Fighting for Your Marriage. By Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg. Revised ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. Paperback. 374 pages. $16.95.

I probably wouldn’t have read this book if it weren’t for the premarital counseling that I’m currently undergoing as the date of my wedding approaches. Not that I have any real objections to marriage and relationship books; I just haven’t made it a priority to read them. A bit disappointed with Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, my first and only–that is, until now, I was left with the impression that books on relationships cannot get away from presenting caricatures of men and women. I’m glad now that I didn’t stop there.

Fighting for Your Marriage has the feel of being more of a strategy guide for effective communication than a how-to formula for a cookie-cutter successful marriage. I didn’t get the sense that I have to follow everything in the book to make marriage work. Instead, it reminded me of the different perspectives in relationships without making heavy generalizations of male and female roles. Understanding how these different perspectives result becomes key in honing the right communication skills for a stronger marriage.

The book begins with the four hallmarks of a great relationship: 1) be safe at home, 2) open the doors to intimacy, 3) do your part and be responsible, and 4) nurture security in your future together. Though these sound like four tasks that need to be done, the book builds on these four hallmarks conceptually to present four important aspects to marriage life.

Part one: “Understanding the Risks on the Road to Lasting Love.” One chapter covers ways couples destroy their relationship: 1) escalation, 2) invalidation, 3) negative interpretations, and 4) withdrawal and avoidance. Then, special attention is placed on how changing times means changing roles and rules.

Part two: “Teaming Up to Handle Conflict.” The “be safe at home” concept is especially vital in understanding communication in this section—the aphorism here is in taking turns to speak/listen. Relationships blow up because of a misunderstanding that escalates out of control, often due to filters that often distort what one is trying to convey to another—1) distractions, 2) emotional states, 3) beliefs and expectations, 4) differences in style, and 5) self-protection.

Part three: “Enjoying Each Other.” Make time for marriage as one does for an esteemed friend. The authors do not shy away from identifying the friendship aspect of marriage as being the core of long-lasting, happy marriages. Friendship needs to be nurtured, so couples need to make the time. Working on the friendship is a worthwhile investment that pays off in the long run. Of course, sensuality is given plenty of notice here as well.

Part four: “Staying the Course.” This section begins with a simple reality check: you can’t always get what you want. But that should not excuse any of the spouses from trying to meet the expectations of another. A great deal of motivation needs cultivating to get the wheels rolling. More than anything else in the section, I found the chapter on forgiveness very revealing with this point: “forgiveness is a decision to give up your perceived or actual right to get even with, or hold in debt, someone who has wronged you.”

Overall, this book has many merits, mainly because it keeps the channel of communication open for a healthy marriage by offering perspectives that make yielding hopefully more possible and manageable.

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