on February 22, 2002
This extraordinary book is about much more than negotiation. It is really about the nature of marriage. Through her successful family therapy practice and her own personal growth, the author has achieved tremendous insights into the assumptions that Americans bring to marriage, how these assumptions can cause problems for us, and how we can rethink our assumptions in order to make our marriages work, or work better.
Carter shows how the traditional model of marriage has not changed fast enough to successfully support the other ways that society has changed. The traditional model is one breadwinner and one homemaker in a heterosexual first marriage. This is how most of us were raised, and perhaps more importantly, it is the model that society, for the most part, is currently set up to support and value. While many young people today intend to share expenses and responsibilities equally with their partners, when we get married, especially if we have children, we tend to unconsciously fall back into thinking according to the traditional model. There's nothing wrong with both partners choosing a traditional marriage; the problem is that many of us do not make fully conscious choices about marriage. Instead, we unwittingly buy into a model that does not in fact (usually) serve either party well.
What's particularly brilliant about the way that Carter explores these issues is that she shows the reader why it matters and how it can change. The book includes useful stories about real people's marriages, and the emphasis is on what was making these people unhappy, what was keeping them from seeing all of their options, how they learned to consider and embrace new options, and whether and how their marriages changed. Because the stories are selected so well and integrated so nicely with the broader exploration of social issues, the book is easy to read and the relatively complex social issues are made very accessible.
The book does not say that money always equals power, but points out that the two are generally equated in American society. It also points out that without autonomy, people do not generally feel equal -- because they really aren't equal in the sense of having the same options. Autonomy--being able to stand on one's own--is so linked with money, not just emotionally, but in reality, that it is important for us to understand the implications of who makes how much money and how the money is shared.
The book also makes it clear that there are two kinds of power, "power over and power to." The book does not advocate that anyone use power over another person, whether that power is in the form of money, affection, or anything else. It does show us why people sometimes do that, and how to think about and deal with people who come from that perspective. It also shows us how people can learn to use the "power to" make themselves happier. Many women are uncomfortable with any type of power, including the power to be happy and even to protect ourselves. This book helps us understand why it is a bad idea to pretend that there are no power issues or power struggles in a relationship, and why it is a good idea to learn more about these dynamics. But its focus is by no means how to win a power struggle. Rather, it shows us how a better understanding of these dynamics can help us negotiate a win-win marriage.
It also, by the way, describes how to negotiate a win-win divorce, with emphasis on how to best support and nurture children during and after divorce.
The book also emphasizes the importance of looking at the family as a system, and shows how our experiences in our families of origin play a shockingly large role in our relationships with our spouses. It includes very helpful examples of how people have reconnected with their "impossible" parents in order to learn more about themselves and the family themes that have shaped their expectations and assumptions (which are often hidden).
In short, this is a book about how to be happier. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to be happier in a committed relationship.
on September 25, 2001
I love it when a book makes me stop in my tracks and think, "Wait a minute, that makes sense. Why haven't I ever thought to look at things that way?"
This book incorporates not only the premise that problems arise within a family system but also within the context of cultural assumptions. Our society values earning and power, thus the Golden Rule (She/he who has the gold, rules). Though each marriage partner has individual problems, these problems arise from the patterns of relating we learn from our parents and our families of origin. Until we understand them, we recreate them in our own marriages. This book, along with David Schnarch's book, Passionate Marriage, will really get your brain churning!