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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As a pastor, I have read many books on the subject of helping marriages because that is an important part of my ministry. However, this is the most radical, realistic and useful book I have ever seen. It is applicable not only to the average marriage but also to the more challenging ones like depression, personality disorders, alcoholism, and addictions.
I am very disappointed with many Christian authors of books on marriage who are so unreal and with many authors of books for family members of the mentally ill who don't say enough. Here is a book I can use in counseling others
After 10 years of marriage, a man's wife was diagnosed as a high functioning person with borderline personality disorder. Afterwards, she did not function on the same level as before.

For three and a half years, her husband did about everything Dr. Coleman says not to do in his chapter on depression in marriage. As a result, he ended up depressed himself after giving too much of himself away trying to hold the family together.
With the help of therapists and reading books like Imperfect Harmony, Wild at Heart, and No More Mr. Nice Guy, he found help to grow a long way from where he was a year and a half ago.
Marriage to anyone with a mental illness or addiction is under extreme pressure. Staying married for the children's sake and still be happy or wondering if you should stay married in such an imperfect harmony is the theme of this book.
Coleman writes of the various parts of a hoped for marriage that must be let go of. He writes about getting your focus off the spouse and onto what in your childhood attracted you to such a needy person. The author's definition of "toxic chemistry" is a helpful insight.
He challenges readers to work through their toxic brooding, despair, and chronic feelings of resentment. Then we can develop empathy and emotional seperatedness.
It is crucial to answer his question from chapter 3. How much meaning do you have in your life apart from your marriage?
Contrary to many other authors, he says that communication is not enough. Just because one has imperfect harmony in one's marriage does not mean you should leave.
He proposes good reasons for staying married with children present, even if your spouse is difficult or not fulfilling. Staying in such a marriage need not destroy you to be loved by them. However, he honestly states that in the case of physical abuse and extreme mental health issues the need to leave is very clear.
The major intent of this book is to help readers to see if it possible and necessary to stay in an imperfect harmony with one?s spouse without loosing themselves or their good impact as parents. His chapters on "Depression in Marriage", "The High-Conflict Marriage," and "Is Change Possible" are worth the price of the whole book.
One cannot and must not read this book at supersonic speed. It is a rich book to read, reflect upon, and dwell upon its searching questions. Reading it in conjunction with one's therapist will bring you the most benefits from this book.
Thank you Dr. Coleman for writing this book. I hope seminaries use your book in their marriage and family counseling courses for future pastors.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
"While nothing prepares us for what marriage is going to be like, the same can be said of divorce with children." ~ Joshua Coleman

How do you let go of your fairy-tale idea of marriage, maintain harmony and also take care of your children in a nurturing environment...when you no longer feel "in love" with your partner? This brings out a variety of complex issues that create waves of emotional response even for those who have yet to consider their options. When you decide to enter into a long-term relationship, you may not be aware of the challenges ahead.

"..the heady phase of newfound romance doesn't last, and that's often a disappointment, no matter how seasoned we are in relationships. It's disheartening because it means that we have to either break up or start dealing with our expectations of what a real relationship is going to be like with this person. This means moving into the uncomfortable realm of facing the imperfections of our partner and ourselves."

In the throws of initial infatuation and limerence, the future seems perfectly ordered and you can't imagine ever wanting to be apart from the person you imagine is your soul mate. Then the chemicals wear off and you start to experience the roller coaster ride of marriage that has highs and lows and various stages where we enter challenges that require personal growth. This is the time where either your heart takes over or your mind kicks into high gear and you start to solve problems with creative flair or a determination to save your marriage "no matter what."

Joshua Coleman provides a wise and compassionate view of marriage. He understands the dangers the dissolution of the family presents. He understands how parents worry about their children when they are away from home and why providing a caring and nurturing environment is better for the long-term emotional stability of children. As parents move through stages of denial, anger and bargaining they may come to a moment of acceptance and then find the required compassion to forgive and then move forward into a new stage of the relationship.

If you think your childhood is affecting your marriage, there is an entire chapter on the subject. Being neglected as a child is just as painful as being abused and the affects can later appear in your own marriage. This book sheds light on how the neglect or abuse causes you to react in your own marriage and how this can affect your children. With each problem, there is also a solution. The "Path for Change" sections give ideas for how to adapt or reverse situations that are completely in your control. This book will also help you understand why criticism can seem to be an act of betrayal or why self-destructive behaviors can be an attempt to manage fear. This chapter is especially interesting as it explains problems in a marriage from a perspective I had never considered.

"If your parent was depressed or neglectful, there might have been a reversal of roles. Rather than having the experience of being taken care of, you may have had to take care of your parent." ~Joshua Coleman

Imperfect Harmony is a book for anyone who is married, whether they have children or are considering starting a family. Even if you never intend to have children, but you are considering a divorce, this book could explain the real reasons your relationship is falling apart and there may be time to save your marriage. If you are depressed, this book also shows that when you are in a difficult relationship, it can affect your self-esteem. Anxiety, social withdrawal, sleep problems and decreased pleasure are only some of the effects discussed in this brilliant and enlightening book.

What can you do when your partner is depressed?

How do you deal with your own needs in a marriage?

What do you do when a partner withdraws sexually? (The humorous "Eleven Strategies to Guarantee a Bad Sex Life" is rather revealing and gives ideas for change.)

How do you avoid having an affair when your needs are not being met?

What should you do when a partner is verbally abusive?

How can you reduce conflict?

The "Eleven Ways to Work on Yourself" is a good way to balance out your life and create new priorities. The "Different Kinds of Marriage" encourage you to accept the stage your marriage is currently in or is heading towards.

Joshua Coleman presents creative ways to save your marriage that include everything from an "in-house separation" to "planning to separate after the kids are grown."

This is a must-read manual for marriage. This book will give hope to anyone who is married and feels that they are struggling to save a marriage alone. It will also provide a much-needed escape into "someone understands." With this book, you may truly be able to save your marriage and create a situation where you feel comfortable and secure. In this environment, you can then face all the additional challenges of raising children and balancing your career, emotional needs and spiritual goals.

For many, divorce is not an option and this book helps anyone in a situation where they are determined to stay married. Too often people casually advise walking away from a marriage, when truly a marriage is a learning experience and one of the most challenging experiences of your life. They don't seem to understand what you are fighting for and for some people, their marriage is extremely important and not something they casually entered into without consideration.

It is very satisfying to see an author take on this subject and make "staying married" very possible. This book will empower women who want to stay married! It is also a book that will give you deeper insight into the issues facing everyone who is married. We are all on a journey towards balance in our lives and this book is an excellent guide to balancing your needs with the needs of your children.

~The Rebecca Review

10 years and counting...
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am not a fan of self-help books. Most of my clients find them difficult to read with a straight face and even more difficult to implement the "wisdom" they contain. This book is not one of those books.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist and educator, I have to say that this book is the one book I've been waiting for since beginning to do therapy with couples and families. Coleman takes an unblinking and compassionate look at just what it takes for couples to begin to look at the difficult issues that often accompany a now rather predictable phase of marriage: the point where one thinks, "If it weren't for the kids, I'd be gone!"
In close to a decade of seeing couples joined by marriage and long-term (non-marital) commitment, I have yet to see a couple that did not reach a point where they questioned whether the marriage was indeed still viable. Typically couples come into therapy much too late to successful address their concerns past this painful point. With this volume, the therapeutic community as well as the rest of us struggling with relationships has an intelligent, practical response.
Coleman begins his book by acknowledging that as a society we've placed a heavy burden on the institution of marriage; we'd do best to consider the axiom that marriage or long-term commitment is and should be the answer to our deep wishes for the alleviation of loneliness or as the answer for a lifetime of excitement and fun. "Marriages," Coleman writes, "...are affected by the outdated memories of our parents' examples as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers [but] our expectations have to be tempered by understanding what's reasonable to expect from any marriage. Part of my goal is to give you tools to determine whether you should keep pushing for change, stay and accept it for what it is, or get out."
And Coleman delivers on what he promises. He gives us a step-by-step (but not formulaic) way of understand the issues that drive our marriages apart and truly help us look at whether it is possible to stay and still feel like we haven't compromised our sense of self, values and principles. The book is not just about having an intellectual understanding about the things that drive us apart. This volume is filled with strategies for addressing the issues, and neatly divided into sections that examine the "Effect on the Marriage," e.g., with depression, and specific "Paths for Change" i.e., what to do about THAT specific problem.
His focus is in the right place, as well--how to work through the difficult feelings of hopelessness that accompany a relationship crisis while at the same time protecting our children from what is most unsatisfying and difficult in that relationship. He doesn't shy from tackling the issues at the heart of most relationship difficulties-past trauma and how it impacts the couple; the insidious effects of depression; differences in sexual desire/the challenges of affairs; and emotional and physical abuse and violence. The book is worth purchasing alone for the discussion of "Depression In Marriage" since it is often the most overlooked contributor to marital difficulty when it is undiagnosed. In my experience, I have seen hundreds of couples who walk into therapy blaming each other and are shocked to find out that one or both of them has been dealing with a severe depression for years and years and thinking it was "just the way things are with (him or her)." The other crucial chapter, in my opinion, is "Message From the Past" which simply but very effectively lays out how your childhood can affect your marriage, choice of partner and strategies you choose in trying to get what you want. It was also important to me that the book was endorsed by Julia Lewis, the psychologist who coauthored "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce," the groundbreaking long-term study of the effect of divorce on children. In the end, I think Coleman tells us that in most cases one doesn't really have to choose between staying for the sake of the kids and leaving for our own sake. Imperfect Harmony is a roadmap for addressing both options with dignity and intelligence.
Who should buy this book? The author says, "It's written for those who are ready to call it quits but know that others are counting on them to keep it going. It is written for those who are weighted down with loneliness and envy of all the seemingly happy couples who don't have to struggle so much to make things work." Coleman seems to be a therapist and writer who understands his audience well. But he underestimates his potential audience of readers. I would add that this is a book not only for married couples, but for every couple to read before they marry, insofar as it allows the couple to more realistically understand what marriage is and isn't. This book should also be on every clinician's shelf. You'll refer to it, you'll photocopy pages for your clients and you may just read it yourself when you are wondering just how to create and preserve an imperfect harmony in your own relationship.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
We have been married for twenty-seven years. Although our children are no longer at home, my husband and I were inspired by Dr. Coleman's book. We thought an alternative title could have been "How to Have a Satisfying Marriage". He recommends taking responsibility for one's own life and not looking to a partner for completion. Although a great read, Dr. Coleman's scholarly work draws on the research of anthropologists, psychologists and scientists. This is a book for all those who wish to be fulfilled in their own lives. We give this book two thumbs up!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Coleman's work is surely to raise an eyebrow or two for its novel approach to resolving marital discord and dissatisfaction. His premise that the adults in the relationship should work for a rapproachment (if total peace is not possible) for the sake of the children will not be popular in a culture where no-fault divorce is the preferred solution.
What I love about this book is the way Dr. Coleman approaches marriage; realistically. You may have started out with what you felt was a "match made in heaven," or you may have been under an illusion that yours was a match made in heaven, but when things look like they are going south, this does not mean you bail.
Can you accept half a loaf (half a loaf is better than none)? How about a quarter or even an eighth of a loaf to ensure that your child's life is disrupted as little as possible? After all, it is all about the kids.
This book has a number of vignettes where Dr. Coleman is working with clients to change their expectations, or at the least help them to establish realistic expectations. He even goes so far to instruct partners how to live separate lives within their own home if getting along is no longer an option.
Imperfect Harmony takes a look at marriage unlike any book I have ever read on the subject. Sometimes things happen and things don't work out, but this is not to mean that everyone (especially the children) cannot live happily ever after.
If your marriage is in trouble, if you know someone with marital problems, or if you are interested in the topic of marriage as a counseling profession, this is a wonderful book to have. As a soon-to-be counselor I can actually envision myself using this book in couples and family therapy; assigning parts of the book for the clients to read for discussion in therapy.
Five plus stars for Imperfect Harmony.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In a sea of glib, peppy books that promise to transform a messy marriage into a fairy-tale romance in six (or seven or nine) easy steps, Imperfect Harmony is a bastion of practicality, sanity, and hope. No bogus promises here. If you want to stay together for your kids or just want to have a happier marriage, this smart, no-hype volume gives you a detailed roadmap for navigating your way through complex relationship issues.
Author Joshua Coleman never sugar-coats or flinches from the less-than-glamorous truth. He furnishes a toolbox of practical suggestions and exercises that can help you improve and sweeten your marriage. Real-life examples, drawn from Coleman's psychotherapy practice, illustrate in unvarnished detail exactly how couples can work to resolve specific issues. The outcomes may not always be sprinkled with self-help pixie dust, but they work in the real world.
Imperfect Harmony is radical in its perspective, compassionate in its tone, and rare in its honesty. Its no-bull quality is refreshing and somehow reassuring. This is a generous book, and the author seems to genuinely care about his readers. If you're looking for a quick fix (hey, let me know if you find one) or don't want to work on your marriage, this book isn't for you. But if you want to build a more loving, lasting relationship, this book could make all the difference.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Imperfect Harmony is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have worked to stay married, but often staying for reasons which seem socially unacceptable. This book helped validate 20 years of my life. Dr. Coleman takes a realistic view of what is going on in contemporary society, staying married for the sake of the kids. I felt even further validated by the practical tools he offers which work to finely tune my entire family system!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Of course this book seems like it is for people who are married and have children and the marriage isn't so hot. And of course it is. But it is much more than that. It has the amazing ability to be a self-help book for everyone who has something in their life that they cannot necessarily change to their complete satisfaction, but still want to make the best of. The idea that you can stay married even if it is not blissful, is RADICAL. In fact, it is so radical it seems old-fashioned. Grit your teeth and bear it for the kids? NO! There is a way for women and men to have great lives with or without the partner of their dreams. It is about GETTING MORE OUT OF LIFE! And as you read Dr. Coleman's funny, touching, brilliant book, you will experience new hope no matter what is going on that is IMPERFECT in your life. Check it out. I will always be grateful that I did!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Marriage is not all `happily ever after', and when the bumpy times hit, it's good to have options. This book discusses the option of staying married through the hard times. And it's a really great read !
This book doesn't suggest martyrdom (actually, it discusses the times when leaving a marriage can be the best option). Rather, it empowers us with techniques for change, methods of coping, and new ways of looking at relationships that can lead to greater marital harmony and personal happiness. I'd even suggest this wonderful book as a wedding gift, because the techniques discussed are helpful in building and maintaining strong marriages.
Kudos to Dr. Joshua Coleman for taking on this controversial topic.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was looking at being a single mom with two small children and no job skills. Reading "Imperfect Harmony" I learned how to tolerate being in my marriage while going back to school to get my teaching credential so I can earn a living for myself and my children instead of leaving my marriage now and living in poverty. I have a lot of work a head of me, but I am grateful for this insight which I would never have considered had I not read this book. I hope other moms considering leaving their marriage will read this book and learn how to hang in there a while longer for the sake of the kids.
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