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Excerpt from the Book
During my senior year at Harvard University, my parents’ marriage dissolved,
and I met the love of my life. That year in my life was an emotional
bender like I have never experienced before – soaring hopes for my own
future clashed with deep fears about the viability of lifelong relationships.
All things being equal, I’m not sure whether it is more difficult to grow up
with separated parents or to have your understanding of the world as you
knew it completely rocked much later in life. But, my parents’ separation
was definitely one of the most painful things I had encountered up until
that point in my life. Ultimately, the combination of this pain and my
enduring hope in the possibility of lasting love fueled a relentless drive to
understand why marriages succeed or fail.
Why do half of marriages fail? Is there a way to reliably create an
uncommonly good marriage? Being academically inclined, I initially
sought the answers to these questions in graduate school. I pursued a doctoral
degree in Counseling Psychology with a specialty in relationship
therapy. I have accumulated thousands of hours of experience counseling
distressed couples and have obtained training in several pre-marital education
programs. I have worked as a clinical psychologist in academic
teaching hospitals, college counseling centers, and a successful private
practice. Currently, I am working at a Veterans hospital, helping men and
women, individuals and couples alike, to navigate a wide variety of relationship
problems and create some truly exceptional marriages.
While gaining this specific clinical expertise, I benefited greatly from
the mentorship of a nationally renowned marital researcher, Dr. Benjamin
Karney. During graduate school, I was heavily involved in conducting his
research on the processes through which initially satisfying marriages
either remain satisfying or deteriorate over time. His central study, the
Florida Project on Newlywed Marriage and Adult Development (FPNMAD),
followed approximately 200 newlyweds over the first four years of
their marriages. I interviewed a large number of these couples at various stages of their marriages. To gain even more perspective on my chosen
topic, I also wrote a 200-page dissertation summarizing the results of
more than 300 articles on how various stressors affect marriage (133 of
which I statistically meta-analyzed).
Even after all this, I had many lingering questions. The “disconnect” for
me was that many of the existing ideals for marriage fell short of helping me
understand how to create the kind of marriage that my husband and I envisioned
– that is, a marriage of equals. Most traditional models of marriage are
based on some separation of roles and a hierarchy of power in which one
spouse – usually the husband – holds a position of “headship” and leadership
in the relationship. In contrast to this, my husband and I both have very strong
professional goals and have sought to create an equal partnership, which
would be both a meeting of the minds and a joint adventure.
So, a few years after completing my doctoral degree, I set out to profile
the marriages of a set of women who might also be inclined to create a less
traditional type of partnership: many of the women I met during my undergraduate
years at Harvard. I assembled more than 200 questions and
recruited participants primarily through unofficial networks of Harvard
graduates. Word of the project spread organically, mostly through word of
mouth and invitations between friends. Even though I could not afford to
pay my research participants, my goal was to see if I could get 500 respondents
within a year. In fewer than eight months, more than 1200 women
voluntarily completed the poll.
In the Lifestyle Poll, I posed many questions about the nature of love
and marriage, such as:
- What has been your biggest personal betrayal and how has this
shaped the person you are today?
- To what extent do you agree with the statement, “A person can’t help
falling in love if they meet the right person, even if they meet that
person when he or she is already married to someone else.”
- Because of the high divorce rate, some have adapted their marital
vows to reflect the reality that love often does not last. How do you
feel about the alternative wedding vow: “As long as we both shall
love” as opposed to “As long as we both shall live”?
- What do you feel are the three biggest threats to your marriage?
- When disagreements arise, how are they usually resolved (the
response choices given were: you giving in, your husband giving in,
you both agree to disagree, and you both negotiate until you find a
- In your marriage, how do you handle attractions to other people?
- Several participants have acknowledged having ambivalent feelings
about having children – can you identify with this? How do you feel
about having children?
The insights I gathered from the Lifestyle Poll participants illustrate the
inner workings of marriages that do not necessarily make for good TV, but
who represent a highly intelligent and accomplished group of individuals
who have overwhelming created very successful marriages. While
Lifestyle Poll respondents admit to many of the same struggles that we all
encounter in long-term relationships, they also offer solid wisdom and
deep insight into the inner workings of a marriage of equals.
Ultimately, after fifteen years of intensive study and reflection, I’m left
with the conclusion that what people often think is love, is not love at all.
I’m not writing this to be a marital doomsayer, a global pessimist, or a connubial
killjoy. I write this with the best of intentions and I ask your permission
to speak bluntly.
Along these lines, I’ll admit that my driving goal is to completely explode
the model of courtship that I perceive to be heavily embedded in our cultural
conversation, so that fewer people end up as casualties of marriages built on
top of landmines. I am not targeting any particular person, of course, but
rather a set of traps that too commonly ensnare us when we attach to other
people. Although I am not asking for your blind trust—and I certainly concede
that my own insights are imperfectly developed and in process—I aim
to speak with boldness and complete candor, making no efforts to temper my
insights on the predictable devastation that I see in many love relationships.
I offer this blunt and uncompromisingly honest approach for the benefit
- Those who are seeking lifelong partnerships
- Those who are navigating the early phases of an exciting new relationship
- Those who are already committed to long-term relationships who
want to improve their relationships, identify areas for further growth,
and develop a deeper understanding of the struggles that most married
couples face throughout the lifespan of a marriage
As the title of this book suggests, the model of marriage I favor is what
I call a marriage of equals, a concept that I will fully explain in Chapter 5.
A marriage of equals does not mean that chore sharing is divided exactly
down the middle on a daily basis or that roles are permanently interchangeable.
The essential core of a marriage of equals is one in which
roles are not pre-defined and in which power is shared throughout the
course of the life you create together. It is a marriage in which each person
is equally valued and equally respected, where there is significant
flexibility and crossover in roles, and one in which both partners feel that
they are getting the deal of a lifetime to be with the partner they have.
Such a marriage comes with costs. This kind of relationship requires you
to develop certain character traits before even considering that you are
ready for marriage. It is also a relationship that requires ongoing negotiation
and intentional cultivation of the individual and shared growth of both
partners. It requires sacrifice, compromise, and the ability to handle your
own emotions with skill. To me, and to many others who are working
toward this ideal, the costs are well worth the result—a love that ripens
like a fine wine over the years of your union.
To describe this model of a marriage of equals and to provide you with
clear guidance on how to create and sustain an exceptional marriage, I will
cover the following terrain in chapters to come:
In Chapter 1, I lay the groundwork for my argument about what it really
takes to create and sustain an exceptional marriage. I do this by constructing
an intentional contrast with a dangerously stupid model for how to find love
that will last a lifetime. There are many cultural and media-based examples
of poor models for launching and maintaining healthy relationships, but I
will focus on one that is regularly transmitted to an audience of more than 10
million viewers – ABC’s The Bachelor/The Bachelorette franchise. The result
is a lighthearted, yet deliberately disturbing, case study of the ways in which
we overlook the coercive power of a dizzying array of psychological factors
that compel feelings of false love.
The remainder of this book is divided according to my three-phase
model of successful love relationships. This three-phase model is: 1) All
love relationships kick off with a “cocaine-rush” phase, 2) some relationships survive and thrive through a prolonged “testing” phase, and 3) highly
successful relationships ultimately achieve a state of what I refer to as
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 are associated with the initial cocaine-rush phase of
romantic relationships. Chapter 2 will expand your understanding of the
three-stage course of a healthy relationship by closely examining the process
of falling in love. This chapter will help you to see the difference between
false love and real, sustainable love, with frequent application to real-life situations
and scenarios. Chapter 3 is a frank discussion of the importance of
reflecting on what you have to offer to the kind of partner you hope to find.
Related to this idea, I will also present an argument about why it is important
that you develop certain character qualities before considering yourself ready
for marriage. Chapter 4 reveals strategies and models to help you discern the
character and potentials of possible life partners.
Chapters 5 and 6 are associated with the testing phase of love relationships.
Chapter 5 fully describes the concept of a marriage of equals. To do this, I
draw heavily from the results of the Lifestyle Poll, sharing the perspectives of
a remarkable group of women. I also draw on my own insights, relevant clinical
examples, high-quality social psychology studies, and my dissertation
research, which examined the effects of different types of stress on marriage
in a collective group of more than 164,000 married individuals.
Chapter 6 offers a fresh take on a number of the usual suspects in the
destruction of a good marriage—chore sharing, sexual problems, co-parenting,
and financial stress, to name a few—examining these problem
areas from the vantage point of a marriage of equals. I use data and examples
from the Lifestyle Poll to illustrate particular areas of challenge and
to provide creative solutions to these difficult, though common, problems.
Chapter 7 focuses on the tested romanticism phase of highly satisfying
long-term relationships. This chapter closely examines the final chapter of
an exceptional marriage and describes what you have to look forward to if
you’ve successfully created a marriage of equals.
Finally, this book comes with a warning: reading this book will probably
challenge your notions of romance and may permanently redefine your
understanding of love. As in the movie The Matrix, you have the option of
taking the “blue pill” or the “red pill.” If you want the truth, you risk
exposing yourself to a reality you may not like, but, in doing so, you have
a better chance of making your life authentic and informed, and, consequently,
you then have a much better shot at putting yourself among the
successful half of marriages.
An Excerpt From Shauna's Upcoming Release
So, there you have it-the essential elements of the hired experts' nefarious plot to systematically set people up using a number of scientific principles to forge what feels like bonds of love, only to emotionally disembowel people on national TV. My purpose in engaging in this exercise (that is, projecting the hypothetical thought patterns of a panel ofunethical psychological consultants) is not to challenge the show's ability to entertain us. People will still watch it, in the same way one person is driven to say, "Whew, what a bad smell ... here ...smell this," and the other person is driven to obligingly lower his or her nose to the foul-smelling object. Rather, my purpose is to dispel any illusion that what is manufactured on The Bachelor is anything like "love," by laying bare the show's manipulative elements. The cards are stacked so that almost anyone on the show would experience the feeling of falling in love.
The show is ultimately very successful in achieving its goal, which does not appear to be the creation of lasting love relationships, but the facilitation ofendlessly entertaining scenarios generated by colliding chemicallyaltered people together. The psychological and emotional fallout of these collisions does not seem to be a serious concern to the network, or a reason to scale back the show's manipulations. I once thought that the show would fade away after its initial launch in 2002 because I lost my own taste for watching it after the first few seasons, but when I tuned back in to the two most recent cycles ofthe show (in 2011), it soon became apparent that the show's producers have become increasingly unrestrained in advancing their agenda. In fact, I was disturbed to witness three additional manipulative elements in the script ofthe show. The first is the increased tendency for the host to plant foolish ideas that seem to be (more often than not) swallowed whole by the bachelor or bachelorette. For instance, in the 2011 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, one of the "stock" lines issued by host Chris Harrison in the very first show ofthe season, after the bachelor and bachelorette have just laid eyes on their respective pools of contestants, is "Do you think your future wife (or husband) is in that room?" Essentially, the thrust of this statement is that after just clapping eyes on a set of attractive strangers, one ought to be mentally projecting toward a decision that will be legally and emotionally binding for the rest of one's life (even when two people divorce, continuing legal and emotional ties often have a significant effect on both partners for the rest of their lives). This emotionally manipulative statement, a form of psychological priming, is paired with an effort to convince the bachelor or bachelorette that the path to true love requires one to "trust one's feelings."
Both of the 2011 cycle lead contestants (Bradley Womack and Ashley Hebert) swallowed this faulty logic entirely, both uttering versions of the statement, "Last time I was on the show, I held back from trusting my feelings. This time, I don't want to have any regrets, because life is too short, so I'm going to put myself out there and trust what I feel no matter what." During the second episode ofthe season, Ashley Hebert, a contestant with a significant family history of alcoholism who characterizes herself as a "storybook-romance kind of girl" says, "After this week of dating, I can say that I think my husband is standing in this room," and announccs just prior to the second rose ceremony, "I feel strongly that this is working and that my husband is in this room." (Of course, it soon became clear that her judgment was dangerously impaired, as she had fallen head over heels for a sadistic man who appeared devoid of a conscience).
The second unfortunate new development in more recent seasons is the staging of narcissistic fantasies that quickly become subsumed into the "love story." It's as though the contestants have been selected by the MakeA -Wish Foundation for the fulfillment of whatever grandiose fantasies they may have, usually something on the theme of performing for thousands of people or having dinner in the middle of the Bellagio fountain, which "no one has ever done before." As the 2011 season's bachelorette, Ashley Hebert said, "1 live in a fairy tale .. .I'm going to be dancing in front of two thousand people ...l seriously got the chills." From this admission, it is but a hop, skip, and a jump for someone to feel, 'This must be love, because I feel so amazing when I'm with [insert whoever happens to be on the narcissistically stimulating date]."
The third disturbing new development is what I would call "the trauma pitch." That is, there seems to be an unchecked expectation that contestants reveal their deepest traumas during their first one-on-one conversations with the bachelor or bachelorette. As a professional counselor, 1 find it very disturbing to watch contestants open up about alcoholic parents, brain hemorrhages, deaths of their beloved first spouses, and other traumas of similar depth to another person they have just met (and an anonymous viewing audience of 10 million people). Due to limited and unpredictable access to the bachelor or bachelorette, there is intense pressure to "make a pitch"-that is, to form a sound bite about how one's deepest trauma has taught them some valuable life lesson, usually some variant ofone ofthese three or four themes ...
"The experience of [insert horrible trauma that the bachelorlbachelorette and audience have no right to know] has taught me to ...."never take life for granted/make the most out of every day/tell the people I care about that I love them more often/make the most out of the chances I'm given."
On the basis of this trauma pitch, a person's character is weighed and judged (by the bachelorlbachelorette and the huge, anonymous viewing audience). What a terrible model for the development of trust and appropriate timing of self-disclosures in an intimate relationship!
For the show's producers, there is no apparent downside to all of the emotional suffering they are creating. After all, the shrapnel of a disastrous "love" collision from this season's show may become next season's star, in a "rebound" relationship scenario that endlessly repeats itself. Can there be anything more emotionally dangerous, and less romantic, than a show that predictably fails to result in sustainable love matches? The only thing that actually appears real in the show is the emotional devastation and gut-wrenching pain ofthe heartbroken and emotionally-damaged contestants. Is it any surprise that Mike Fleiss, the real-life producer of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette also produced two re-makes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Given the intense manipulation of contestants and the unpredictable emotional carnage that ensues, the show has elements of a horror flick.
This is not to say that true love does not exist. Love can and does work, but what is widely portrayed by the media is not love, but rather examples ofunsustainable collisions. It's easy for us to be fooled because we tend to believe the cultural lore (promoted so widely in the media) that explosively positive feelings are the mark of true love. In reality, such feelings suggest three possibilities, only one of which is true love (alternatively, you could end up heart-broken or trapped in the nightmare of an abusive relationship). To continue in this vein, the next chapter focuses on what I call the cocaine-rush phase of romantic relationships, and sheds further light on how things can go terribly wrong before a relationship even leaves the gate.