do more harm than good. They are part of a predominant culture that has moved far from insisting that one must stay in even an abusive marriage to now suggesting divorce when marriage is not 100 percent personally satisfying. Even some professional therapists sabotage marriage, causing “therapist-induced marital suicide.”
A list of dos and don’ts, and a page of questions to ask a therapist before making an appointment will help readers avoid incompetent or overly individualistic marriage counseling.
Anyone intent on bringing down their marriage needs only two years to devastate even a good union. If that is your wish, flip to chapter seven for step-by-step directions. If instead you want to avoid divorce and/or enhance your marriage, keep reading.
The second half of the book describes how to build an intentional marriage through connection and intimacy rituals, my favorite chapters. Numerous creative rituals developed by other couples are described.
Finally Doherty shares ideas on how a couple can build up a supportive community, although he admits that he is no expert on that score. To cap all his good tips he advises an enthusiastic reader to proceed carefully and avoid alienating a spouse with too much of a good thing. That sage advice is but one example of the combination of wisdom and realism that marks this good book.