The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, written by Shaunti Feldhahn (Multnomah Books, 2013) is available for download on NYPL.org, through their app or online in pdf format.
Before I begin my review of this book I want to share the table of contents. The table of contents are as follows:
- The Truth about Highly Happy and You
- Highly Happy Couples…Know Little is Big
- …Believe the Best
- …Go to Bed Mad
- …Keep Score
- …Boss Their Feelings Around
- …Have Factual Fantasies
- …Use Sign Language
- …Hang Out
- …Don’t Tell it Like it is
- …Look Higher
- …Get in Over their Heads
- …Think They Hit the Jackpot
- …Putting the Secrets to Work
These guiding passages are meant to “unlock delight in your marriage”. Some of the feedback the authors received include “you saved my marriage” and “I paused the divorce filings”. It is not difficult to see this might occur when you read the titles of the chapters. They are all positive and can be applied to any relationship, especially one where the partners were truly friends and are in a rut they are trying to breakthrough. After all, the author does this work with her husband. They previously published For Women Only and For Men Only to offer guidance specifically to people identifying with either or these groups or roles. In this book, Feldhahn combines the responsibilities of partnership.
As I perused the Table of Contents I noticed two chapters I wanted to discuss further. In general, you must begin with the idea that people are better off asking what works and has brought happiness before rather than looking for a problem to solve, per se. For the couples who participated in the research, they were able to identify that they were happy together, but there was no one particularly specific thing, something tangible to others that could steer them in the perfect direction.
Chapter 5. Keeping Score-This chapter is not about the way in which we usually keep score in a relationship. Perhaps keeping a tally of what each of you has done right or wrong. This remains in the realm of punishment and reward which requires a winner and a loser. Instead of looking at it this way, keep track of what you owe your spouse in gratitude and generosity. Don’t attempt to fill the void of mistakes they’ve made. This is the same as building a wall between the two of you because of the pain they’ve caused.
Chapter 7. Factual Fantasies-Fantasies are not always shared between partners. It is a mature thing to discuss and explore the fantasies we have but we cannot expect them to comply or enjoy the same idea. In this chapter, the author suggests that we be grateful for the ways in which our partners can meet our needs. Again, instead of looking at what is not happening, look at what is happening. Avoid putting emphasis on what they cannot deliver, and, by deliver, it means NOT to create scenarios where your partner feels uncomfortable or anxious and participates simply to please you. This is very personal and boundaries should be discussed in a relationship. Keeping a fantasy factual doesn’t mean to not have a fantasy, it means to realize your desire within the comforts of your partners willingness. You can only change yourself. If your partner isn’t ready to listen or reframe expectations then you’ll be trapped in their un-reality.
I recommend this book for couples who need new methods of looking at the same behaviors. The advice in this book is based on research of couples that fall into different categories. Obviously, the information used in this book was taken from the group identified as “highly happy”. It may seem daunting to someone who doesn’t feel positive about their relationship or isn’t ready to improve. It can simply feel lame to read through a smiling text at all the light bulb ideas they have to keep their spy vs spy relationship fresh and fun. Some of us are in relationships that are far more complicated than this text can address. That is why I recommend this book to couples who need a little hot sauce on their plate, not at entirely new dinner.