Turning every love guru’s advice to married couples on its head, writer and wife Elizabeth Weil tells why high passion means low stability
MOST Americans, and married people anywhere in the world who’ve heard of Elizabeth Weil, and her recent experiment, think she’s bonkers. The San Franciscobased writer and husband Daniel Duane, married in 2000, volunteered for year-long couple therapy after nine years of marriage. The surprise? They didn’t need it. It was what Weil calls an effort to see if their good marriage could get better.
In her just-released book, No Cheating, No Dying: I Had A Good Marriage, Then I Tried To Make It Better, the mother of two daughters wittily chronicles her private journey. “The idea of trying to improve our union came to me one night in bed.
I’ve never really believed that you just marry one day at the altar. I believe that you become married, slowly, over time,” she says in an email interview.
Weil convinced Duane to sign up for a pact that would test their micro-manias. “It was fascinating,” she says, “to watch the rapists tag you in a lab. I had distaste for French kissing. One therapist thought I was ‘subsumed’. You know, marriage is a teachable skill; you have to love each other completely to know what works in your marriage.”
Soon, Weil realised she was treating her marriage as “one of those things”. “I had read all about it — how to be a good mother, how to have a good home. I wasn’t doing anything to my marriage. I wanted to ask questions. Trying to figure what was really missing became irresistible,” she says about her search.
It’s a challenge, Weil feels, because modern marriages are under pressure. Couples are economic and romantic partners. They expect to face work stress, anxiety that kids gift them, and still be in love.
Excerpts from an interview:
Everyone who has heard about your book is asking, why would any halfway sane couple married for nine years opt for a yearlong training that could reveal ugly truths?
Every couple is worried what a therapy session might bring up, because we’ve tried so hard to brush the unpleasant under the carpet. For me, my relationship with my husband had to be the core of my universe; I wanted to check if it was fine. People told me, ‘You’re crazy! How can you?’ Americans have this romantic notion about marriage — either you are in love or not.
Your husband says he cooked his way back to a happy relationship. How does food help strengthen a marriage?
Dan has always been interested in food. He’d cook in the early years of our marriage, then he started cooking for the kids; he made it his passion. The kitchen is a great place for a couple and family to bond.
What is the one marital misdeed that could prove threatening?
It’s a personal thing. For some, it could be infidelity. For me, it would be giving up. For instance, not paying attention to the other, not acknowledging that something’s wrong and then addressing it. Marriage is so complex, you can’t let it stagnate. A bad marriage is like ill health. Don’t wait to go to a doctor till you are very sick; you won’t make it.
Imago therapy, you say, helped you focus on how your relationship with your parents had an impact on your marriage. How are parents and a spouse linked?
The way we are raised as children, shapes us. If you’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with your parents, it’ll reflect in your dynamics with your spouse. The therapy looked at the baggage people carry from their origin. My close relationship with my parents was in fact, one of the few points of contention in our marriage.
Pick one session you’d tag as the most bizarre?
The Mastering the Mysteries of Love session demanded that we play the character of the spouse. I’ve spent years talking to him, listening to him. But this role play was bizarre. I ‘became’ him. The last stage of our training involved sex therapy.
‘Improving my marriage in one area often caused problems in another. More passion meant less stability,’ you say. Explain that?
Passion can be explosive; it’s risky. Nobody can remain in a constant state of passion. Marriage requires calm, peace and routine. Stability and long-term passion in a marriage can’t co-exist. More passion means less stability.
In India, urban marriages are falling apart. There are trust issues. How would you convince singles in favour of marriage?
Marriage is amazing but you need to be committed. In a marriage, every day isn’t beautiful. It’s the being together for long where the beauty lies.
Writer Elizabeth Weil and her husband signed up for a marriage improvement project to see if they could make their good marriage better
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