Review of The Marriage Benefit, by Mark O’Connell, PhD

marriage_benefitThe Marriage Benefit

The Surprising Rewards of Staying Together

by Mark O’Connell, PhD

Springboard Press, New York, 2008. 214 pages.
Starred review.

Recently, a friend said, “Don’t you love it when science catches up with the Bible?” I was rather amused by the word “Surprising” in the title of this book, just as I was with the word “Unexpected” in the title of the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Judith Wallerstein, which presented a study that showed — surprise, surprise — that divorce isn’t good for kids.

Our culture floods us with the message that divorce is a happy solution to marital difficulties. This book attempts to present answers to the question, “Why stay married?” using research and the author’s own counseling experience. He finds that, in fact, long-term marriage can have many benefits for those willing to invest themselves into it.

Why should I, a woman going through divorce, read this book? Well, I do think that God is asking me to wait and pray for restoration, and I definitely have moments when I think that’s insane. This book helped remind me of why a healed marriage could, in fact, be a good thing, and is still something worth praying for. It was an encouraging reminder of how marriage can be. I especially liked his words about the power of forgiveness and how good and transformative it is for the person doing the forgiving.

I do highly recommend this book for married couples, especially those approaching midlife. The author has plenty of wise insights as to how to stay married, as well as pointing out why it’s worth it.

The author’s own words tell you what to expect:

“This is a book about marriage, but it’s not the kind of ‘how to make your marriage better’ book that we have come to expect. This is a book about how stretching the boundaries of what we imagine to be possible can turn our intimate relationships into remarkable oppportunities for growth and change. This is a book about how our relationships can make us better.

“And this is also a book that offers a radical and contemporary answer to an age-old question. Why stay married? Because our long-term relationships can, at their best, help us to navigate the maddeningly relentless passage of time. They can teach us how to find purpose and meaning even in the face of life’s most immovable limits, making growing older an expanding, rather than a diminishing, experience. . . .

“In the pages that follow, I will argue that our long-term intimate relationships can help us to grow up, or, to put it another way, they can help us to live fully and creatively even as our private hopes and expectations meet the immutable realities that come with our advancing years. Even better, they can help us with core midlife challenges while bringing us joy, allowing us moments of unexpected laughter and lightness, and helping us to become our best selves.”

A major theme of this book is personal growth and that a long-term relationship can be a wonderful help toward that goal.

“This book is organized around two simple principles:

“First, if we are to get better as we grow older we will need to find growth and meaning through the very hardships and limitations that we often seek to avoid and deny.

“Second, more than any other means available to us, our long-term intimate relationships can help us with this critical life task. By opening ourselves to intimately knowing, and intimately being known by, someone different and separate from ourselves, we can uncover the world of untapped possibility that lies unexplored within our own selves.

“By now it is probably obvious that we’re not talking about a quick fix. If our relationships are to be all that they can be, if they are to become opportunities for meaningful change and growth, we will need to give them time. And in this age of fast and easy gratification giving things time is becoming a lost art.

“This is particularly true when it comes to love.”

Mark O’Connell gives the central take-home message of this book to be:

“We have the power to change ourselves, often in surprising and important ways. And we change best when we allow ourselves to be changed by someone to whom we are very close.”

I found this to be an uplifting and encouraging message, and one I’m excited to tell other people about.

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