It’s a little awkward to be recommending a marriage advice book when my own marriage failed. Clearly, I’m no example of how to make a marriage successful, so perhaps my endorsement itself makes you swear to never look to this book. I hope not, though. We Love Each Other But… Simple secrets to strengthen your relationship and make love last is an easy-to-read book chock full of practical and effective ideas for making your partnership the strongest it can be, despite the challenges that life brings.
I feel like I’m the exception the proves the rule when it comes to the effectiveness of the approaches discussed in We Love Each Other But… I believe that implementing some of Wachtel’s advice gave my marriage an additional two years we wouldn’t have otherwise had. Over those two years, I saw my husband abandon the positive practices described in the book, one by one. I suppose his desire to leave the marriage was making itself apparent, but I didn’t see it until he said those words. “I want a divorce.”
What’s in We Love Each Other But…
When I read the book, I was embarrassed to look at the chapter headings and realize how typical I was, having allowed my marriage to grow weeds through neglect:
- We Love Each Other But … Every Decision is a Tug-of-War
- We Love Each Other But … We Get into Really Bad Arguments
- We Love Each Other But … We Don’t Have Much of a Sex Life
- We Love Each Other But … But I Have a Hard Time Dealing with my Partner’s Emotional Hang-ups
- We Used to Love Each Other But … Now I’m Not So Sure
- We Love Each Other But … Life with Children Isn’t Easy
- We Love Each Other But … Is This It?
Wachtel’s advice is straightforward. Her writing is very readable. My ex, who is NOT a self-help seeker, read the book from cover to cover and recommended it to anyone who would listen. We read it together, each with our own copy, while he was deployed in Iraq. We wrote to each other with our thoughts and reactions.
The author mixes advice with case studies of real couples.
An example of her advice is the author’s recommendation of turning potentially explosive arguments into productive discussions by walking away from the conversation when either partner gets emotional or defensive, returning to it after 10 minutes or an hour. Agree to accept it when someone calls a time out. Equally important, don’t forget the point of contention when tempers cool; find a mutually agreeable solution after the emotional component has been removed. When my ex and I were practicing this take-a-break-then-deal approach, we pretty much eliminated unproductive disagreement. After having found a space in which to think, not feel, about the conflict, it often seemed less important to have our own way. In many cases, a creative compromise became apparent.
Wachtel’s claims that her practices can be used effectively even if only partner chooses to use them. I disagree. When my husband and I agreed to discuss points of conflict after we’d overcome any initial emotional reaction, communication was stellar. We had fun together, looked forward to our time together, felt loved. When he abandoned that practice, things fell apart.
In the most extreme instance, we were in disagreement over something. I don’t recall the topic of contention. I determined that the escalation of emotion was unproductive and decided to take a shower to take a break from the conversation. My husband waited a few minutes, but then couldn’t wait to address the issue any longer. He came into the bathroom, shouting. Let me tell you, cornering a rape survivor naked in the shower is a great way to trigger a paralyzing flashback.
That whole rape issue was addressed very well in the chapter in emotional hangups.
Applied to Parenting
There are a couple of ways that the content of this book speaks to parenting. First and most obviously, there’s a chapter devoted to making room for your marriage in light of the demands of raising children. Secondly, I think that it’s worth noting that there are a number of parallels between sibling relationships and marriage, particularly if you have particularly close multiples.
We Love Each Other But… Life with Children Isn’t Easy
Wachtel starts this chapter by confronting the guilt that we parents feel for any feeling of frustration or resentment of the changes and challenges that our children bring. She reminds us that our children need their parents to project felling fulfilled as much as they need our time and attention. It’s okay to spend time and energy on your partner and marriage. After all, as my ex used to say, ours was the relationship that would still be there after the kids had moved onto their adult lives. (Oh, the irony.)
The author’s tips from this chapter are:
- Develop a ritual for you and your spouse to spend fifteen to twenty minutes alone together every day.
- Go out together.
- Have romantic “dates” at home.
- Break the rules.
- Steal a sexy moment.
She also addresses the anxiety we often feel about leaving our children in a babysitter’s care, resolving conflict over the division of child-care responsibilities, the stress of kids’ bedtime in particular and family time in general and other common concerns.
Relationship Advice that Applies to Siblings
You may have seen me write about the parallels between marriage and the twin relationship. I think that a lot of the same conflict resolution techniques work in both types of relationships.
Three of We Love Each Other But…’s basic truths about lasting love apply to siblings:
- We love those who make us feel good about ourselves.
- Most of us know what will warm our partner’s heart.
- Criticism erodes love.
I encourage my daughters to communicate the positive things they see in both each other and their friends. It’s so important, I think, to communicate those things. Both my girls make daily gestures to bring joy to Sissy’s heart. For instance, M spent half her saved up allowance to buy her sister a stuffed toy she fell in love with at the store as a Valentine’s Day gift. We don’t do gifts in Valentine’s Day. She has no expectation of anything in return beyond the joy in her sister’s heart.
We talk often about choosing what points of criticism to raise with Sister. M struggles more with this that J. J is very protective of M’s feelings, but M is more likely to be on a mission to help everyone find their best selves, which can include some brutal critiques. We’re working on it.
The fourth truth Wachtel identifies, “There is no such thing as unshakable, immutable, affair-resistant love,” is only partly true of siblings. The “affair” part isn’t really relevant, although I do recommend talking with your multiples about sharing their sibling’s affection with friends and other family members. Fortunately, my kids see no conflict between loving their friends and each other. However, my daughter M did once find herself calling a friend to task when this friend asked her to choose between J and the friend. Sibling love is as strong as it comes, but it cannot be taken for granted. I think often on a coworker of my ex-husband’s who hasn’t spoken to her identical twin in years because she felt that her sister was unable to accept her as she was.
For most of us, our multiples will have each other long after we are gone. We must teach them how to nurture their relationship for a lifetime. This book’s techniques can really help.
Great Wedding Gift
I give copies of this book as wedding gifts. Love isn’t what makes a marriage work. Love is why you do the work that makes a marriage work, and We Love Each Other But… helps make that work more manageable.
If you decide to pick up this book or have already read it, stop by and tell me what you thought.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.